One of the first few questions that we have when arriving in a new country is always about tipping. Are we supposed to tip? If so, who do we tip and how much?
Through our travels, we have been to many countries where tipping is not part of the culture. Coming from the U.S., where you tip everyone in the service industry—waiters, taxi drivers, bellhops, tour guides, bar tenders, hair dressers, baristas and even the mailman (really!?)—we often find ourselves wanting to tip even when it’s not required.
Likewise, in countries were tipping is practiced, we often find ourselves tipping more than what is expected. And we’re not alone in this practice. From the comments we’ve heard from locals, Americans are known worldwide for our over tipping! That either means we’re generous or that we have a blatant disregard for other cultures.
Tipping in Developing Countries
In many countries in Southeast Asia, tipping is not customary. Even so, I have seen and heard several viewpoints suggest that you still should tip. And we tended to side with that argument as many people live in poverty and make very little money. Thus, tipping—even just a little bit in the local currency—could mean a lot to people in developing countries. To us, the tip in most cases is mere cents, really.
We found that when we elected to tip in places like Thailand, that people were generally gracious and very thankful for the generosity. For example, we attempted to tip one of our tour guides in Thailand. She appreciated the gesture and thanked us, but felt like it was excessive and tried to give the money back to us. After much conversation and persuasion, she reluctantly accepted the tip, but expressed that, for her, it felt like she was being greedy.
In countries where tipping is not customary it can actually be difficult to leave a tip. For instance, when paying via credit card in the U.S. receipts always have an extra line where you can enter a tip. However, in countries where tipping is not customary, we have noticed the line to add a tip is missing altogether. So, the only option we have is to try and dig into our pockets to find some small bills and change.
Our Tipping Point for Tipping
We certainly could have been labeled as “American over tippers“…that is until an incident in New Zealand. We had an enjoyable day touring the island of Waiheke and at the end of the day we attempted to tip our guide. She declined the tip outright! She insisted that we hold onto our money and lectured that they DO NOT tip in New Zealand. It was a fact that we knew, but tipping is so ingrained in us as Americans, that we still think we should tip a little bit for good service. In this case, it seemed more like we ignored the cultural norm.
So from that point forward, we decided it’s best to adopt the local culture and stop tipping when it isn’t required. Even if it seems like the nice or courteous thing to do, it can have an entirely different meaning and show that you don’t know or respect the local culture.
And to reinforce our new-found respect for not tipping, we learned that people in the service industry are paid much more in places like New Zealand and Australia than they are in America. For example, wait staff make a very nice hourly wage and do not depend upon tips to make ends meet. However, we have also observed that restaurant prices are much higher than they are at home. Our assumption is that meals are already marked up to include what we would have normally paid in tips!
Not tipping has been a definite shift in our mindset, but it’s starting to feel a bit more natural. It’s nice to simply pay the bill and not have to think about how much to leave for a tip. Truth be told, I think I prefer the “tip is not required” culture. There is something nice about looking at the price and knowing that everything is already built into the price tag—the price you see is the price you pay!