Tipping in America

A couple of years ago, here in Salem, I called a local taxi company to go from a friend’s house (where I was temporarily staying) to take a few bags of items to a storage space I was renting. The husband and I had moved out of our old place, and the move-in to the new place was delayed by about a month, due to the bathroom ceiling caving in (which would happen every 2 months of our stay there).

I got a surly, abusive cabbie who looked like the bastard child of a pickled-leather-faced Tommy Chong and that slimy clump of hair that you just can’t get out of the bottom of the shower trap. He took one look at my meager collection of bags and declared in a Homer Simpson bitch-voice, “weeiy’re neuuot a moooving cummpany”, despite the fact that my things both weighed and constituted far less than a typical grocery shopping trip. I told him he didn’t have to help but he did anyway, wrestling things out of my hands and explaining that he’d be here “all day” otherwise and he simply didn’t have all day, because his time was as precious as his pretty face.

The whole journey this berk would just NOT shut the fuck up. He continued to complain about the number of bags I had (about 5 and a small Christmas tree in its box), and how, technically, he could charge 50 cents per bag, even if it were groceries, but he was doing me a favour by not raping my wallet. There wasn’t a second of silence without this miserable cunt complaining; I have truly never heard this much bitching and moaning and whinging in my life. And I write a BLOG that is solely based on all the complaints I have about everything.

After he carefully unloaded my things by flinging them on the floor, I ignored what sounded like a smashing noise in one of the bags and fished out the exact cost of the fare. The driver, clearly feeling cheated, snorted out his best indignated, old-fart snort (most likely coupled with a shart) and said, “Nice tip”.

Even now, years later, I am speechless.

He seriously  thought that after all that, after all the abusive unpleasantness that he put me through, he expected to be rewarded  in the form of a fucking tip?!

I was not rude to him; I held my tongue and kept apologising, though I’ve no idea for what. This arsehole, who probably complains that us “young people” feel that we’re so entitled to everything, is actually worse than the standard service industry mentality of “I’ll do my job to the bare minimum, and expect massive, humungous tips for doing so”. He was rude, unfriendly, manhandled my packages (shut up), did not shut the fuck up, and was thoroughly unpleasant in any way. It left me hoping that the cab would suddenly burst into flames so I wouldn’t have to hear this piece of shit talk anymore. And yet he still expected a tip on top of that.

And therein lies the problem with tipping. It’s now become expected of apparently big rich fat cats like myself (on a temp’s crappy wages) to just fork out AT LEAST a quarter of the total fare/food bill/haircut/bar bill/colonic irrigation to these poor, underprivileged plebians who make more money than I do. Never mind the polarized view that many nobodies like myself are also trying to get by. I have no idea what cab drivers make, whether or not they’re self-employed, what fees/bills they have to take care of to do their job. I don’t give a shit!

I have to pay to get to work (train plus sometimes the subway),  I pay for my work clothes and every other work-related expense with zero reimbursement or expectation for my business partners to cough up some spare change – even if I do a great job on a project that’s seen by tens of thousands of employees. I accept the fact that I’m a poor schlub on very low pay, but I derive some job satisfaction from doing my best work and seeing it pay off. Just not with money.

Everywhere I go, I feel as though I am being ordered to tip; otherwise you are a greedy, selfish bastard. Many times I’ve felt like going to my local to grab a beer, but I don’t want to be made to feel like I’m one of the fucking 1% if I can’t afford the cost of a pint and a half to include the apparently minimum-accepted 25%.

From the server’s side, the argument is that they often make less than $2 per hour and getting tips is their way of compensating for such a meagre wage. So instead of pitting the servers and the customers against each other, why not recognise the quite clear point that it is the employers themselves to whom everyone should direct their ire? Instead of feeling forced to pay up the discrepancy between the actual wage and a fair, decent wage, how about making an organised go at tackling what appears to be fair trade violations in the developed world?

Countries like Japan and most Western countries aren’t accustomed to tipping. You might think they’re cheap bastards, but people in the service industry in these countries, and definitely the UK, make at least minimum wage per hour anyway. Without tips. I’ve read arguments online saying that servers need tip money to feed their families and pay their bills. What I don’t understand is why this burden should lie with the customer, and if the customer can’t meet it, or chooses not to, then the server “remembers” the bad tipper and will probably rub their arse hairs in their food.

I tip mostly out of being polite, because it’s a small city, and everyone knows me, so they can’t really be a jerk to me. But with boorish thugs like the cab driver, I don’t feel obliged to tip – I feel bullied into doing so. I have no issue with tipping, but I can’t understand why people have accepted it to be the norm over here as opposed to a gratuity to be left in cases of exceptional service. Not every single time. If the original concept of tipping were being adhered to, that would indicate a high level of customer satisfaction, because everyone would be really, really happy with their doughnut or their cocktail or their bucket of chicken. But the US isn’t even in the top 20 in the Satisfaction with Life Index (yes, this exists).

I have been in the service industry. Not as a waitress or a bartender, but as a lowly retail worker. I never got a tip; I never even got a bonus. I then worked in a call centre (same deal), then moved onto working in the civil service (tips? hahahahaha) and then finally a temp office job with most likely no future and definitely no bonuses/tips etc. I know what it’s like to be on the other side of a conversation in which it doesn’t matter how wrong or right the customer is, and even if you agree with them and let them get their way, they will forget about it ten minutes later and you will spend the rest of your day resentful and disgruntled.

So to consider the idea of tipping as a social obligation is disappointing, because the only incentive to do your job to the bare minimum standards is to get an “reward” for it on top of a paycheque that is criminally low, but just socially-accepted as a form of punishment for the worker, the consumer, but not the proprietor/owner/politician. Way to go, Capitalism.


When did this entitlement-due-to-embarrassingly-low-server-pay become such the norm? When did it become mandatory to tip not for a job well done, but for parts of a job done near-adequately that didn’t result in car crashes or food poisoning? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about the fact that the wage is so low to begin with, instead of just expecting that gap between their pay and minimum wage to be filled by the customers? Why not challenge/examine the very foundations of this massive con (where all are concerned)?

Look at the unions for TFL in the UK – if they can get 43 days’ holiday, triple pay on Bank Holidays and almost £45,000 a year for just sitting and pushing and pulling a lever, why can’t the unions marshal that quintessential American violent anger and put it to good use where the rights of service industry workers are concerned?

As a foreigner from a country where tipping really IS tipping, it remains both baffling and infuriating to me. Luckily, there are some helpful hints in the odd coffeeshop here and there. The first time I found myself in a tipping situation was when I was in a hotel in Hollywood and a nice man brought up some room service. Despite the fact that this was before I met my husband, this isn’t what you think it is.

This was where I was staying at the time. I ordered some food for room service, and decided to pay in cash. Because I’m very, very awkward in situations with people, I thought that the sooner I tipped this strangely quiet man, the quicker he would leave and I could just sit with my food and watch TV in a place where I didn’t quite understand the language. The bill came to $17, and I gave what I thought was a $5, but as I was handing it over I slowly realised that it was a $20. Yes, I had paid $37 for a $17 meal.

The quiet hotel man couldn’t stop his eyes from bulging (seriously, it’s not that kind of story) out of his head and stammered, “do you want me to get you something else? some vodka, maybe?” I’m not sure why he offered me vodka. Had I mentioned it previously in some sort of jokey conversation-starter? Would he bring it from the hotel bar or from some private stash he’d nicked from all the mini-bars? Somehow I found myself saying “no” to an strong drink of unspecified origin with a strange man and retreated to the cold, limp (…..) congealed wheat-nest that was my vegetarian pasta, which probably could have used a pint of vod to give it some taste anyway.

At that point in time I could afford to accidentally tip like an overprivileged moron. But now that I’m out of uni and no longer mooching off a brilliant GBP to USD exchange rate, I now have to get in line with my useless dollar-paycheque and start living life in a sensible, non-student fashion. And part of learning how to spend is basically taking the price of anything – absolutely anything – and tacking on 25% so you don’t feel like a cheap bitch. Much different from the UK, where tipping is actually…tipping.



3 thoughts on “Tipping in America

  1. haha the spellchecker didn’t like the word “wanking”.

    But yeah, always go for 15%, it’s not insulting at all. I don’t know who is trying to trick you into thinking 25% is normal, it’s totally not.

  2. Pingback: Tipping and Gamification | GameMaki Blog

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