T.I.P.S

It?s such a cliche to say the British are bad tippers. But only in the sense of it being true. When I first came to the US in 1997, our TrekAmerica guide emphasized the importance of tipping. For altruistic reasons of course. He told us that ?tips? stood for ?to insure proper service?. I decided not to point out that the acronym should in fact be ?teps?, to ensure proper use of the English language.


Nowadays I tip 20 percent on restaurant bills. Partly because I know how reliant waitstaff are on tips but mostly because it?s a lot easier for me to calculate 20 percent of a bill than 15 percent. Yes, I failed maths so others may benefit.

However, I do begrudge tipping valet parkers at hotels. The prices are normally a complete rip-off -which I know isn?t their fault – and I always feel obliged to tip at both ends – drop-off and collection. I?d sooner forgo having my door opened and being helped out as though I?m 80 and keep the $2. If I don?t double-tip then I worry about what they?ll be doing in my car between times. I also have trouble with the whole folding bills into my hand and passing it smoothly to the guy as if I?m trading drugs or trying to bribe the maitre?d. ‘Trouble’ as in I get Erik to do it, thus setting back the women’s movement 30 years.

But my biggest problem is in places that have tip jars. Such things aren?t, or at least weren?t popular in England. In a pub, we don?t leave money on the bar for the bartender because it?d seem terribly flash and would probably be nicked by another customer. Instead, we offer to buy the barman a drink. Instead of the drink, he?ll take the monetary equivalent, but will play along with the idea that you?ve bought him a drink and raise a glass to you. This wouldn?t really work in a Starbucks. And a coffee for yourself Barista? er.. no thanks.

The problem, it seems, is my ego – needing my tip to be seen and acknowledged, but without showing that I care about such things. Is that contradictory or contrary? Oh who cares about semitics anyway. Not that I’m anti- or anything.

So here’s my guide to over-analyzing yet another very straightforward situation. First, wait till the bartender or coffee person is looking your way (but not making specific eye contact) and can see you put the dollar in the jar. Timing is critical here. If they are in any way distracted then your dollar won?t be seen and the only option then is to noisily stuff it in the jar so that it?s half sticking out of the top and clearly too new to be shoved further down. The other option is risky – put in your dollar, along with some change, that way your contribution will be heard if not seen. But this doesn?t work if you?ve just bought a latte for $2.81 because you might be taken for a cheapskate who?s taking the piss by only putting 19 cents into the jar.

I accumulate lots of 19 cents over the week. I rarely spend my change because I don?t trust myself to hand it over confidently. I frequently confuse my dimes and nickels and so i throw it all into the bottom of my bag. I don?t carry a change purse, because I?m not 70, despite what the valet parkers may think. Periodically I throw all the change into an old catfood tin, I mean glass jar and when it?s full I take it to the Coinstar coin collector machine at HEB. With the exception of the change machines at Vegas that can break your $20 bill into quarters, nothing makes me feel like a winner than watching the total counter rise as my coins filter through. It?s like free money. Except for the 8.9 percent counting fee. But it?s not really a fee is it, more a tip to the generous folks at Coinstar.