By Rachel Arandilla
MY MOST awkward moments in America probably happen when the restaurant bill is handed over by the waiter.
I never know how to react in these situations.
Let’s have one particular case in point: buffet dinner in Miami with a bunch of international students from various cultures. When it was time to pay we requested for the bill to be split five-ways, ignoring our waiter’s obvious indignation.
This is when it gets interestingÑseeing the bill come to our table and how different cultures simultaneously react to tipping and customer service. The American gave the standard 20 percent tip with no questions.
The German who has lived in US for several years, still looks at the bill and shakes his head with surprise every time, like it is his first time to encounter the word “gratuity” in his life.
The Indonesian modestly whispered to me how much is the standard for this kind of restaurant: should it be 10 percent, 15 percent or perhaps 20 percent?
I scribbled down $6 for the tip, even if the gratuity placed was $6.84. I thought in passing how this would piss the waiter, but hoped he wouldn’t care much for the 84 cents.
When the Israeli saw his bill, he fumed and asked to talk to management, demanding why they had put in gratuity as a requisite tax. “Plus, this is a buffet, we picked up the food ourselves, why are we paying for tip?!” he would stand still and argue to the death to prove his point, even if it meant wasting half of the day.
Meanwhile, while all this confusion is happening, the Japanese had already taken out his credit card and paid for everything, even the required gratuity charge. “It’s all covered, let’s go,” he told us.
This act ensued another flurry of confusion. Some said, “Thank you, you shouldn’t have!” Some insisted, “No, put back your money, I’ll pay for my meal.” And one particularly grumbled.
“You shouldn’t have paid for the gratuity charge, they didn’t serve the food in our table, and they treated us horribly.”
How I love the diversity of this group.
Nothing is more defining of American culture than the tipping culture. The tipping culture connects perfectly to a lot of things that are considered very “American” (e.g. direct and immediate results-oriented mindset as well as great and prompt customer service).
It still unnerves me whenever I enter a restaurant in the US and within a nanosecond, I already have someone on my side, chirping, “Hey, how are you? How can I help you? I’ll be more than happy to help you!” Eating out had become increasingly unpleasant for me, the longer I stayed in that country. To have another server who wants to be my next best friend.
Another conundrum for me was who to tip. Why do we tip the bellboy but not the receptionist? Why do we tip the servers, but not the cook that made my perfect steak? Why the bartender, but not the club’s bouncer? Why tip the manicurist, but not the girl who works at Sephora who helped me find the exact tint of nude lipstick I was looking for?
Why not tip policemen, or firemen or doctors?
Of course, that would be illegal — that would constitute as “bribery.” But do you understand where I am getting at, and how confusing this is?
The rest of the world seems to handle fine without it. Some cultures do with a service charge, such as in Europe or Russia. Some cultures simply “round up the bill,” while others have complicated tipping cultures, such as in the Philippines or Thailand. Still other cultures consider tipping as a rude practice, such as in East Asia such as China or Japan — you will probably see servers run after you to return the spare change you left in the table.
This particular country, however, is tip-crazy to the point that it has become, well, “oppressive.” There are just too many rules to gratuity that I am not culturally prepared for!
I wonder how this would work out if the tables were turned, if it wasn’t an outsider like me coming to America, the Tipping Capital of the world?