Friday, 3 December 2010

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing... Russell Ward

Fridays are not the same with a dose of guest blogging on Expat Explorer. This week, British expat, Russell Ward shares some of his experiences when it comes to refining the art of tipping.

To tip or not to tip?...

As expats living in a strange new land, that is the question.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently published an article which claimed that, when it comes to tipping, Aussies are tightwads and either don’t want to tip or don’t know how to tip.

This made me think about my own tipping experiences in Sydney and during my previous expat life in Canada.

Tipping is one of those irksome little things in life. It is something we all have to do at some point yet it almost needs its own rulebook so that we, the customer, know exactly when and where to tip – and by how much.

Being an expat takes the need to understand tipping to a whole new level. The rules change from country to country, and as a new addition to a foreign land, you must quickly get your head around the local tipping culture or risk embarrassment at the dinner table.

My own experience was that Canadians like to tip. Like their southern neighbours, they believe that rewarding staff for good quality service is necessary - and I get that. I’ve been greeted at delightful restaurants in the heart of downtown Vancouver by friendly waiters who will sit with me before the meal and spend time talking through my menu options, who will endeavour to make casual and generally entertaining conversation, and who will proceed to serve up delicious meals on time and with minimal fuss. I’m always more than happy to reward that level of service and usually leave between 10 and 15%.

But fellow expats beware… tipping in Canada doesn’t end there. Canadians leave tips at the bar, with hotel porters and taxi drivers, tradesmen and hairdressers, mailmen at Christmas and the reliable young paperboy. Why, they even tip the person sat by the entrance to the toilets (a cleaner, purveyor of gaudy fragrances, or just the toilet guardian?).

And if you think for one minute of not tipping for your service, be prepared to face the wrath of an extremely unhappy bartender as I found out when refusing to leave a couple of bucks extra for a bottle of water at one bar in downtown Montreal. I was promptly given a public dressing-down and I couldn’t get served when I went back for a second round (of beers, not water this time). Was I being a tightwad?

Which brings me back to the Sydney article about Aussies refusing to tip.

Australian tipping practices have surprised me since I arrived here four years ago. They simply don’t exist. It’s not in their culture to part with their hard-earned cash over and above the stated price on the menu.

Shortly after my arrival in Australia, I went for the obligatory haircut at the local barbers. Once finished, I reached into my pocket to pull out a few dollar coins by way of appreciation, only to find the barber looking at my actions with abject horror.

“No, you don’t need to do that”. “People don’t tip here when they have their hair cut”. “Really, it’s okay, just keep your money and put it to good use elsewhere”.

Then at a friend’s birthday party a few weeks later held in a special reserved room for 20 people. Much drinking and eating followed, the waiter presented a sizeable bill, and the diners proceeded to divide up said bill into equal shares – without allowing for a tip of any shape or size.

I asked the question that appeared to be only on my lips: “Aren’t we going to leave a tip?” The response: “What for? These guys get paid enough as it is.”

Cue me then diving into my pockets to find a small something for the poor guys cleaning up our mess.

Does this prove that the Aussies are tightwads? Perhaps not entirely. It’s more likely their complete lack of understanding that tipping isn’t necessarily a bad thing and that it does no harm to reward quality service.

My advice? It certainly pays to be well versed in local tipping practices when you take on a new home. However, if you’ve had a cracking meal or been given the greatest haircut, don’t be afraid to dip into your pocket and pull out some loose change. I’d rather be embarrassed by a refusal than called a tightwad in the street!

About the Author
Russell is a British expat who lives on Sydney’s northern beaches in New South Wales, Australia. A keen writer in his spare time, Russell enjoys travelling the world and living life by the ocean. Russell was in the UK until 2003, before immigrating to Canada (Vancouver and Ottawa), then most recently to Sydney, Australia (his wife’s home city).

Read more about his expat journey in seeking out a different way of life at

You can also follow him on Twitter at @russellvjward.


  1. I'm Canadian and I tip a couple quarters at a bar for a drink, leave 10-15% on a food tab and a dollar or two for a cab driver. A couple of years ago I was in Australia celebrating Australia day and after ordering a drink with my Aussie friend I left a $1 tip and she automatically grabbed the tip back and pushed me away from the bar. She then scolded me saying, don't tip here, you aren't even drunk yet, that guy isn't that cute and of all things don't give them a gold coin! (all gold coins are over $1) I felt bad for the guy but laughed at her. It's funny how different it is around the world.
    I was in Fiji once and had a tour guide for a few days and at the end of my trip there I gave him 20 Fijian dollars and he was almost brought to tears and extremely grateful. I'm just so use to tipping its weird for me not too! But I would never tip at a bar for a bottle of water! Those people in Montreal were just rude! haha

  2. Russell, I completely understand where you are coming from when it comes to tipping.

    I am an American expat living in Sweden. Add Sweden to the list of countries where you don't tip.

    I've come to understand that culturally it is considered an insult to tip here. It is insulting to tip for a job well done! Unlike in the US where people in the service industry are paid below minimum wage and live off their tips, people in Sweden are paid a living wage. They take pride in their work and therefore one should "expect" that they will give good service.

    After 7yrs of being an American expat living in Sweden, I still hesitated last night when I paid the taxi driver. It is culturally ingrained in me to add a tip. I refrained from tipping but couldn't help feeling like I didn't thank him properly for his service. Not sure I'll ever get used to it.

  3. I love the Australian example above... I've had a similar experience - never tip the Aussie barstaff! And, yes, the Montreal bar tender was just plain rude! Thanks for the comment...

  4. Good thing, tax benefits for expats can include Living Away From Home Allowances (LAFHA) and a significant change in the Australian tax law that has removed taxation on earnings that you may still accrue outside of Australia.

  5. In the USA, employees in a position where they can receive tips are paid a pitiful wage. It's permissible to pay half the minimum wage to someone who makes tip. That means tips ARE their income. This isn't the case in Australia. Employees have no expectation of remuneration above and beyond their salary. Some cafes or bars may have a tip jar if you wish to give a little extra to the wait staff, but this is certainly not something they expect, or require.

    Tipping is a practice that favours the patron, not the worker. I think this is why Australians are generally against it - it's a very pro-labour-force culture. Personally, I'd prefer that those working the service industry are paid a fair wage than require them to be dependent on the whims of patrons to make their living.

  6. Add Mexico to the list. Here, no tipping is necessary. Yet, we have been influenced so much by the USA practices that many places now require you to leave a tip. If you don't you may have the same experience as in Montreal. Personally, i prefer to pay the specified price of things without adding 15% or 20% over what is charged. In Mexico things have gone awry. we have people in parking places where you are supposed to tip because people there are not paid a salary. In gas stations you are supposed to leave a tip because it has become custom. I am against tipping yet it is necessary in many places to not look tightwad.

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