Monday, March 23, 2015

Baseball, Hot Dogs and Tipping

First, I want to assure you that back in the U.S. I'm not some extravagant tipper. I don't throw dollar bills up in the air at restaurants and bars.  If someone else is paying a check I don't double check to make sure he or she tipped enough. I tip like you tip, 15-20% at a restaurant, a dollar or two per drink at a bar, a dollar or two per bag at hotel, a dollar or two for the valet. 

I know that tipping practices vary depending on what country you are in. When we went to Costa Rica on our honeymoon we learned that people there don't tip. When we go to Miami and eat at restaurants, the tip is often included in the check because so many people visit Miami from other countries and they don't know the American tipping customs. 

Here it's totally different and I am having trouble getting used to it. We could argue about why I'm having trouble assimilating. Maybe I secretly yearn to be the American big shot who comes to town and is the best tipper Joburg has ever seen? I hope that's not the case and I don't think that it but I guess anything is possible.

In South Africa the suggested amount to tip waitstaff at restaurant is 10%. I have had less of a hard time getting used to the restaurant tipping because it's a rule....10%. For someone with weak math skills (not naming names) it's easy to remember and calculate. So o.k. I can live with it.

Other customs around tipping are less clear. At the hair salon I have watched other people and it does not appear that they tip. There are no little envelopes at the cash register for you to use for tipping. When you pay in cash they don't give you tip friendly change. I have read several websites which suggest tip percentages and it seems like you can tip your hair stylist 10% but they also says that a lot of people don't. 

Here's the reason for my current obsession with this topic. As I have mentioned we are going to be leaving the guest lodge soon after staying here for six weeks. I asked a native South African for advice on how much I should tip a few select people that work here. I won't give you the boring details but there are a few staff here who have really done a lot for us. She replied that I needed to know that a tip was not expected but that if I really wanted to I could give R200 to each person who had gone above and beyond. That's about $20 each.

You've watched t.v. shows about addiction like Intervention and Celebrity Rehab? The sobriety experts always tell the addicts things like, "that's your disease talking and telling you to leave rehab." Well my addicted to tipping American brain is telling me that the person I asked for advice has no idea what she's talking about and her input should be completely disregarded. I'm positive that the woman who gave me a 20 minute scalp massage (don't judge) at the hairdresser was thinking the whole time "rubbing this head better be worth my while."  So yes, it's hard for me to imagine people don't expect a tip. But then I remind myself that I'm in a different place and my American values may not apply and just because I feel the need to tip or to give more than what was suggested doesn't make it right to do so and that it could be wrong to do so. Then I ask myself how can being generous be bad? So I'm the heroin addict who tells the doctor she just needs to step outside of the rehab facility for ten minutes for some fresh air because I can't trust my own brain to know what's right.  

I will tip a few of the staff from the lodge when we leave and somehow I'll figure out how much to give. I'm not going to tell you what I end up tipping because I know it won't be correct. It will be either the right South African thing or the right American thing or some hybrid tipping scale thing that I make up. I need a Budweiser and some apple pie. 

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  1. Assuming the staff in question are black Africans then I would feel comfortable being as generous as I felt like. Most assume that whites are universally rich and Americans even more so. You'll only ever risk causing offense if you tip too low. This ties into domestic service as well. Even though most expats don't have maids back home you are expected to have them in Africa as you will be seen as a cheapskate if you don't. Even black Africans have domestic staff of their own once they have reached what passes for middle class in Africa. So enjoy your tipping guilt free.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes the staff were all black. Now I am much more comfortable being a generous tipper but I know that I'm in the minority and many people tip very little or not at all.


About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.