“American tipping has become a racketeering and business model,” says SC-based etiquette expert Charleston. Emily Dulles. This is because the majority of service employees in most foreign countries already receive a salary or a salary that does not depend on tips.
“Anyone who works abroad in any capacity rejoices when they meet American travelers – only because we tip 15-20% on top of our coffee tabs and our checks dinner,” she added. “Having an American at your table is like winning a small jackpot.”
Where should you tip now? You have to ask, experts say. Stan Scardino, a retired executive from Mountain View, Calif., was unsure whether he should tip his guide and driver when he was in Santorini, Greece last fall. He therefore asked his cruise company, who advised him to give 5 euros to his guide and 2 to his driver. But he chose to give them more because of the pandemic. Scardino has increased his usual tip from leaving change to a cash tip of between 5 and 7 euros.
“I’ve tipped more in the US because restaurants have fewer customers,” he says, “so why not for Europeans too?”
On a recent trip to the Azores, a tour guide told me that while she doesn’t rely on tips, some of her colleagues can’t make ends meet without them. For example, a shuttle driver with limited English skills can’t support a family without tips from American visitors, she says. The situation has worsened during the pandemic, with fewer Americans traveling abroad. But residents of the Azores are hopeful that things will return to normal this summer, including the volume of American visitors.
Here’s where things stand, according to a San Diego-based etiquette expert Maryanne Parker. Generally speaking, tipping is acceptable in many African and European countries, as well as in India and Malaysia.
“They’re not mandatory,” she says, “but they’re definitely necessary.”
In Australia and Japan, service workers may view tips as “intrusive and rude”, she adds. And in China, a tip can be considered a bribe.
Etiquette experts are divided on the spread of American tipping customs.
Laurel Barton, author of a guidebook from Forest Grove, Oregon, has observed a “drainage of tips” abroad. Last fall, she started seeing a tip line on check bills from some European restaurants. “As more and more people use credit cards instead of cash, this has undoubtedly had an impact on tipping – whether the culture is tip-oriented or not,” she says.
Nick Leighton, etiquette expert and co-host of the etiquette show “Were you raised by wolves?says tourists should adhere to local practices. “And tipping rules for pretty much anywhere in the world are never a secret and easy to find online, so it’s both polite and responsible to familiarize yourself with them before you go.”
“The travel and tourism industry has been decimated in many places, and those working in these industries should not be harmed,” she says. “If you’re going to travel overseas, it’s best to do your research beforehand.”
Tipping was a controversial topic long before the pandemic, of course. The unique practice in the United States of underpaying service employees and relying on the generosity of customers to cover their salaries is problematic. And I have to admit, this consumer advocate also has a problem with tipping requirements. After all, shouldn’t the price you are offered for a product also be the price you pay?
“A lot of Americans tend to associate tipping with not just what’s socially acceptable,” she says. “They also associate tipping with their identity. Tipping can be a form of expressive utility, a signal to ourselves and to others about the kind of people we are. We tip big because we want others to know how generous we are, how good people we are, or how rich we are.
In other words, sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.
Our tipping customs are spreading, aided by the outsized influence of American travelers and now the hardships of the pandemic. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we should always tip. In some countries, tipping is still considered offensive, pandemic or not. Careful research is needed, says Kabiri.
“Uncertainty about what to do can cause us to make choices that may not be socially acceptable, but that do us good,” she says. “To do the right thing when traveling abroad, we must be aware that local customs may matter more than how we see ourselves.”
So if you’re traveling overseas this spring or summer, don’t assume you should — or shouldn’t — tip your restaurant server or housekeeper. The world has changed during the pandemic. That’s good news for some cash-strapped service workers — and not so good news for those of us who like to pay the price tag.