Make Every Penny Count in Paris

Posted in: Paris Planning


Euro pennies
Don't be afraid to count your pennies in Paris. Photo: groume

We’ve given suggestions on how to avoid racking up ATM fees and offered an argument against indiscriminately using credit cards while traveling with your American wallet in Paris.

To help you combat the stress of handling loose euro change and avoid ending up with an unused pile of centimes at the end of your trip, here are some tips on handling your euro cash like a local.

Counting Your Change

We’ve already discussed the fact that tipping is unnecessary in French restaurants and cafés because a gratuity is automatically included in the price of beverages and food.

It is customary for French waiters to count out your change coin by coin at the moment you pay your bill in a little table-side ritual in which they expect your full attention. Once you get over the ceremonial aspect, you might find that this kind of transparency is reassuring, ensuring that by accident or design you don’t end up getting short-changed. (If you insist on leaving them a little something, do so after they have counted your change to avoid confusion.)


Get your pennies ready! Photo: douglashoyt

Don’t Be Surprised If a French Storekeeper Asks You For Change

Unlike French waiters, French storekeepers are notorious for not having or wanting to part with any of their change, switching the burden of making change onto the customer.

Getting a handle on your euro coins will help you avoid panicking on the spot and fumbling with change. You might find yourself wishing the U.S. minted more one dollar coins once you get used to paying for a coffee with one or two euro coins. And those who find pennies annoying will want to claw their eyes out at the prospect of the 1-centime coin, with a circumference as small as a baby’s toenail.

Don’t Be Afraid To Keep Them Waiting

But even with advance practice, you might feel self-conscious when it comes time to pay for something in cash and fret that your lack of fluency in euro coins is going to exasperate the person behind you.

Not to worry: French people are used to waiting in lines while the person in front of them counts their change, packs their own groceries and otherwise has the floor. Nobody is going to give you a hard time if you stand counting out every last centime or one-euro coin in your wallet like a nonagenarian before handing it over to the person manning the till.

If you don’t want to end up with a big pile of worthless centimes at the end of your trip, then feel free to count out those miniscule single cent coins at the boulangerie or leave the waiter at the café with a pile of shiny yellow centimes.

About the author

Kristin Hohenadel

Kristin Hohenadel is a writer and editor who lives in Paris.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

4 thoughts on “Make Every Penny Count in Paris”

  1. “We’ve already discussed the fact that tipping is unnecessary in French restaurants and cafés because a gratuity is automatically included in the price of beverages and food.”

    Thats is not true at all… (gratuity is NOT included in the bill, even if it say so)
    If your a cheap B…. then of course dont leave anything.
    Waiters work on minimum wage… and leaving them 1 euro (or more) is not biggie, if of course the service was worth it.

    From a french multi unit restaurant manager.

    1. Kristin Hohenadel Post authorKristin Hohenadel

      Thank you for your comment, Skip, but to clarify:

      By French law, service IS indeed included in the bill.

      When tourists from countries like the U.S. are not aware of this cultural difference, they often end up overpaying, rewarding service regardless of merit.

      As mentioned in the post, a modest tip (or pourboire) can be given for excellent service but travelers should not feel obligated to effectively tip twice.

  2. These are wonderful tips. I think that so often people think they have to spend a fortune when they travel, but this post just shows that it’s simply not true!

  3. This is less of a problem outside the big cities of France. Last month I was in the Dordogne and didn’t have any change problems.

    What is useful is having 5 euro notes. Luckily, before I left, in getting some euros I was given mostly fives – with an apology from the bank teller which was totally unnecessary! Although the can take up space in your wallet, they will come in handy, and it’s difficult if not impossible to change bills in a bank in France.


Follow Us