Readers' tipping nightmares and fairytales

A composite image of tipping in various forms

To tip or not to tip... or should it be banned? That was the question posed in a recent story on the changing nature of tipping in the US, and it prompted many readers to send us their own stories.

The article mentioned the difficulties experienced by some foreigners in the US but it's clear that similar pitfalls confront travellers in other countries - including Americans in countries where tipping is not part of the culture.

1. Kenneth McLeod, Xiamen, China: I live and work in China; last year at a trade conference we were invited to a banquet by our Chinese hosts. The waitress was giving top class service and an American tried to give the waitress a tip, which she refused. However he still forced the tip into her pocket; at this juncture the waitresses manager saw the money go into the waitress' pocket, the manager came across to the waitress and sacked her on the spot. She took the money out of the waitress' pocket and tried to give it back to the American, who refused to take it back and an altercation started, much to our Chinese hosts' embarrassment. I had to take him aside and explain to him that he was insulting our hosts and Chinese people in general. He couldn't understand that it was insulting to tip in China, that the employer paid staff a wage set by the government. All I could get from him was: "Oh we do that in in America all the time." He seemed mystified that customs in countries other than America are different. The waitress didn't get her job back, because the manageress would have "lost face" with the rest of her staff, if she admitted that she had made a mistake.

Walking the tipping tightrope

Grab of tipping story

The size of tips has increased and the list of those who expect them is growing also, in recent years joined by staff in takeaways.

Meanwhile, tip jars have proliferated to such an extent you may be confronted by one where you receive your sandwich and another one a few feet away where you pay for it.

It's a custom that's become second nature for most Americans, although there's still a sharp intake of breath when they see three or four hotel staff involved in taking their luggage from the boot of the car and up to the room.

2. Ian Wensor, Chiang Rai, Thailand: It's a different kettle of fish where I live in Thailand. Thais don't normally tip Thais but if you're a falang (foreigner) you're seen as easy pickings. If a tip or service charge isn't mentioned on the "check bin" (bill), it's reasonable to assume that you've been sized up and your account, in addition to the VAT, adjusted accordingly.

3. John, Columbus, Ohio, US: I once tipped about 80% - all I had left was a twenty after a $25 meal. I couldn't make change with anyone else at the table, and I couldn't very well say to the server, "Here, this is what I could give you; now, break off a five and give the rest back to me." So, I wrote a little note telling him to thank his god(s) that it was the best (and worst) I could give him.

4. Ian H.Thain, Banbury, UK: I found that giving tips to hotel staff in the Philippines was met with embarrassment. But equally, I didn't want to be seen as tight-fisted when I know how little they earn compared with us, and I felt embarrassed if I didn't tip. One restaurant in the USA had a large notice by the cash desk: "We pay our staff well. Please do not insult them by leaving tips." However, beside the till itself was a jar labelled "Insults".

5. Gill Danis, Paris, France: At the restaurant of the Pau Casino (in the south of France), where I dined with seven others, all French, I added a €20 note to the bill as a tip. Simultaneously seven hands descended on the money, and there were cries of "Mais non!". Apparently I was grossly over-tipping and the waiter had no right to expect more than one euro per person. I felt terribly embarrassed walking out of the place.

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The driver gave me a HK$50 note in change - I was tipped HK$0.30 to travel in his taxi!”

End Quote Morgan Hong Kong

6. Ruby Bright, Boston, US: When I was visited by a group of English friends, as the American I would be pulled aside by waiting staff at almost every restaurant and told: "Your friends know they need to tip, right?" It was awkward and rude, more often than not, making me not want to leave a good tip at all. After hearing this once, I was annoyed, but the second and third time? Those waiters surely regretted saying anything because they had to hear from me how it was disrespectful, presumptuous and unpleasant to basically be told that we needed to tip, as an aside, usually on my way to the toilet.

7. Allen Camp, Stevenage, Herts: On a stopover in Fiji in the early 1980s I found myself alone in the hotel bar and adopted the usual British stance of "And one for yourself mate." The barman accepted with grateful surprise and later gave me a note which he requested I deliver, as a favour, to a colleague of his at Manu Island resort, that I was visiting the following day. I thought little of this and duly passed the message to the friend, another barman, on arrival and was surprised at being cocooned away from the rest of the group of tourists to receive a personal VIP service all day. The note, in Fijian, apparently explained that I was a "friend" and that I should be accorded true Fijian hospitality. A highlight day in a six-week southern tour that, to this day, makes me smile remembering those wonderfully generous-spirited people.

8. Morgan, Hong Kong: This evening in Hong Kong I took a taxi home. The fare was HK$50.30 and I handed over a HK$100 note. The driver gave me a HK$50 note in change. I was tipped HK$0.30 to travel in his taxi! This is not unusual as taxi drivers round up or down the fare to the nearest dollar to speed up the paying process.

9. Leo Martorana, UK: I have abandoned tipping but leave a small envelope with the comment: "This is something for your you." This avoids any embarrassment and inside the recipient will find a "thank you" card. I am also going to get some made with: "Your service was appalling."

Peanut butter sandwich An edible tip?

10. Roan, US: After experiencing bad, rude service and horrible food at a restaurant in New York City many years ago, we were confronted by a waitress who claimed that leaving no tip would mean she would go hungry. I took a peanut butter and jam sandwich out of my purse and left it on the table for her. Seriously, I used to carry them to give to begging street people so that they wouldn't use money to go buy a bottle of cheap wine. Ahh- how things have changed since the 70's! Now, I'd be sued for offering the potentially allergenic peanut butter instead of good, clean cash.

Start Quote

Most days I feel as though there is no real incentive for good customer service here in the UK”

End Quote Brittany London

11. Jeremy Hartley, Cheddar, UK: My family were staying in a hotel in France. At our evening meal the steaks were so tough they could barely be chewed but when this was brought to the manager's attention he, in a very Basil Fawlty-type move, simply provided sharper knives. This, and a terrible night's sleep on uncomfortable beds, prompted my father to offer a five-centime tip the following day, after paying our bill. Needless to say this was thrown back at him accompanied by a great deal of Gallic invective.

12. R J Kelley, ‏@RJKelley1: This week my hotel added a delivery fee, a service charge, and a tip - which doubled the price of my soup and fruit.

13. Norman, Larne, Northern Ireland: I was once staying at a resort hotel in Mexico. At the end of the vacation, I needed some change to tip the various hotel staff (only wanting to accept US dollars, of course) and I tried to ask for some smaller US bills that I would then be able to hand out to everyone. The shop in the hotel lobby wanted to give me the change but also expected a healthy tip for doing so! This was effectively holding me to ransom. I was so furious that I took my larger banknote back and said that I was sorry but I was now unable to provide anyone with a tip and walked out. The till was not short of smaller bills, the shop keeper was just acting like a private bank and effectively imposing their own commission rate.

Woman paying restaurant bill Time for some rapid mental arithmetic...

14. Ronald Cavaye, London: Generally tipping is not a matter of the money, more the stress of the whole thing - particularly in the USA or in UK taxis where one has to work it out. At least if there is 12% on the bill one doesn't have to start doing math at the end of a meal!

15. Nick, Montreal, Canada: I live in Quebec and over here the government assumes that restaurant or bar staff receive 15% tips on all goods they sell, and they pay tax on this irrespective of whether they received it or not.

Start Quote

He got extremely angry and insisted that we leave a further 10% or he'd call the police”

End Quote Mark Britton Manchester

16. Abdel Rahman Ibrahim, Alexandria, Egypt: I am from Egypt, and I fully agree that tipping has become more of an obligation than an optional sign of gratitude. If you don't tip the waiter, or the shoe shiner, or the fellow who irons your clothing, or the person who bags your groceries, it is socially unacceptable and you are deemed stingy and impolite. The problem is further exacerbated in social outings, where your tip is not only judged by the waiter, but by your companions. I personally was at the gas station getting a car wash. After it was washed, the employee walked up to me and said, "The gas station's price is 20 pounds," followed by a smile. I immediately understood that I had to tip, so I left 30 instead of 20. The funny thing is, I think he wasn't satisfied. Another time, I was eating out with friends at Pizza Hut. After examining the receipt, we decided that we should leave a two pound tip. I was surprised though, as we were leaving, because a waiter had tapped on my shoulder. He had a discontent countenance to him and handed me the two pounds, saying "You can catch a ride on the bus with that, instead of leaving it here."

17. Robin, Richmond, US: When we lived in Turkey, one was never supposed to tip taxi drivers - they expected to be paid to the lira, but in the Istanbul hair salons the customer was expected to individually tip the person who washed her hair, cut her hair, and anyone else who rendered a service.

18. Brittany, London: I'm an American expat who's been living in London for the past six years, and I'll never forget the first pint I bought in a pub. An overgenerous tipper even by US standards, I left two pound coins for the barman on the bar after paying for that pint. A kindly older man sitting alongside stopped me before I could commit such an egregious social faux pas. I hastily pocketed the coins and drank my pint in a dark corner, hoping nobody had spotted my error. I still try to tip at least 20% at restaurants and chuck on a few extra pounds whenever closing out a tab at a bar, but have been met with outright refusal from the staff in more than one instance (which will both always confuse me and guarantee that I will return to that establishment). Most days I feel as though there is no real incentive for good customer service here in the UK, so whenever my server is friendly or a bartender remembers what I've been drinking, I appreciate being able to acknowledge in a small way that they've gone beyond what is expected by paying more than they expect.

19. Raissa Pizarro, São José dos Campos, Brazil: Tipping is not a common practice in Brazil. I've never paid tips here. Here we have another point: pay informal workers at the streets. For instance, if somebody parks their car on the street, they have to pay an informal person that will look for the car to protect it. Those kind of people are always on the street, so we can't avoid them. That bothers me because these people usually will use your money only to buy drugs and beer. Therefore, you will not be helping that person in the right way.

20. Mark Briton, Manchester, UK: Four of us went to a steak restaurant in Manhattan one evening on holiday. The service was pretty poor; the waiter brought the wrong wine and our food took a long time to arrive. At the end of the meal we left a 10% tip. As we left the restaurant we were followed by the waiter who asked whether we had been unhappy with the service. We explained the two issues we'd had and that we'd left 10% anyway; he got extremely angry and insisted that we leave a further 10% or he'd call the police! Being on holiday we didn't want any hassle so we just paid and left.

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