Scarred for Life … At The Louvre.

I have always enjoyed traveling and the main focus of that interest has always been France. Considering what happened on my very first visit there, I’m amazed that’s the case.

Many years ago — I was still a teenager — I was in Paris and made the obligatory visit to the Louvre. There was a sign at the museum’s entrance telling us that cameras were not permitted inside and should be checked with one of several very stern-looking French ladies sitting primly behind a long counter right below the sign.

I stepped up to the counter and handed my camera to a particularly formidable looking woman. She took it and then cast a meaningful glance at a small wooden box on the counter in which there were several dozen coins. This gesture was not lost on me: a tip was expected. 

But how much? “Combien?” I asked.

A bit impatiently, the woman replied, “Çe que vous-voulez, monsieur.” Whatever I wished.

There were a dozen or so people milling around waiting to enter the museum and several others behind me waiting to check some of their belongings. Still, the woman behind the counter stood there, holding my camera and the claim check, clearly waiting for me to leave a tip in the box.

Beginning to feel pressed and a little rattled, I fumbled hurriedly in my pocket for some coins. From a whole handful, I plucked the largest and shiniest of the bunch — it was silver and the size of our half-dollar — and dropped it into the box. 

The woman stared at the coin in disbelief for several seconds. Then, drawing herself up into a veritable picture of indignation, she gestured with disdain at that shiny silver coin and said in a loud voice fairly quivering with incredulity:

“Mon-sieur! Ça, c’est deux francs, monsieur … deux francs!”

Just a few years later during some bad economic times, the French franc was drastically devalued. But on that August day in 1954, it took almost 350 French francs to equal one U.S. dollar. 

I’m quite sure everyone in that anteroom heard her clearly and a hush fell over the room as all turned to get a look at the hopeless boob who had tipped this poor woman just two francs. 

Leave it to the French: their biggest, heaviest, shiniest coin was worth just a bit more than one half of one cent … U.S.