I’m back in the US for Christmas vacation. I have to admit that I’m getting used to not having to tip in restaurants or guess what the tax on something I want to buy will be. It sort of baffles me that we can’t just put the price with tax on menus and price tags in the US — we do have the technology. Even worse, I sometimes forget to tip when I’m over here (in France, if you pay with a card, there isn’t even a line to put a tip!).

IMG_20151229_210348And it’s not just me — a couple of days ago I went to dinner with a couple of friends. The picture shows a copy of the receipt. Take a look at the suggested tip at the bottom of the receipt. For 15%, 18%, 20% and 22%, they suggest $11.14, $13.10, $14.41 and $15.72.

As far as I can tell, this is just wrong. The price of the meal was $65.50. With tax it was $71.31. I was always told you should tip on the price of the meal, without tax. If this is the case, the tips should be $9.83, $11.79, $13.10 and $14.41 for 15%, 18%, 20% and 22%. Hmmm…

Maybe they calculated the tip based on the total with tax? If this were the case, the tips should be $10.70, $12.84, $14.26 or $15.69 for 15%, 18%, 20% and 22%. Still wrong. And always high.

IMG_20151229_194847As it happens, we had to wait for our table, so we had ordered beers while we were waiting, and had a receipt for those as well. Here the suggested tips for $18 (before tax, or $19.60 after) was $3.06, $3.60, $3.98 and $4.32 for 15%, 18%, 20% and 22%.

Wrong again.

I calculate that it should be $2.70, $3.24, $3.60 and $3.96 if you use the before-tax total, or $2.94, $3.53, $3.92 and $4.31 if you use the after-tax total. They’re high again! In fact, while wrong, the percentages they suggest seem to be about the same in the two checks.

We (the three of us at the restaurant) are pretty good at math. How are non-geeks supposed to navigate this mess?


Vigipirate Logo (taken from on Dec. 7, 2015 and converted to png)
Vigipirate Logo (taken from on Dec. 7, 2015 and converted to png)

After the recent attacks here in Paris, the government has raised its terror threat level. But here it’s not called the threat level, it’s called the “Plan Vigipirate”.

It’s serious, but I sort of giggled the first few times I saw this. How did this get to be the sign for heightened security. I’ve asked around, and nobody seems to be sure.

My favorite explanation came from one of my colleagues who thought the word may have come from a lookout in a ship’s crow’s nest — being vigilant in keeping a lookout for pirates. The colleague admits that he probably made that up when he was about 10 years old.

The most reasonable explanation I could find (which doesn’t actually mean it’s right 🙂 was from French Wikipedia which quotes someone as saying “Le tout premier a Ă©tĂ© crĂ©Ă© en 1961, lors du putsch des GĂ©nĂ©raux d’Alger. Ils menaçaient de faire sauter des parachutistes sur Paris, notamment sur l’assemblĂ©e Nationale. Un PLAN, sur cartographie a Ă©tĂ© Ă©tabli par ce service, il consistait Ă  renforcer la garde de l’assemblĂ©e Nationale, qui s’effectuait par des VIGIES ( Gardes RĂ©publicain) dans les guĂ©rites en bois de l’époque, les « PIRATES » dĂ©signaient les parachutistes qui venaient en sorte abordĂ© le bâtiment comme au temps des corsaires : d’oĂą le nom VIGIPIRATE.”

Basically, it says that came about during the “Algerian Putsch” of 1961 when there were fears of a coup originating in Algeria. There seems to be vague references and associations between Algeria, hence corsairs, hence pirates. So, they had to be vigilant against pirates. Vigipirate.


I’ve had a tooth that’s been bothering me for years, and it finally had to come out. I won’t say it’s a pleasure to go through this, but at least the cost doesn’t add to the pain.

After the ordeal, I paid. I just got the insurance summary, so I can list everything that I paid for. The entire ordeal (initial appointment and pictures, second appointment and extraction, and drugs) cost 124.58 euros. It looks like my insurance only covers 122.58 of that — yes, I have to pay 2 euros out of pocket.


I ran into a French-English translation problem that really confused me last week.

I received an email in French that noted that graduate students where I work were not allowed to have paid vacations. It then went on to talk about how there weren’t enough ways for our graduate students to get teaching experience. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what the relationship between paid vacations and teach was.

In the end, I was trapped by a faux-ami. I assumed that vacation meant the same thing in French as it does in English. It definitely does not. Apparently it is sort of a “one-off”, used in different contexts. Here it meant that the graduate students couldn’t even be substitute teachers.

It’s not that the French have a different word for everything — sometimes it’s the same different word…


PBnJI saw this in the airport on my way back from Detroit Wednesday. Yes, it was horrible. There was not enough peanut buttor OR jelly, and the bread was both a bit stale and somehow sort of cold.

But after 10 years abroad, when you see something like this, a bizarre sort of remote control takes over and you cannot resist…

Agree on it

AgreeOnI came upon this agreement (for using a public wifi service) at the airport a couple of days ago. They ask for me to “agree on terms” and “agree on receiving ads”.

This one is kind of tricky, because it almost seems right. We can certainly “agree on it”. And we can “agree on terms”. But I think we should really “agree TO terms and conditions”, and “agree TO receive advertising”.

I have to admit that I’m not sure where the distinction comes from. Scratching my head a bit, I think you agree TO things than might be a bit disagreeable (like junk mail or getting up early for a meeting), but you agree ON things that you are OK with, but just need to make more precise (like meeting at one time rather than another).

Participate to

Yesterday a French colleague said he was going to “participate to a project”, instead of “participate in a project”.

Unfortunately, à in French can be, depending on context, either at, in, or to, and probably others. Here, the colleague chose wrong 🙂

I think I must make the corresponding error all the time. That is, I should be saying “participer Ă  une rĂ©union”, and I’d be willing to bet that I’ve said “participer dans une rĂ©union” instead…