“To tip or not to tip?” is a question that William Shakespeare was almost certainly never troubled with, but one that might, nonetheless, give us a spot of bother as we travel around the world.
I remember reading in a travel guide to the US that you shouldn’t feel pressured into giving tips, even to taxi drivers, no matter how irate they might get. The advice was that tipping is not obligatory, and there is nothing a taxi driver can do about the fact that you haven’t tipped him, especially seeing as how he’s already got you to where you want to be by the time he discovers that you wont be throwing a tip his way. It’s not that I object morally to tipping, and while I have been known to mutter under my breath: ‘Well I’ve always worked hard and nobody’s ever given me a tip’, I don’t really begrudge tipping if I’ve felt that it was deserved. What I do object to wholeheartedly, however, is being asked for a tip or being made to feel as if I ought to be giving one.
As a fresh-faced young backpacker in New York, I thought I’d test out the tipping advice given in the guidebook while in a trendy bar. My friend and I ordered a couple of beers and after deciding that we didn’t really like the atmosphere there, we knocked them back and went to pay for them.
When the bartender saw us scrabbling around in our pockets for some cash, he told us to make sure that we had enough left for the tip, saying: ‘You look after us, we look after you.’ Well what I felt like saying was: ‘No, mister; you serve us our drinks because that’s what you’re paid to do, and then we shall pay you for them, that being the general role of the customer.’ Of course I kept my mouth shut, I didn’t much fancy getting on the wrong side of the guy, least of all when there were half a dozen grizzly looking bikers sat at the bar listening in, instead we slapped the dollar bills down on the bar and scarpered.
At airports in Morocco, you’ll often find the cleaning staff standing at the entrances to the toilets, beaming at you as you enter, then as soon as they see that you’ve finished and are heading for the door, they begin vigorously jingling the loose change in their pockets, all the while flashing you more smiles and thanking you profusely. Initially I thought they were just being friendly and I smiled warmly back at them as I headed out of the door, it wasn’t until one of the women began following me and repeating the words ‘thank you, madame’ until it sounded ridiculous, that I turned around and asked her what she was doing.
One hand was held open showing a couple of coins, while her other hand furiously shook the remaining coins around in her pocket. Hiding my annoyance, and not wanting to be too rude, I refrained from asking her exactly what it was that I was expected to tip her for. Was it the fake smiles, was it the fact that I’d had to ask her for toilet roll? Or perhaps it was the fact that she’d pointed out the hand drier to me, as if I couldn’t possibly have found it on my own? Instead, I thought about how lucky she was to even have a job when millions are unemployed, and simply pointed to the sign above the entrance which clearly stated that the toilets were free of charge. She scowled at me and muttered something under her breath, but I didn’t feel a scrap of guilt. I’m not rich by any means, but I do give to those less fortunate than me when I can afford to.
I do, however, draw the line at tipping a toilet attendant who didn’t take a single step above or beyond her call of duty to ensure that my lavatorial experience was a particularly pleasurable one.