I acquiesce to convention and leave a tip for the hotel cleaner.
From my holiday journal:
THE TIPPING POINT
Tipping has certainly taken some getting used to. After my first day in Chicago, sleeping off jetlag out past O’Hare airport, I was wondering just who I wasn’t expected to tip. Cabs and restaurant waiters I can understand. I do that in Australia. No one offered to carry my bag, which I knew from the movies was a pretty clear-cut tipping scenario. But what about buying a coffee or paying for a bottle of water from my pre-paid hotel room, as happened checking out that first morning? The desk manager certainly didn’t seem like he expected a tip, and didn’t make it easy to give one.
I needed counsel desperately. I ran the risk of (a) becoming a human ATM and/or (b) coming off as stingy. It probably says a lot about me that I feared the latter far more. I think too many years of watching Seinfeld has chiselled my inner-Larry David, which began to flourish right off the bat in Chicago.
Thankfully, Trip Advisor came to my aid. This post cleared things up somewhat, though I still think the whole American tipping system is far more reminiscent of a British cultural institution (the people who gave us interpretive laws such as habeas corpus and LBW). But ultimately, tipping, like so much in America, is about cash. The service industry pays maids, waiters, bar workers, etc, below minimum wage in the expectation that they will make it up in tips (sort of a ‘work will set you free’ for the Manhattan-rent-challenged). The idea is that these workers will provide exceptional service in a quest for high tips and a better standard of living. The result is a bunch of glib service professionals accustomed to being patronised by self-important customers. You can’t help but feel that there is something very wrong here, especially when you are forced to watch a middle-aged white man explain to a Hispanic waiter in excruciating detail why he wasn’t leaving a tip.
The Tipping PointI now tip between 20-25%. It is quite astonishing the difference it makes. The difference between 18% (expected) and 22% is often only a dollar or two, but waiters do the percentage calculation in their head instantly and a wave of joy (and sometimes even pride) floods over them.
When I was young, my parents never offered financial incentives for high performance (’A’s in school, sporting wins, etc.) Any accomplishments were always praised, but they were never the product of my own mercenary fervour and, as a result, they were pure and they were mine – earned and owned.
I’ve decided that tipping elevates me, and those who serve me, above the system. A dollar or two is a cheap price tag for human authenticity. Money well spent.