Sunday, January 14, 2007


Have been having some discussions with Australians about the American habit of tipping.

The Aussies will tell you that theirs is a kinder, wiser financial system where workers are paid a living wage to begin with. Therefore, it is not necessary to tip people who serve in restaurants, taxis, and in various and sundry other occupations.

We have friends who are about to travel for a week's vacation to NYC. They are feeling a tad paranoid about this process of carrying dollar bills around in their pockets so that they won't find themselves in a position where they don't have the proper change for a tip.

I tried to explain that one doesn't tip all the time, that 20 % of the bill in restaurants is appropriate, but that one does not have to pay the doorman in a hotel for opening the door. The bell boy who carts one's bags up to one's room deserves to be paid something for his effort. However, the household staff who make up the bed and put fresh towels in the bathroom shouldn't be left money in the bedside table. Perhaps at the end of a week's sojourn in a three or four star hotel, it would be a good idea to add a gratuity to that same bedside table before departing. But I can never remember having my room left dirty or my bed unmade because I failed to leave my change on the bedside table.

It is an interesting conundrum for people who aren't used to the system. And I'm never sure just how right I am in my tipping habits. I give the Super Shuttle driver a $5 when he drops me off from the airport, but he usually loads and unloads my bags after an international flight and they are heavy.

I'm just not sure what is right and best. I certainly don't want to be worried about carrying coins in my pocket to handle these situations. How do we help these Aussies understand our system of 'slave labour'?