April 21, 2007

Tipping

With a planned visit to the US next week (work trip) I have been having a think about the tipping culture in the US, and how much stress it causes someone not used to it. In Australia, as a general rule, tipping is not expected. Appreciated in some circumstances, but not expected.

In Australia if someone serves you in a department store he is just doing his job. Hopefully his manager appreciates what he does and he gets paid for it. Either way his remuneration is between him and his manager. Same goes for the guy who fits tyres on my car. Same goes for any service job. If one of those people turned around and expected that some kind of tip should be paid before the transaction could be concluded I would consider him rude. It's like begging in a way. Of course if someone goes out of their way to serve me above and beyond what is necessary I might be tempted to give some kind of monetary reward. Strangely this is much more acceptable in some industries than others.

I appreciate that there are a number of factors that make this whole equation different in the US. Particularly in industries where the rate of pay is set with the understanding that the employee will be able to suplement it with tips in order to make a living. The problem is my unfamiliarity with those situations where tipping is expected.

I don't think either approach is wrong or right, but probably a product of the prevailing culture and customs. The trouble is that coming from my culture to their culture it is somewhat more rude if I judge incorrectly.

I guess that's not always the case. Recently in Japan an American colleague explained how he offered a tip to a Japanese waitress in a restaurant. A Japanese colleague pointed out that he would not have expected her to take the tip. My American colleague explained that she didn't want to at first, but it was OK because he insisted she take it, and refused to leave until she accepted it. We explained that he had probably created a paperwork nightmare for her at minimum as she tried to explain the extra money to her boss, or perhaps a moral dilemma if she decided just to pocket the money!

1 comment:

Bruce Yabsley said...

My American colleague explained that she didn't want to at first, but it was OK because he insisted she take it, and refused to leave until she accepted it. We explained that he had probably created a paperwork nightmare for her at minimum

I think the more important issue here is discomfort. In my (limited) understanding, Japanese people hate doing something inappropriate, and they especially hate being in a situation where it's unclear what the appropriate action is. And they really hate saying "no" directly: "well, that's a bit difficult ..." is the standard dodge. An American not taking "[no]" for an answer would be especially tough for them to handle.

I took quite a while to get used to the tipping culture in the US. However, at least where I was, if you over-tip by habit, and treat the wait-staff like human beings worthy of your attention, it goes over really well and you start getting habitué/friend-of-the-house privileges ...