Paying As You Go
Paying with plastic is easy. VISA card and MasterCard, or their French equivalent Carte Bleue or Carte Bancaire (CB), are accepted just about everywhere. They are so widely used, that a restaurant that doesn't accept them will have that fact marked on the menu (Nous n'acceptons pas la Carte Bancaire, for example). American Express is not widely used. The accepted cards are usually posted on the entrance door or adjacent window.
Autoroute toll booths accept bank cards and credit cards for all tolls (CB, Visa, Eurocard/Mastercard, American Express, Cofinoga, proprietary cards such as Essocard, EuroShell, etc.). MAESTRO et ELECTRON cards that systematically require a credit authorisation from euro 1 upwards are not accepted.
Tax; TVA; VAT. Posted rates at shops, hotels and restaurants include value-added-tax (VAT, or TVA in French. In general, the posted price for anything in France is the "TTC" (all taxes included) price. The "HT" (excluding tax) price is only used in a business context.
Tipping. Restaurant and café prices almost always include a 15% "service charge". An accepted practice is, if you're satisfied with the service you can leave some of the coins from your change. If we have a 20-euro restaurant bill, we'll often leave an extra euro or so in coins. If we sit at a terrace café for a half hour with a 3-euro cup of coffee, we'll usually leave an extra 0.20 €. Remember, at a café you're not paying for the drink, you're renting a place to sit while watching the world go by.
ATMs and Exchange Rates
Contribution from Charlie Miller, Aug 1999:
ATM's are virtually everywhere. We had little trouble finding one and they are at many of the post offices in larger towns. They offer the best exchange rate since they change dollars at the official rate, as do credit cards.