The California Bucket List: Your daily guide to the best adventures and experiences in the Golden State

October 20

A few quick notes, as I'm off to catch a flight to L.A. for a visit home to see colleagues, family and friends.

Guess who now has a handsome sticker in her passport saying she can stay in France for a year? That's me. After much effort, I finally got my carte de séjour, though at the last minute it looked as if there would be another stumbling block. When I arrived at the Prefecture of Police with the additional materials that had been requested on my visit in August, the receptionist looked at the proof of medical insurance from Blue Cross/Blue Shield and said it had to be translated into French. But I pressured her to let me talk to the woman from my August session there, who said the English version was sufficient. Which only goes to show that you should never take no for an answer in Paris.

Several readers have written to ask about tipping in restaurants here. There are many approaches. My brother-in-law who travels widely in Europe says you don't have to leave anything extra because service is included on the bill. But if you come from America, the reflex to tip is strong. In cafes, I think it's good to leave the change from the bill, at least. In fancy restaurants frequented by tourists and business people traveling on the company, it's very difficult to decide how much to leave, what is expected. I've watched French friends leave 10% and follow suit.

Philippe, a Parisian, contributed these reasonable-sounding tipping guidelines: "A fair tip is 5%, a very nice one is 10%."

Of course, if the service is bad, there's no reason to leave anything. But bad service in Paris is not necessarily the same thing as in America, which causes manifold misunderstandings and bad feelings. It may take longer to get your bill in a Paris restaurant and you may begin to think the waiter is ignoring you or inefficient. But the custom here is to let people linger as long as they like over a meal, not to turn the table fast. Most waiters are experienced professionals who respect diners' rights in this regard and, in turn, deserve to be respected, not treated as menials. That's my two cents' worth, anyway.

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