For most of my formative years I lived out of a suitcase in a foreign land studying languages that interest me but everyone who looks at my resume says, “Ohhhh, you know Chinese and Japanese? Why study something so difficult?” Truth be told, I find French and Spanish baffling. The telephone has a gender? What is this madness? I get a lot of freebies and no MSG in my food as a perk.
In 2006 I landed in beautiful Tokyo. When I got off the plane I had my Berlitz book and lots of traveler’s checks* so I hopped in a cab and off I went to my hotel room. When we arrived I handed him the total and a tip, he returned the extra coinage to me and I didn’t think much of it. My friend HK met me in the lobby to give me the lowdown on how to live in the rising sun. I told her over lunch about the cab and she laughed, “There is no tipping here.”
“No tipping period? No bartender tips? No server tips? NO ONE TIPPED EVER?” I shouted in shock. She shook her head. I sat there, mouth agape, not knowing how to process this information. It was as if Beyoncé had come down from the pearly gates and said to me, “Welcome Swiss to heaven!” I would exclaim, “I never want to leave Bey Bey!” HK was used to that sort of reaction. She dealt with it on a nightly basis with her foreign clientele. I rushed back to my room and gathered all the Americans I was studying with to preach the no-tipping commandments. We knew exactly two things, our asses were going to be drunk and well fed.
Later that night at the club HK introduced me to her friends and we joked about my reaction. T asked me why I was so surprised. I told him, “It’s customary to tip a restaurant server 15-20% of the check, you tip the pizza guy especially if the weather outside has a name, and you tip the bartender if you ever want to see your drink.”
In Asia, you pay for the food and drinks with taxes/tip included. You can pitch a tent and spend a night at the table for all they care. There are some differences, namely you have to flag someone down for more food/drinks because there’s no “checking back”. It really takes the fuss out of the meal. We can eat slowly, get wasted and embarrass ourselves without having to argue about how much to tip the poor waitress having to listen to us sing the anthem a thousand times.
I really wish our customs would change. I have no problem with a 15-20% tip being included in the cost of the meal. If you’re going to tip that anyway why not make things easier? People would fuss about the prices but wouldn’t you enjoy your meal more if you knew people like BW could have benefits and not have to worry about bad nights? Also, we need to stop tipping every goddamn person. The Starbucks guy is paid well. The garbage men are paid well. My goddamn 9th grade English teacher is reasonably compensated. Let’s just throw money at everyone!
Until things change I’ll have to keep intercepting the check after my grouchy grandmother leaves 8% and take a shot of Jack and scribble in another 10%.