Daily Archives: October 13, 2009

To tip or not to tip…is that a cultural question?

A couple of weeks back I left a 36% tip at a restaurant.  Not intentionally.  I just didn’t notice they had already included an 18%  tip and I added my 18% to that.  I only noticed my mistake several days later when going through the receipts.  Sigh.

That was a lesson for me.  And not only in reading paperwork before I sign it, but also in cultural habits and cultural conditioning.  Now that I once again live in the US, I am becoming more and more inclined to tip…everyone and everywhere.  I tip the waiter, I tip the valet, I tip my hairdresser, and I tip my dog’s groomer…the list can go on and on.  Tipping is now a responsibility, not a good gesture.  And I am quickly beginning to feel imprisoned by it.

Why?

Because for those of us, who are used to a different “culture” of tipping — either because we’ve lived overseas for a long time or have been brought up in another country — the tipping is still a choice.  One can still forego a tip if the service was bad and not feel horrible after the fact for days.  When you move to the US, that choice is taken away.  You must tip.  Or you’ll rot in hell of “cheapskates” forever.

So much it is a “must” for most Americans, that the tipping question has become one of our first questions before we travel somewhere.  “How much do we tip?” we ask our friends or contacts nervously.  My experience with answers is usually the same.  “It doesn’t matter,” my friends say, “if you like the service you tip what you want.”  No expectation, no counting percentages, no agonizing.  How liberating.

The restaurant where I left a 36% tip happens to be in the part of the United States that receives a lot of international tourism.  They include the tip because they know that foreigners are not “imprisoned” by the “tip culture” of the US and so, unless they count the tips in, they may not get them.  Smart thinking on their part.  Not too smart on mine.

I read my receipts a lot more carefully now.  And I’ve noticed that here many restaurants include the tip.  I think I prefer it that way.  It leaves out the guesswork of how much to tip — and it liberates me from worrying, if I have tipped enough.

What about you?  What is your cultural experience with tipping?

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