When we travel in North America, I get exhausted from having to tip. Tip the taxi driver from the airport to the hotel. Tip the bellhop. Tip the concierge who watches your luggage while you go to lunch where you tip some more.
A recent New York Times article even proposes that tipping in restaurants should be eliminated. Tipping may not be a city in China, but it’s an institution in America.
In fact in China, tipping is not expected and sometimes may be considered rude. We found this out when we were chased down a Guilin street by a woman waving the extra money we had left on her restaurant’s table. “Too much, too much,” she cried. We tried to explain that it was for her for good service, but quickly saw that we were making her uncomfortable. We took our money back.
The funny thing is we knew that tipping wasn’t expected in China. Yet our good ol’ American guilt kicked in when we had such a great time at the restaurant and just couldn’t leave without showing our appreciation through a little extra yuan. After all we’re trained to be good tippers in the West, right down to dropping some coin in those offensive little jars set outside a drive-up coffee shop window.
When we left a tip after dining with an Australian and three Belgians in a Vietnamese cafe, (tipping is appreciated — though not always expected — in Vietnam), it triggered a discussion. Our young companions said they never tipped, with the Australian telling us that “You Americans tip too much.”
Maybe so, but we’d rather tip than appear rude and that really is the point: If you’re a conscientious traveler, you take the time to learn how to avoid offending the locals — whether it’s not pointing bare feet toward the Buddha, or keeping your bathing suit on at a Mexican beach. This includes tipping, which may or may not be an observed custom.
We usually follow local guidelines on how much to tip. For example, 20 percent of the bill is now considered normal for restaurants in the United States. In Mexico it’s more like 10 – 15 percent. Even if tipping is customary, we still approach it based on service. Great service often gets a higher tip. Poor service, not so much. Lousy service, like the time a Cambodian taxi driver refused to stop for a bathroom break on a long drive, no tip. Of course that’s all up to you.
It’s pretty easy to find out what the tipping custom is in various countries. Most guidebooks provide tipping guidelines for restaurants, taxi drivers, hotel staff and tour guides. You can also find this information online at sites like TripAdvisor.
Also, it’s a good idea to carry around small change in the local currency. Taxi drivers and small restaurants may not be able to change larger bills for tip money.