Thursday, 21 November 2013

To Tip or Not to Tip? – A Guide for Expats

To tip or not to tip…that is the question, and not just for those looking to tighten their purse strings post-recession or negotiating that awkward intermediary stage between student- and adult-hood. Eating out and taking cabs abroad opens up a whole new area of cultural confusion, and, while extreme generosity as default might make sense when you’re in the holiday spirit, living in a new country means you might want to brush up on tipping etiquette.


So to save yourself embarrassment, confusion and quite possibly money, be attuned to the cultural nuances of giving a gratuity.

Image Source: Halio Cab
American tipping is legendary, with at least 20% as standard in many settings, but, while that makes for smiley service, it doesn’t necessarily add up to well-paid staff. Waiters and waitresses often rely on tips to make a living wage, sometimes receiving as little as $2.13 an hour as salary, although it’s worth checking out the minimum wage laws in your state. For Americans abroad, it’s likely you’re prone to over-zealousness in the tipping department, so be careful and don’t be taken aback or force the issue if your tip is refused!

In other cultures, tipping isn’t normal and could even give offence. In China, Japan and Iceland in particular, be guided by locals and don’t tip. Remember that a lack of tipping culture doesn’t mean workers are underpaid. And they could see it as demeaning if you seem to suggest they are. Wherever you’ve moved to, don’t ask workers directly if they ‘require’ a tip – odds on the polite thing to do in many cultures will be to say no.

‘Service charges’ are a grey and confusing area. Most of the time it means a gratuity is already included so don’t pay twice (!), but in some countries (including Greece, Guatemala, Italy and Hong Kong) this charge doesn’t go to the servers so an additional tip may be required. Look and learn, expats – with this as well as many other things, making local friends will be the key to getting it right!

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