Tipping, the User Guide

The etiquette of tipping changes drastically from place to place. Europeans in particular are non-tippers. It isn’t surprising then that customer service in Europe is pretty poor. In a British pub for instance, you have to go to the bar for your own drink. The rudeness of French waiters is so well known that a French waiter is a caricature of Gallic arrogance. I live in Germany and I usually have to draw the attention of the waiter just to order another round.

The Japanese do not tip either. To them, to receive a tip for merely doing what they are supposed to do is offensive. But, because they travel so much, they understand that there are different rules for different people. Depending on who offers the tip, the Japanese can become very rude. But they will sometimes pocket the cash and laugh it off.

One thing I find strange is that when the Japanese travel they actually become pretty good tippers. Apparently there are regular discussions in travel magazines about how much a person should tip in certain situations. A soon-to-be tourist can find quite a lot of information on the topic and takes careful note of the current trends. This probably sounds pretty silly, but to them it is a matter of saving "face." Something the Japanese take quite seriously.

If you ask any bartender he’ll tell you that the best tippers are usually American. In the US, the average bar or restaurant worker is only being paid a minimum wage and the customers know it. An American in a fancy restaurant works for his customer because he depends on that tip. The usual tip for good service is expected to 15% of the total. I use the word "expected" for good reason. A lot of restaurants will add this amount directly to the bill. A customer who doesn’t look closely at the bill can be duped into double tipping. It happens more often than you might think.

North American tourists often complain about higher prices in Europe. To add insult to financial injury, they also feel they are on the receiving end of some pretty poor service. Compared to what they are accustomed too, the service is pretty poor in Europe.

Europeans don’t seem to think about tipping even when they are travelling. On one recent dive trip I gave a lesson to a friend who was having some difficulty with a new piece of equipment. I wasn’t personally expecting a tip. I was helping him out because I prefer to have my buddy know what he is doing while in the water.

But, at the end of the trip I asked, "So what do you think we should leave for a tip?"

"For who?" he asked with a dumb look on his face.

"Uh, the divemasters on the boat" I said. Well, he looked at me like I was nuts. But when I pointed out that the guys who had been lugging his equipment around earned an average 50 cents per day, he got a little more thoughtful.

"Two dollars?" he suggested.

"You’re hopeless," I said.

I turned and handed my two personal porters 20 bucks each. I must have shamed him in to it, because he handed over pretty much the same amount as I did. My dive buddy is a very successful surgeon, and a millionaire. He is also German, and generally doesn’t tip, not even in a brauhaus.

There are some smart Europeans around though. A couple of my friends on Grand Cayman tend bar and happen to be Brits. They both work hard when an American tourists walk in. They know that the extra effort will be worth it. Their tips are usually pretty good.