Tipping culture around the world
Rewarding good service can be a cultural minefield and a source of embarrassment. Tipping the wrong amount, or the wrong person, may seem like a trivial faux pas but do you really want your associates to see you as someone who is ill-prepared to function in a different culture? Learning what to tip and understanding why the custom varies so much from one country to another is a worthwhile investment along the path to developing cultural sensitivity. Here are a few tips on tipping around the world:
The USA has a bad rap for its seemingly over-generous attitude to tipping but there is a reason for this. Service staff are often paid as little as 25% of the minimum wage, which is allowed by law as they are expected to make up their income with gratuities. Hence the seemingly aggressive tipping culture, and the reason Americans are content to leave 20% or more in restaurants. Failure to do this, unless the service was terrible, will cause you to lose face in front of whomever you are entertaining.
In France, 15% must by law be added to the tab in a restaurant and the French do not tend to tip beyond leaving a few Euros in cash for good service. Why should they, you might ask, when French waiters are famously so rude? In the waiters defence, this is a cultural misunderstanding. Restaurant work in France is not seen as menial, but as a job that commands respect. On top of this, French customers tend to be both vocal and assertive and waiters will often give as good as they get.
Arab culture is hospitality-orientated and good service is expected and appreciated. Tipping in the Middle East tends to be little and often; in the United Arab Emirates, for example, keep small amounts for porters and housekeepers and round up the bill in a taxi. Restaurants follow the US model and as much as 20% might be expected for a top establishment; wealthy Saudis, Emiratis and Qataris may hand out extravagant tips to impress visitors, too. Bear in mind that the people who serve you in a restaurant are unlikely to be locals, but instead, immigrant workers from Asia who depend on tips to make up their income, much of which is sent home.
Restaurant and hotel workers in many African countries receive a very basic wage and tipping is an essential part of their income, so leave 10-15% for good service. Should your travels allow time for a safari, most safari companies publish tipping protocols about what to leave for guides, drivers, porters and cooks. Do not give cash tips to children on the streets; make a donation to a school instead, or take a supply of pens to give out.
Brazil is a relatively low-tipping culture; restaurant bills usually include 10% service and no more is expected on top. In keeping with the discreet, dignified way in which business is done, tips to any other individuals drivers or porters, for example, are handed over without display.
Australians are unenthusiastic tippers; restaurant workers here have to be paid at least the minimum wage so 10-15% in a restaurant is seen as enough, as is rounding up the bill for cab drivers. In New Zealand, tipping was until recently unheard of and people may still be embarrassed if you try to tip them.
Asian cultures generally do not expect tips; to tip someone suggests that you see them as dependent on your largesse to make a living. The tip may be kept to allow the giver to save face, but may be seen as a mild insult by the recipient. In China, some upscale restaurants add 10-15% but there is absolutely no need to tip above this. The same goes for Japan porters, concierges and waiters do not expect tips and at most, you should round up the cab fare. In South Korea, there’s barely any tipping expected other than rounding up a cab fare. Hong Kong, which is more westernized, is the opposite; waiters in restaurants expect a 10-15% tip.
South Pacific cultures see visitors as honoured guests or even family and many people would be mortified to think visitors felt they had to pay for service. At most, leave 10% in a top restaurant.
Across egalitarian Scandinavia, tips are not expected in restaurants, bars, taxis or hotels. Waiters in particular have a sense of pride in their work and are usually reasonably well paid. Tipping them is almost insulting a suggestion that you feel they need to be compensated for choosing a low-paid job.