To tip or not to tip?...
Source: Creative Commons
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 www.insearchofalifelessordinary.blogspot.com.
You can also follow him on Twitter at @russellvjward.