Monday, November 29, 2010

When in Rome...

One thing I still find difficult in America is the whole tipping thing. Service is always with a smile. It is done so enthusiastically! Everybody greets you with ‘how are you today? I have learned the stock ‘Good, Thanks’ answer. They really don’t want to know how you really are! (…well, I’m not too good today, me Nobby Stiles are playing up blind and I’ve got a bit of phlegm I cant clear… is not what they want to hear… mind you I don’t think anyone does!). They respond to any ‘thank you’ with a gushing ‘you’re welcome’. I got reprimanded by my son for not saying it to him when he thanked me for something today. Everything is a ‘Gooooood Jawb’ whether it is or not. Their departing shot is ‘Have a nice day’. All false, but pleasant and practised to perfection. They have no qualms in saying it like they mean it. Some of them do! It doesn’t work anywhere else – for example at Disneyland Paris they just can’t pull it off but it works here. Why the enthusiasm – it is for the obligatory tip!
During our trip to Washington, the happy bus tour guide voice over gave some helpful tips on tipping. For your hotel maid $2 per day, for the porter $1 per bag, For restaurant service 15% standard, 18% for parties of 6 or more and 20% for excellent service. What about bad service? To be fair the service is normally excellent. It has to be. Waiters get paid a pittance and rely on tips. Is it better than England where they don’t have to give a shite cos they get paid anyway?
I do get a bit pissed off here by the feeling of being ripped off (by the way – using the word ‘pissed’ is generally ok in America). The price quoted for a menu item is never what you pay – add around another 22% on in service charges and taxes! I have embarrassed my self in stores when I have accused them of overcharging me. ‘I’m sorry Ma’am, that’s the sales tax!’ Ahh! Thank you – you were legitimately ripping me off then! My mom said she had to make an emergency dash to buy some new glasses before VAT goes up to 20% . This is double the average sales tax in the USA yet I feel more ripped off here. The reason is simple; I don’t feel so ripped off in England because the tax is included in the price you see on the price tag. What you see is what you pay! It is the same for food! The service charge i.e., the waiter’s wages is factored into the price of the food in the UK. Any tip is a genuine bonus for good service. When you stop in a hotel room you pay for clean sheets and a clean room – per night! So why the obligatory tip for that service?
At the hotel we had our car valet parked. We went out to collect it. The driver took our suitcase (at least $1 then but we hadn’t been told how much to tip for the car that you have already paid to have parked for getting it back again!). He carried the suitcase into the road and tried to open what he thought was our door. It wasn’t. He had the wrong keys. The other driver ran out shouting ‘this is mine!’  He left our suitcase in the middle of the road without a backward glance. Smile gone. It was no longer his tip. He didn’t care... Bastard!
So -what happens when the service isn’t so good? We had poor service in a Chinese restaurant in Washington. I waited… and waited for chop sticks...(pretentious I know!) even after finally attracting the attention of the waitress. My food was cold when I finally got to shovel it in! Cold Chinese food is not good. I waited…and waited to order drinks. It was not good service. We didn’t have to wait for the bill with 15% already added on. I asked her to remove the gratuity and let us decide how much to give. I refrained from telling her it is rude to snatch when she whipped the bill away. She was very angry that we had questioned the tip. Not a hint of an apology. It should not have come as a surprise! I had complained twice during the meal. I guess people just pay.
Afterwards in the taxi on the way back to the hotel (well the happy bus stopped at 5pm) the Taxi driver commented on the fact that we were British (He noticed!) and that we had a new Prime minister (he noticed more than me!). He asked what would make us Brits happy. I told him -Nothing - We're British - we love moaning! Maybe we do, but equally we have a reputation for not complaining, for shutting up and putting up (not sure where from!). Sometimes it is justified not to tip and not feel embarrassed about it!
I got an email from one of the Moms from the bus stop. She is collecting for a ‘holiday gift’ (as we are not allowed to say Christmas) for the bus driver. She wants $10 from each child. That’s around $350 if all gave. I had another 2 emails from the ‘home room moms’ (moms who help out in the classroom!) in my children's classes. They were also collecting for holiday gifts… for the teacher, for the TA, for the baker the butcher and the candlestick maker. Now – is this another form of tipping for a ‘Gooooood Jawb’?
I want my children to express their appreciation by selecting a small gift and giving it to their teacher. As I teacher I might have welcomed a collection of £15 from each parent but it would have meant nothing. I wouldn’t have remembered the children. I still have one of the baubles (I broke the other one and cried when I did) that a boy in my class gave me wrapped in beautiful tissue paper for Christmas in 1998. I still remember his name. Now his mother might well have been behind it all but he gave me the gift, he was excited for me to open it while he was there. He was pleased. So was I. True appreciation, not a tip!

I asked the Taxi driver what would make Americans happy. He said the economy. Well, for me I would start with price tags that reflect what you have to pay, wages that reflect the job done and tips that are genuinely given in appreciation because people do their jobs exceptionally well.


  1. Checked out the photo, apsolutley beautiful. I agree tips should be for good service and not expected nas norm True also that us brits do n ot complain enough, so it is our own fault we get sh'' upon . As i get older i find that i compain more ,is it because i am becoming a moaning old lady or have i finally come to my sences (the latter i hope)

  2. can't spell as i get older, i do mean senses

  3. Hey - check out RobertB link above - beautiful photography!