Culture Guides

The Culture of Tipping Around the World

Remember Mr Pink?

Let’s come out and say it: tipping sucks.

It’s the residue of ancient class distinctions when one kind of profession was considered inferior to another and the difference had to be compensated by a financial gift. Hence why when the anarchists took control of Barcelona in the early 30’s they banned tipping, as can be read in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.

At other times it’s an act of pity, a social obligation or even a kind of disguised bribe to make sure you get reasonable service. Here’s a few extra coins to make sure you don’t spit in my soup..

I think the tipping point for me came when a taxi driver in the US got pissed with me when I waited for my $3 buck change from $20. He was making $50,000 a year, about 3 times my income and yet I was the bad guy for not paying him a gratuity on top of a ride I could barely afford.

Not that I’m playing Mr Pink here:

The reality is that all around the world people work exploitative jobs where any extra cents can make a big difference. As a traveler you can make a difference to someone else’s day by leaving a little extra cash. In many countries you’ll be the first person to even think about doing so.

But it still sucks.

First of all, because it’s a nightmare working out where to tip – try to leave an extra quid for the bartender in England and they might well throw you out. Fail to tip the barman in the US and expect to wait half an hour for your next drink.

Second, it allows a currency exchange to replace basic human interaction and kindness. As Paul Theroux noted in Dark Star Safari, tipping all the Egyptian taxi drivers, doormen, waiters, porters, guides and shoe shiners felt like he was paying for smiles.

People deserve to be paid a decent wage for the work they do and not have to rely upon the whim of the customer. Which is why it’s really cool in countries where tipping isn’t common practice – when someone is nice to you it’s because they are nice and genuinely like you. Not because they saw you were wearing expensive shoes and so were likely to leave more than 10%.

Roll on Digital cash.