Let me give you a brisk background check. I live in Australia, a nation where your food and clothing is already taxed. A nation where people are given adequate enough wages that they mustn’t “rely” on the tipping of others. A nation where service isn’t determined with the hopes of getting a tip by the end of it. A nation where people are not so desperate that they willy-nilly stampede over others for a Black Friday sale (though we get pretty close!). Do i love it? Do i hate it? Well i just live with it and indeed i am accustomed to it and within the last few years i have traveled extensively. I have been to Fiji, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Hong Kong and most recently Hawaii, one of the states that make up the United States Of America.
First and foremost in Hawaii, i had a fantastic time. The place was gorgeous. Warm welcoming waters with tall palm trees surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. Surely for many this is a paradise. Not to mention the people for the most part were witty and funny, my family and i enjoyed ourselves. Yet in saying that it was the first time i had been part of an environment that was driven by the tipping culture. Tipping being paying an “extra” 15-20% from any given price for any given service seeming the people in those industries are grossly underpaid.
I remember briefing my parents beforehand, telling them tipping is part of the culture and as we know that famous saying: “When in Rome do as the Romans do“. My parents were baffled and ever so confused because they too have never been exposed to the tipping culture and my father said to me “Why should the people have the pay for the governments failings?“. In a sense he is absolutely right, nobody should be underpaid and left not knowing how much they will be taking home that evening, being at the mercy of the people. In saying that when we were there we all did our best to satisfy their cultural expectations but in hindsight i saw a lot and i came to a realization that surely opened up my eyes.
The tipping concept first of all stressed me. I was constantly paranoid with whether i am tipping enough, who exactly it was i was expected to tip, who deserves a better tip- or none at all? I found myself in my travels constantly confounded and confused, worried that indeed i did not tip enough or perhaps too much for someone undeserving. Then came the fear of getting judged, i never wanted to be seen as some arrogant tourist, or a person that was greedy, hence upon giving people back their bills I’d worryingly try to read their faces hoping they were satisfied.
Then of course came the numerous reactions to my tips. I remember one gentleman at the cheesecake factory literally looking at my bill as if he had just sucked a sour lemon. I recall another person giving me death stares after serving me when i returned a few nights later. I recall the over the top thanks i got from others who would appear so grateful, bowing down, tapping my hand, massive smiles on their faces and acting as if somehow they were in my debt suddenly. I then recalled a few massage therapists, two of which escorted us back to our cars whilst the third was too insulted with her tip that she openly refused to accompany us as we left their premises. Finally was the gentleman at the eatery that delivered me terrible service where lo and behold suddenly i felt EMPOWERED by my money and i felt this glee knowing i would give him nothing for his abysmal service.
Yet all of this felt so unnatural, something was seriously wrong. There was so much emotional attachment to money in this society that it was essentially causing a black stain on my trip. The tipping culture was something i had never adjusted to and i saw the whole whirlpool of emotion that money subjugated every day people to. From disappointment to sadness to anger. From thanks to appreciation to humility. From empowerment to condemnation, it seemed to me that life itself in this part of the world relied on money. I notice that this entire cycle of feelings and emotion literally revolved around money. From their expectations to my fear, from their retaliation to their appreciation, from my paranoia, to their disgust and anger, not to mention my regret- i was just baffled at this unfamiliar territory i was in, indeed i was loathing this tipping culture because from the outside looking in and being a stranger to this concept you really see the sadness in the dependency to the dollar bill.
What i love about my society and my culture is that people do not have to be over the top and amplify their service because they want something from you. In Australia, in the service industry you know that when a person is delivering spectacular service it is because they mean it and essentially because they love their jobs. In some of the establishments in the United States i felt this fraudulent ambiance around me, they paid a little too much attention to me, their smiles were a little too far stretched and indeed the reality became apparent when i paid the bill– which mind you was still an acceptable tip.
Anyone that knows me certainly know that i am a very generous person, i am very giving and do not think twice about it. Yet i have always believed that it is wise to be selective to who you are giving to. I like to give things to people that are actually deserving of it. It made me feel like i was in some pretend world when i was giving “extra” to people that were giving me “extra” only for that sole purpose alone– not for any genuine reason and it conflicted severely with my ideals. I understand they are underpaid and i understand people have to pay their bills, but i want to live in reality and the reality is people do not have to be underpaid.
People shouldn’t be “expected” to do things that play a role in diminishing reality and forcing us to live in some made up world where people are supposedly SO HAPPY to serve you whilst cursing you behind your back. As my trip came to an end i really saw the wisdom in what my father told me, the system is broken and the people shouldn’t be forced to “fix it”. The bottom line is people in the service industry end up being angry at us- the people, for a fault in their governance, it is not my fault you are underpaid and i do not want you to amplify your service based on an expectation of something. I didn’t want to be a player in this game, but in actuality i had to- as i said earlier “When in Rome…“