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June 12, 2012 9:51 PM   Subscribe

"Of the many pieces of advice proffered, four of the most common are: eat with your fingers (sometimes), arrive on time (always), don't drink and drive (they take it seriously here!), and be careful about talking politics (unless you've got some time to spare)." Advice from the tourism guidebooks for foreign visitors to the United States.
posted by hypotheticole (229 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Advice from the two or three tourism guidebooks for English-speaking foreign visitors to the United States that we bothered to look at.

This is a rich and interesting topic that is poorly served by this limited and shallow article. The way it's written, it sounds like there's a single set of advice that all visitors from the Great Foreign Outside receive and find useful.
posted by Nomyte at 10:02 PM on June 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


I really enjoy this sort of anthropologist's gaze at the exotic American. Where can I get more? The more clinical and removed the better.
posted by BinGregory at 10:10 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, don't arrange to buy marijuana from strangers ... off the edge of abandoned golf courses.
posted by philip-random at 10:11 PM on June 12, 2012


Eating Rituals among the Nacirema

wiki on the Nacirema
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:13 PM on June 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


To be fair, it's not always intuitive which foods are eaten with the fingers in Japan, either. As anywhere else, just don't be first and follow the lead of others.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:16 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was in France years ago I bought a French tourism guide to the U.S. out of curiosity. I like that they referred to American coffee (this was before the ubiquity of Starbucks) as "jus de chaussette," which idiomatically means "dishwater" but literally means "sock juice."
posted by stargell at 10:17 PM on June 12, 2012 [36 favorites]


Several years ago I picked up a copy of the Xenophobe's Guide to the Americans for laughs. It's actually a pretty good read (IIRC written by a team of authors, both from within and outside the target culture, as all the books in the series are). There was very little I found to disagree with in the book, outside of a few cheap laughs here and there.

It more or less matched my experiences taking family from the UK around the US (mostly on the East Coast).

Honestly the big issue was tipping. If you're visiting from other parts of the world I can easily imagine that personal space or table manners might be more of an issue, but with guests from northern Europe it seemed like tipping (or lack thereof) was the one big thing that created the risk of a Bad Situation.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:18 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was in France years ago I bought a French tourism guide to the U.S. out of curiosity. I like that they referred to American coffee (this was before the ubiquity of Starbucks) as "jus de chaussette," which idiomatically means "dishwater" but literally means "sock juice."

This is amusing, but it's not like French coffee was anything to write home about, either.
posted by asnider at 10:19 PM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


American as she is speaked.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:22 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Honestly the big issue was tipping.

As an Australian, it was. I mean, I understood the principal, and I just added 20% on everything, but I'd failed to study up on the process - ie. writing an amount on the bill and sending it away with your credit card. I actually said to the first waitress I encountered "I want to tip you. I have a credit card. How...?". Poor girl.

The walking away behind a door with my precious, precious credit card all the time stressed me as well.
posted by Jimbob at 10:22 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


They carry your credit card away in Australian restaurants too. Are there countries where they run it at your table?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:26 PM on June 12, 2012


Canada runs cards at your table sometimes. I was weirded out that on a recent trip to the US I could only pay with credit (not my bank debit card) at restaurants. Why is that?
posted by chapps at 10:27 PM on June 12, 2012


In most of Europe running the card right in front of you is pretty standard.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:27 PM on June 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


They carry your credit card away in Australian restaurants too.

Not any I've been to. They bring the bill to the table. I take it up to the counter to pay. Maybe I don't eat fancy enough.
posted by Jimbob at 10:28 PM on June 12, 2012


The walking away behind a door with my precious, precious credit card all the time stressed me as well.

At least you go can rampaging through the kitchen to retrieve it. Putting my ATM card in a foreign machine is a major act of faith.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:28 PM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]



This is amusing, but it's not like French coffee was anything to write home about, either.


Someone likes it...french roast. french press. ?
posted by ian1977 at 10:29 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Putting my ATM card in a foreign machine is a major act of faith.

True.
posted by Jimbob at 10:30 PM on June 12, 2012


Canada runs cards at your table sometimes. I was weirded out that on a recent trip to the US I could only pay with credit (not my bank debit card) at restaurants. Why is that?

For some reason the fees charged to the business for using debit cards are much higher than those for credit cards.

Personally I suspect it's because the companies that process the cards are also in the credit business and would rather see you build debt, but I'm a cynic that way.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:30 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everything I know about being American I learned from my Uncle Bill. He was actually born there, so he grew up with it, and he didn't need books to tell him how to do it. I know what Bill would say about this:posted by twoleftfeet at 10:32 PM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


I could only pay with credit (not my bank debit card) at restaurants. Why is that?

In the US, unlike in many other countries, there is very little benefit to a small merchant to accept PIN-debit (similar to an ATM card) over signature-debit (similar to a credit card).

For large merchants there is an advantage, and Costco/Walmart/Ikea and others will steer you towards PIN-debit or a preferred credit card in order to reduce fees, but small merchants lack the negotiating power to do this. They get equally screwed either way, and thus just go for the more common form of payment, which is signature-based credit or debit (debit cards bearing a Visa or Mastercard logo).
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:38 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not any I've been to. They bring the bill to the table. I take it up to the counter to pay. Maybe I don't eat fancy enough.

Fair enough, the only time I use a card is when the amount involved is high in relation to the amount of cash I'm willing to carry around, so my credit-card-in-eating-establishment experience is probably biased on the fancy side irrespective of the country.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:39 PM on June 12, 2012


In the US, unlike in many other countries, there is very little benefit to a small merchant to accept PIN-debit (similar to an ATM card) over signature-debit (similar to a credit card).

Seems strange, given the risks to the merchant of forged signatures. Credit cards are shifting to PINs. All mine, Visa and Mastercard, are PIN now. When I visited Malaysia last month, you couldn't pay for things by signing any more, PIN was mandatory.
posted by Jimbob at 10:42 PM on June 12, 2012


Someone likes it...french roast. french press. ?

French roast = burnt coffee.
French press = designed (or at least patented) by an Italian.
posted by asnider at 10:42 PM on June 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


arrive on time (always)

From the stories I hear about planning events for Asian associations, its always a major game to put out just the right "nominal" start time to your events, so when people arrive 45 minutes to an hour late, they actually arrive on time for the actual real start time. Of course your attendees notice this and there's some kind of iterated feedback process.

I personally experienced this when I arrived at the listed start time for an event, and the actual proceedings weren't really mean to start for another two or so hours.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:42 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Canada runs cards at your table sometimes. I was weirded out that on a recent trip to the US I could only pay with credit (not my bank debit card) at restaurants. Why is that?

Canada has Interac for debit cards, but the US has regional networks so for convenience most debit cards in the US are tied to a credit-card logo so that you can swipe them as credit (and they simply debit your account when you do that) since credit networks are nationwide/int'l.

Since Canada has Interac, debit cards here aren't issued with credit-card logos; as well since Interac is Canada-only, you can't use your Canadian debit card outside the Interac network (i.e. in the US) for debit transactions at, say, a restaurant or a grocery store (like you would here).
posted by flex at 10:43 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Canada runs cards at your table sometimes. I was weirded out that on a recent trip to the US I could only pay with credit (not my bank debit card) at restaurants. Why is that?

All is answered in Payment Systems: The Debit Card Market in Canada

MC/Visa get a percentage rather than a fixed fee for transactions. If you were a bank issuing both debit and credit cards, would you rather get $0.35 or 2% of the transaction?
posted by benzenedream at 10:44 PM on June 12, 2012


Are there countries where they run it at your table?

Entirely standard in the UK - and increasingly common here in Kenya too. Payment taken with a handheld card reader, with PIN entry, that authenticates wirelessly (Preusmably to a base station that talks to the bank).

It's far harder to skim a credit card right in front of me than it is if you walk off with it behind a closed door.
posted by Hobo at 10:45 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah. I just realized you are supposed to tip American taxi drivers. It is the suck. Why don't you just pay the poor fuckers an actual wage? It's not like he's going to do anything special for me to get his expected percentage. He's just going to drive me where I tell him to go. So you're only hiding part of the charge for standard service.

Are you not tippin' me? You not tippin' me? You not tippin' me? Then who the hell else are you not tippin'? ...
posted by pracowity at 10:45 PM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Be careful about politics" seems like common sense to me. Is talking politics really fair game in other countries? Or are we Americans too ignorant when we go abroad to even consider it? (Other side of the question: is American news so prevalent on a world stage that our politics are well known enough that visitors feel well informed on them?)

No explaination for the credit card vs debit, except that most restaurants would really prefer you pay cash (and are happy to provide change). Almost all other establishments are pretty happy with credit cards as long as you're buying more than a pack of gum. Generally speaking, the person working the cash register would prefer the speed of a credit (or debit) card over cash and has little investment in the charge to the owner. Heck, Visa even had a commercial promoting the smooth operation and speed of everyone paying by credit instead of fumbling over a check or counting out change.
posted by maryr at 10:46 PM on June 12, 2012


What, no mugging etiquette? In the 1990s there was a rash of German tourists getting shot all around the US (IIRC Santa Monica and various places in Florida seemed to come up often). I can only assume the unfortunate German tourists became loud and argumentative with their gun wielding robbers, much as they did with everyone else.

In fairness, from a European perspective robbing someone with a gun is an unskilled act of laziness when compared to their highly talented pick pockets. But as much as I might agree under normal circumstances, in America you should never ever argue with someone holding a gun. Not even the police.
posted by Davenhill at 10:46 PM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is American news so prevalent on a world stage that our politics are well known enough that visitors feel well informed on them?

Yeah, pretty much. In fact, we're all pretty sure we're better informed than you. And we want to tell you so.
posted by Jimbob at 10:50 PM on June 12, 2012 [17 favorites]


Oh, here in the US, no two credit card scanners (where you personally swipe your card and enter pin/sign a pad) are identical. They all use some combination of the same gestures and requirements, but the buttons are always in different places; some require a stylus, some a keyboard, some a finger; and the order of operations changes. It's maddening, even as a native.
posted by maryr at 10:51 PM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, here in the US, no two credit card scanners (where you personally swipe your card and enter pin/sign a pad) are identical.

This is true everywhere. Except North Korea, I guess, where Dear Leader probably designed the one true EFT terminal.
posted by Jimbob at 10:52 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are big categories you can put cultures in. Queuing/Shoving, Smoking/Non-Smoking, On-Time/Not On-Time, Air-Conditioned/Not Air-Conditioned, etc
posted by The Whelk at 10:56 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


but with guests from northern Europe it seemed like tipping (or lack thereof) was the one big thing that created the risk of a Bad Situation

As a native tipping sometimes stresses me out. I mean ok, at a sit down place, 15%. I know that. No wait. Somehow it's grown to 20%. (And hell, it's been creeping up to 25% for some people I know). But what about delivery? Is that 15% too? 20%? Argh. What if I pick up the food? Or a coffee that I just got at the counter now that everyone has tip jars. I mean I see people but a buck or two in for a cup of coffee all the time, but fuck it, i'm already paying 3 bucks for your coffee am I really putting in another buck? And a haircut? 15%? That seems a bit low actually. And when I ask friends who work jobs that get tips they respond all over the map from "if I give you 15cents change and you don't throw it in the tip jar you are a bit cheap to if you don't tip at least 20% at all times you are a bastard who deserves to be shunned". Jesus christ why do we have to have such a stupid fucking system!
posted by aspo at 10:56 PM on June 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


Oh, also Exposed Dangerous Wires/Oh Dear God No.
posted by The Whelk at 10:57 PM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Canada runs cards at your table sometimes. I was weirded out that on a recent trip to the US I could only pay with credit (not my bank debit card) at restaurants. Why is that?

It depends on the restaurant, really. Most will accept debit cards, but not all. It may vary in different parts of the country, too.

Most ATM cards these days seem to come as 'debit credit cards' -- that is, they can be run through the same systems as credit cards, but the money deducts directly from the linked checking account. This is different from just a straight 'debit card', which works only through a debit network. The merchant can run one of the hybrid cards through as either 'credit' or 'debit' -- I typically let them pick which, to save them money, as I see no fees either way. Big stores use highly-automated terminals that usually pick a method without asking you.

If a purchase is run as debit, you'll need to enter a PIN. If it's run as a credit card, it will sometimes ask for a signature, sometimes not. I think it depends on the amount and type of transaction. Alcohol purchases seem to always require a signature around here, large or small, but fast food is often just a swipe.

Oh, and as far as them going away with your cards -- many restaurants only pay for one card reader, so the server has to bring the card to the cashier for processing. They're expensive to rent, so it's cheaper for them to have the server walk the card out of your eyeshot than to have a nearby reader.

For what it's worth, knock on wood, in about fifteen years of having a hybrid card, this has never once given me a problem.

BTW, I learned tip percentages as 15%. I'm not sure what's up with the 20% I keep seeing of late, but I usually tip 15, except on small/cheap meals, like at Waffle House. I'll usually tip a minimum of $5 for any meal service, even if the meal was only eight or ten dollars. The servers in cheap places work just as hard as the people in expensive joints.

By the way, you DO sometimes get rotten service in the US, although this is not typical. If you're not happy with how you are treated, you don't have to tip anything. However, be aware that the IRS in this country assumes that you have tipped 8% of any meal's value, unless a tip of a lower amount was physically recorded. So if you tip less than 8%, be sure to actually write that in on the receipt (there is a separate area for 'tip' where you can write it in, just under the meal total). If you don't do this, they will be taxed as though you gave them 8%, so you're actively taking money out of their pocket.

I don't care HOW bad a server is, I won't steal from them that way. Repeating: if you don't tip, be sure to record that you didn't tip, or they will be taxed as if you did.

Also: if you write "0.01" on the credit card receipt, and then tip cash, they're only taxed on it if they report the income. Most servers I've known don't track their tip income that closely, so they'd never remember to report it, even if they intended to. They probably won't even notice if you do this, but you'll be increasing the amount of tip they get to ultimately keep by about 20%.
posted by Malor at 10:57 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


..... Ask/Guess....
posted by The Whelk at 10:58 PM on June 12, 2012


It's 20-25% because people never include tax when they do their food math. Here in MA you go a little over 20% because tax is 6% so 15% is really 21%. Naturally.

(I thought the culture divide was usually Ask/Blue.)
posted by maryr at 10:59 PM on June 12, 2012


maryr: no. tax is already on the bill. I get "add 25% to the list if you are splitting the bill" no problem. that's 10% tax and 15% tip. But no, I'm talking 20% tip.
posted by aspo at 11:02 PM on June 12, 2012


Well there's also a different relationship to public spaces, public spaces should be shared by all and kept neutral and where you display things/Public places are for the rabble and everything must be done in private spaces
posted by The Whelk at 11:02 PM on June 12, 2012


And as a native Naciremaian I just assume all not fast food/drink purchases have a 15%-20% add on and that's just what you add cause that is the cost of things.

And you put it in in cash but that's just the long family history of food service talking.
posted by The Whelk at 11:05 PM on June 12, 2012


"Be careful about politics" seems like common sense to me. Is talking politics really fair game in other countries? Or are we Americans too ignorant when we go abroad to even consider it?
I suspect it's a combination of two things: one, we're probably more politically polarized than most European countries; two, even our "liberals" are extremely right by European standards.

By today's political standards, Richard Nixon (once a cartoonish stereotype an extreme right wing zealot) is probably to the left of every Democrat in congress (he founded the EPA, OSHA, the Clean Water Act), was in favor of nationalized health care, supported the ERA, imposed government price and wage controls (said "we're all Keynesians now", a wink to the New Deal), and so on.

I'm not even entirely confident Bernie Sanders is farther to the left than Nixon.

So yeah, accidentally striking up a conversation with a Tea Party birther who thinks Obama is a Muslim (hasn't that been as high as 25% of Republicans?), that the earth is only 6,000 years old, that Jesus rode a dinosaur (never mind preached to the Native Americans... to say nothing of Xenu), and that "Obamacare" contains "death panels" might find the conversation a bit... projectile-vomit inducing.
posted by Davenhill at 11:05 PM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I just realized you are supposed to tip American taxi drivers.

I visited a different city recently and wasn't aware that a "surcharge" was being added to the cab fare. The fare total came up on the left side of the screen and I was ready with enough bills to pay that amount plus a 20% tip, when the driver turned around and announced a higher amount. I figured I had misheard him or, less charitably, that maybe he was trying to pad his fare, and I just handed him the bills I was holding. He made a snotty comment.

It wasn't until my next cab ride when the driver hit a button that recalculated the total before he asked me for it that I realized what had happened. (The first driver hadn't hit that button, he just asked for a different amount than was displayed.)

But then, I've made mistakes tipping before. Once I screwed a waiter at a very nice restaurant because I was splitting the check among several people and I miscalculated. It happens. I haven't waited tables myself but from knowing a lot of people who have, I've heard enough stories about rude people and cheapskates that I assume when a waiter gets a bad tip from an otherwise good customer, he assumes good faith and concludes that an honest mistake was made. I would think this is doubly true when the customer appears foreign. At least, I hope so.

Or a coffee that I just got at the counter now that everyone has tip jars.

When I worked a coffee counter, I hated the tip jar. It was uncomfortable for the customers, and yes I needed money but not the one-fifth share of the $4.38 in coins that I might collect from that jar. Frankly, that just seemed kind of insulting. If not for my coworkers, I would have taken the jar down. It's stupid. If you order at a counter and you pick up at the counter and you clear your own trash when you're done eating, then you don't need to tip.
posted by cribcage at 11:05 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it's run as a credit card, it will sometimes ask for a signature, sometimes not. I think it depends on the amount and type of transaction. Alcohol purchases seem to always require a signature around here, large or small, but fast food is often just a swipe.

At some point in the past couple of years, they stopped required a signature on purchases under a certain amount (I think $10, but I'm not sure). However, with the advent of chip cards I can't remember the last time I signed a credit card slip except for in a cab (since, for some reason, cabs still swipe the card instead of using the chip and PIN method).
posted by asnider at 11:05 PM on June 12, 2012


On the plus side, since images of American cities are stuck in the 1980s (at the latest) in the international consciousness, first-time foreign visitors are often pleasantly surprised by how clean and safe American cities are (at least in the parts tourists visit), and how helpful the average American city-dweller is to a confused tourist. European visitors are typically unpleasantly surprised that even traffic cops carry guns, however.

"is American news so prevalent on a world stage that our politics are well known enough that visitors feel well informed on them?"

Every time I've gone to Europe, my American accent has invited polite questions (usually) or strident opinions (less often) on the political situation in the U.S., usually along the lines of "How do you, as an American, feel about Current Contentious Issue that affects international relations?" Frequently when I try to reciprocate and ask about what their Prime Minister is doing in environmental regulations or whatever, I get waved of so we can keep talking about American politics. I was studying abroad in the U.K. during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and everywhere I went people heard my accent and wanted to know how I felt about Bill Clinton's blowjob and what the odds for impeachment were. And I was like, dude, I too am getting my news from the BBC, and they did a fine job explaining the impeachment process, which last happened before I was born, so you and I are pretty much exactly on the same page on this.

We took my Norwegian friend, on his first visit outside of a major city, to an animal preserve nearby where they had bears and bald eagles and all that, but he got SO EXCITED that they had buffalo, "Just like in the movies!" He took like 200 pictures of the buffalo because they were like American Movie Buffalo (tm). So then we had to change our lunch plans and take him to a genuine greasy spoon, which he also found delightfully like TV America, and then for dinner we made him go pick the corn after the pot was already boiling so the sweet corn would be at its sweetest. (He said in Norway they only got fresh corn a couple times a year, by boat, so it wasn't very sweet.) AND we had little corn-shaped corn holders to stick in the ends of the hot corn, which he thought was the greatest invention ever. He said it was his most American day ever. (We actually gave him corn-shaped corn holders for his wedding.) So, to sum up: buffalo, greasy spoon, fresh sweet corn.

Americans love accents because we don't have many for such a big country, and we would like to invite you home with us to feed you, especially for Thanksgiving, because we don't want you to feel lonely and separated from your family on such a big holiday that you've never celebrated before this week! And we are sorry the procedures for entering the country are a giant pain in the ass.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:06 PM on June 12, 2012 [58 favorites]


Man I feel left out, I spent most of my early 20s in Europe, between London and Prague and Paris and no one ever asked me about politics.

Granted I might have been too stoned to form words at the time but I would've liked the effort.
posted by The Whelk at 11:11 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jesus christ why do we have to have such a stupid fucking system!

I used to feel more like this, but I keep noticing that in cultures where I'm not really expected to tip much of anything, the staff often actively hate me and want me to go away. (They might very well feel the same way here in the US, but if so, they generally sure do go out of their way not to act like it.)
posted by brennen at 11:12 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Eh, I've never noticed any change in service, culture-wide. It's more lax in some places but meh. I get really good fast services in places where I'm paying a lot of fucking money, anyplace else and it's up to chance.
posted by The Whelk at 11:17 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


In fact, we're all pretty sure we're better informed than you.

With a two party system there isn't much to know frankly. Particularly at the Federal level where compromise is a dirty word.

State politics are more interesting, but I'm pretty sure not a lot of foreigners follow the California budget negotiations.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:18 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to feel more like this, but I keep noticing that in cultures where I'm not really expected to tip much of anything, the staff often actively hate me and want me to go away.

I definitely experienced the most friendly, cheerful, go-out-of-their-way customer service in the US, compared to Australia. At times, however, it was clearly a bit forced. There's absolutely no reason for an 18-year old kid working at Ground Round in South Dakota to be that damn happy.
posted by Jimbob at 11:20 PM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hmm, we should probably add a section on how meth has gotten to be a large rural/middle-american problem.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:23 PM on June 12, 2012


"There's absolutely no reason for an 18-year old kid working at Ground Round in South Dakota to be that damn happy."

I read something a while ago about the differing development of manners on the American frontier versus in London (say) which was industrializing at the same moment Americans were taking wagons west. In London (or New York) you had a whole bunch of people living on top of each other who had to develop an etiquette of pretending not to see or hear things that were plainly visible/audible, for the sake of harmony with people you were going to be among all the time. A little social distance to make up for the lack of actual distance.

On the frontier, however, you might see another family only twice a year, and they might LITERALLY be your lifeline in an emergency, and at any rate the folks who'll bring your mail in from town. People developed this etiquette of being extremely friendly and helpful to strangers because your life could depend on it, and because when you only see three unrelated adults per year, you're pretty excited about it. So physical distance made for quick emotional closeness, and as there are so few everyones, it pays to be friendly with everyone.

Anyway, that's why your South Dakotan waiter was so friendly. It's a culturally imperative form of etiquette handed down from an older time. I'm not really sure who I'm NOT supposed to be friendly to ... um ... um ... no, seriously, tell me, who am I not supposed to smile and be polite and friendly to? I mean, sometimes I'm grouchy, but clearly in my cultural context that's a moral failing to be fixed quickly.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:31 PM on June 12, 2012 [42 favorites]


Based on my experience in America, "Arrive on time" should be "Arrive on time unless you're attending a business meeting and are at least a junior manager, in which case arrive at least ten minutes late and everyone will definitely be persuaded that you're a really busy, important person and not, say, a total fucking jerk."
posted by Decani at 11:50 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do people in Europe just grab a seat at your table and start talking to you at restaurants?
posted by empath at 11:54 PM on June 12, 2012


Is American news so prevalent on a world stage that our politics are well known enough that visitors feel well informed on them?

Yep. The US Government has a massive effect on the rest of the world. So the rest of the world is interested in who runs it.

Plus internet publications has global reach, and US politics is interesting. Your politicians are way zanier/crazier than ours (Australia), and therefore far more entertaining. Even your silly political sex scandals are better.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:11 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do people in Europe just grab a seat at your table and start talking to you at restaurants?

Not at my table, no.
posted by Hobo at 12:16 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are there countries where they run it at your table?
UK, Spain, France probably much of the rest of Europe. Also you normally can't add a tip on the card. A tip is a gratuity and offered in cash. Most waitstaff are salaried with social security etc. not students or actors filling in. The tip culture of the US is a total rip off and part of the greed of the system.
posted by adamvasco at 12:34 AM on June 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


I used to feel more like this, but I keep noticing that in cultures where I'm not really expected to tip much of anything, the staff often actively hate me and want me to go away.

I find service in the US incredibly servile and denigrating. At the very least it makes me pretty uncomfortable, otherwise it just makes me want to punch them in the face. It's very stressful to think that if i take a sip of my water someone will be there before i put the glass down to top it up, with the biggest fake smile they can muster.
Most of those jobs suck and they get paid slave-wages, they likely should hate me (in fact, they probably do hate you, but they'd get fired if they don't give you the big smile). I really miss the indifferent european-style service.

"Be careful about politics" seems like common sense to me. Is talking politics really fair game in other countries?

I'd put it in the common sense bucket as well, but this really depends on the country, and the level of education. You can usually have conversations about very thorny topics if the people involved are relatively educated and sensible.

Or are we Americans too ignorant when we go abroad to even consider it?

I find that most americans i meet can't pinpoint a random country in a map, you can mostly get the right continent. Mostly. Imagine jumping from that to local politics...

That gets you started on the wrong foot from the start. Whenever americans ask me where i'm from and i say "Argentina", i usually get "Oh, I've been to Brazil once / Brazil is so cool / so you speak brazilian/mexican, right? / etc." That's a good way to piss an argentininan off immediately. Whereas in Norway when i said that i usually got "Oh, i was in argentina X years ago / i know someone living there / how are things going now that nestor kirchner died? / etc.", and that's when they didn't start speaking spanish outright (!).
posted by palbo at 12:40 AM on June 13, 2012 [13 favorites]


In many ways, the tour books say as much about the world as they do about the U.S., by highlighting the ways in which American practices and standards deviate.

One thing that puts my teeth on edge in the original article is the assumption that because this advice is given for visitors to the US, somehow none of it applies anywhere else in the world. The guidebooks are aimed at a global market, so by the time you disentangle which bits of advice are aimed at which set of visitors, the amount of American exceptionalism involved is a lot less than the article makes it appear.

But maybe the topic that gets the most attention in these books is food, which they praise for its quality and variety (and portion size) in a tone of near-disbelief. A 'You'll be surprised at the quality and variety of the food' section turns up in probably two-thirds of the travel guides I have to other countries.

When invited to a meal in a private home .....Gifts of cash, prepared ready-to-serve foods, or very personal items (e.g. toiletries) are not appropriate. No cash would be a general Western-world thing rather than a specific American thing, surely?

Do be on time. Many folks in the U.S. consider it rude to be kept waiting. Has he ever dealt with the Swiss?

It would take a much more detailed look to find out how much of the advice is genuinely unique to the US, and how much is fairly standard fare that will turn up in guides to other countries also.
posted by Azara at 12:47 AM on June 13, 2012


Do people in Europe just grab a seat at your table and start talking to you at restaurants?

No, not talking. But if circumstances (big crowd, informal seating, informal meals or drinks, nowhere else to go, maybe a show or view or other attraction) leave you standing when there are some perfectly good seats at someone else's table, you might ask the people at that table whether they would mind sharing their table with a couple of other beer-guzzling, snack-nibbling, sore-footed people. And then you pretty much keep to yourselves or focus on the attraction that has drawn everyone to this place. You don't act like it's one big family at the table.

But maybe Europeans are slightly more likely to jump into situations like that, where Americans would just resign themselves to standing or leaving because they would feel too awkward slurping their beers with strangers at the same table?
posted by pracowity at 12:56 AM on June 13, 2012


Putting my ATM card in a foreign machine is a major act of faith.

As someone who once had his card swallowed by a Japanese ATM, I wholeheartedly agree. (Also, Dear Anonymous Japanese Housewife Who Helped Me In That Hour of Need By Picking Up The Phone By The ATM And Explaining To The Bewildered Japanese Bank Employee At The Other End Of The Line What Kind Of Sticky Situation This Distraught Gaijin Had Put Himself Into, Despite Not Being Able To Communicate With Me By Anything But Gestures: Thank you, thank you, thank you...)

Honestly the big issue was tipping.

Truer words have never been spoken. When visiting the US with Lady Skeptic, I've had pretty intense discussions with her trying to explain that "gratuities" aren't really optional, and that the normal range is 15-20%. She regards 10% as unusually generous, an opinion which, needless to say, most waiters didn't appear to share...
posted by Skeptic at 1:23 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do people in Europe just grab a seat at your table and start talking to you at restaurants?

Funnily enough I have on a couple of occasions run into Americans who wrongly assumed you could do this in a British pub, presumably because they had read misleading guidebooks.


Gifts of cash, prepared ready-to-serve foods, or very personal items (e.g. toiletries) are not appropriate.

Hola, Mrs Avery, here is ten bucks for your dinner: and we thought you could use some deodorant.
posted by Segundus at 1:31 AM on June 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Related AskMe: What are America's quirks?
posted by vacapinta at 1:32 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


As an expat, I used to really miss the friendly American service experience. But then we went back a few years ago and my god! The waiter wanted to know how we got there, was there snow on the pass? How long are we staying? Did we spend the day hiking? We were we from? He was from luisiana and really enjoying spending the summer in the park. We had spent the day hiking and were absolutely starving and it taxed the very depths of my upbringing not to growl, 'Take our order already.' Instead I tried to convey the urgency of my hunger in my eyes, all the while smiling and nodding. I don't think he noticed as I suspect he was in a misery of his own asking the same Damn questions , table after table, in a very very busy restaurant. Service ritual hell, I tell you.
I haven't complained about british service since, though thankfully the desire to hug an efficient server has lessened over time.
posted by brambory at 1:38 AM on June 13, 2012


"Be careful about politics" seems like common sense to me. Is talking politics really fair game in other countries? Or are we Americans too ignorant when we go abroad to even consider it?

It's less an issue of ignorance (though the insularity is a problem yes), but there is a cultural issue; for whatever reason it is much harder to debate politics in America because Americans are very prone to taking things personally and either making it into a dispute instead of a debate, or trying to shut it down before it becomes a dispute instead of a discussion, or feeling attacked or hurt or defensive when their propositions or beliefs are criticised. Or to quote someone else, "Americans are not raised in a tradition of debate".

This is a big enough barrier all on its own, but there are quit a few other things peculiar to discussing politics in the USA that don't help. For example, the fact that you are foreign when you say something political often counts for more than the words you say - a huge proportion of Americans reject out of hand anything you say because you're not American, a fair proportion go the opposite extreme and put undue weight on your word being correct because it comes from outside the insular bubble of America.

Thinking back, it's taken about ten years in the USA to accumulate maybe one good week's worth of political debate. And now, I'm pretty likely to shut it down myself, because it doesn't work here.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:45 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do people in Europe just grab a seat at your table and start talking to you at restaurants?
In England they do, especially at fast-food restaurants. I've had people plop down next to me without asking when my dining companion was away from the table for a minute in the restroom (even though her unfinished food was still at her place).
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:46 AM on June 13, 2012


Tips: it's taken me about five years to get used to the idea that here(Berlin) giving a 15% or greater tip is weird bordering on creepy. The modest tip (5%, say) is often met with genuine thanks for showing, appropriately, your appreciation. They should stop calling them 'tips' in America and just call them 'wages.'
posted by From Bklyn at 2:19 AM on June 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


Vigour and passion are animating forces in politics and culture here. While this tendency has deep roots in the country's religious heritage (modern evangelism was perfected here), it affects everything from the firm opinions people hold over even trivial matters, to the public stand they make over God, government, guns, and other incendiary topics.

It's interesting that LP would say this, as it could easily have been lifted from de Tocqueville. In other words, little about the American public character has drastically changed in two centuries.
posted by dhartung at 2:53 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do people in Europe just grab a seat at your table and start talking to you at restaurants?

No. But why are you assuming that this advice is aimed at Europeans? Or even at other citizens of Western culture?
posted by DarlingBri at 4:00 AM on June 13, 2012


In fact, we're all pretty sure we're better informed than you.

Given the state of most American news media, you're probably right.
posted by tommyD at 4:04 AM on June 13, 2012


Or even at other citizens of Western culture?

English language guidebooks have a limited audience.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:48 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only place they talked politics to me was Russia in the 80s. What they wanted to know why my president wanted to blow them all up.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:02 AM on June 13, 2012


...because when you only see three unrelated adults per year, you're pretty excited about it.

Oh the memories. Driving through my home town in South Dakota after long absence, I noticed other drivers waving at me as we passed and I kept thinking, "Do I know that guy? And that one? And that one? How are they recognizing me, in a strange car, after all these years?"

And then I remembered - that's the way we do it here. A friendly little wave at Every Passing Car.

I wonder if that's in the guide books.
posted by evilmomlady at 5:02 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's very stressful to think that if i take a sip of my water someone will be there before i put the glass down to top it up, with the biggest fake smile they can muster.

I'm always somewhat amazed at European's assertions that American service worker's friendliness is somehow fake. I've done customer service jobs and I always wanted to be nice because I'm dealing with other human beings who haven't done anything bad to me. Why not be nice to them?
posted by octothorpe at 5:02 AM on June 13, 2012 [24 favorites]


Tipping schmipping. Sales tax is the real annoyance.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:07 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


We took my Norwegian friend, on his first visit outside of a major city, to an animal preserve nearby where they had bears and bald eagles and all that, but he got SO EXCITED that they had buffalo, "Just like in the movies!" He took like 200 pictures of the buffalo because they were like American Movie Buffalo (tm).

Oh, man - this reminds me of my Irish friend's first trip to the US. We both went out to New York's Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows, and on the way back the subway goes above ground for a stretch. And as we were riding along, she suddenly got all excited looking out the windows because "it's just like Archie Bunker's neighborhood!" And then she stood up on the seat trying to take pictures of these nondescript Queens neighborhoods out the window.

(I should leave you with a lovely moment, though - at other points on her first trip, as we were walking around, periodically she would just stop and stare, with a big grin, at all the people around us. Finally I asked her what she was looking at.

"All the people are all different colors," she said, grinning. "It's beautiful.")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:30 AM on June 13, 2012 [23 favorites]


octothorpe: "I'm always somewhat amazed at European's assertions that American service worker's friendliness is somehow fake."

It may be due to where they're visiting. I found the waiters and waitresses in LA to be super-fake, but didn't feel that way back home in Houston.
posted by Bugbread at 5:33 AM on June 13, 2012


I was weirded out that on a recent trip to the US I could only pay with credit (not my bank debit card) at restaurants. Why is that?

Chip-and-PIN terminals are basically nonexistent in the U.S., so there's no way for you to add on a tip after the card is run.

For some reason the fees charged to the business for using debit cards are much higher than those for credit cards.

This is exactly backwards. PIN-based debit transaction fees are generally a fixed amount, while credit card fees are a fixed amount plus a percentage of the transaction amount.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:50 AM on June 13, 2012


PIN-based debit transaction fees are generally a fixed amount, while credit card fees are a fixed amount plus a percentage of the transaction amount.

I figured that the person was talking about signing debit cards, which probably exposes how American-centric I am as it never even occurred to me that you could use a PIN based card in a sit-down restaurant.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:15 AM on June 13, 2012


I know people always like their own system, but I vastly prefer the standard simple 15-20% in the US to "tip a little bit, maybe 5% or 10% or just round up to the nearest dollar unless there is a line about how service charge is included etc etc."

Chip-and-PIN terminals are basically nonexistent in the U.S.

Heck, the American-issued cards don't even have chips. So that is step 1.
posted by smackfu at 6:33 AM on June 13, 2012


(OTOH, the Australian outright hostility to tipping is very nice. I don't care for their tiny beer glasses though. Schooner, pot, wtf.)
posted by smackfu at 6:34 AM on June 13, 2012


I'm always somewhat amazed at European's assertions that American service worker's friendliness is somehow fake.

It feels to me that it depends on the situation. The lady selling me dress shirts at Nordstrom probably gets some real job satisfaction out of being an expert and helping people. I don't think that's 'fake'.

On the other hand, the niceness wars in fast food really seem to have been ramping up in the last few years. I find it hard to believe that the guy behind the counter is really that happy to be handing me a burrito. Too nice can seem forced and insincere, and makes one wonder if there was a recent visit from a niceness consultant with name badge, tie and clipboard.
posted by gimonca at 6:35 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jesus christ why do we have to have such a stupid fucking system!

So that glorious and holy Small Business Job Creators don't have to directly pay a decent wage to service folks out of their own pockets.
posted by aught at 6:44 AM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I KNEW IT. I wait tables in NYC so I get a fair amount of foreign tourists. And it's true that they suck at tipping if they even tip at all. It makes me furious because I KNOW that their f'ing guide books explain tipping and they MUST know, just like we as Americans abroad are familiar with the idea that tipping isn't generally expected on the other side of the pond. So what's the deal? Do [mostly continental European] foreign folks just conveniently forget?
posted by greta simone at 7:11 AM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


In fact, we're all pretty sure we're better informed than you.

Showing this is a great way to endear yourself to your American hosts.

(Unrelatedly, I am reminded of hanging out with a British classmate who had recently arrived in the U.S. for the first time. He mentioned needing to do laundry soon, and when I proposed going to the CVS across the street for supplies, he said something to the effect of "Oh, come on! Why would a pharmacy carry detergent?")
posted by psoas at 7:13 AM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


From the stories I hear about planning events for Asian associations, its always a major game to put out just the right "nominal" start time to your events, so when people arrive 45 minutes to an hour late, they actually arrive on time for the actual real start time. Of course your attendees notice this and there's some kind of iterated feedback process.

This is why the idea of the cocktail hour needs to be reinforced. There is nothing I hate more than events (even if it is just a date or dinner with friends) where "Dinner at 7" means we will have food in our mouths at 7:05.
posted by gjc at 7:14 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Too nice can seem forced and insincere, and makes one wonder if there was a recent visit from a niceness consultant with name badge, tie and clipboard.

Nope, the secret shoppers that grade employees on friendliness are incognito. THAT is why they are nice to everyone, each customer could be the person that hands in a slip of paper that costs them their job and they cannot defend against.
posted by saucysault at 7:15 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


...I've heard enough stories about rude people and cheapskates that I assume when a waiter gets a bad tip from an otherwise good customer, he assumes good faith and concludes that an honest mistake was made. I would think this is doubly true when the customer appears foreign. At least, I hope so.

Sorry - I can give (regional) anecdata refuting that hope. I quickly learned why the other servers would pass the Canadian tables to me, the n00b who didn't know better, and it was definitely some major dissonance for me to feel resentful of the polite Canadians who would leave, say, 8% tip. I would try to be all like "...maybe they don't realize..." and then I'd be like "FFS, they live within two hours of the border and come shopping over here all the time, how is it that they do not know the tipping expectations here?"

Having met plenty of Canadians who told me they were fully aware the tipping guidelines in the US were different from Canada, but felt it was "too much" so they didn't bother to tip more, well, I would explain that servers in the US don't make minimum wage as they do here, but when I did they would insist to me it was not their problem (the US should change its laws!) and in the meantime, 20% on a meal was ridiculous and they were not going to pay it. (This was some years ago and maybe that's changed - it does seem higher tipping is becoming usual here.)

Anyway, no, when I got bad tips from otherwise good customers, pretty much I just felt taken advantage of (oh we're foreign! oh we're old! oh we're not from the city! oh we just don't believe you should get more b/c we don't agree with the tipping expectations!), and it was unpleasant to feel that way which is why I was only a server for a short time.
posted by flex at 7:16 AM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is hilarious and so very very true. Equally hilarious are the kinds of things foreign visitors to the US love. The French? DONUTS! Asians? KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN! Germans? CHEDDAR CHEESE! (at least in my experience)
posted by bluesky43 at 7:23 AM on June 13, 2012


We took my Norwegian friend, on his first visit outside of a major city, to an animal preserve nearby where they had bears and bald eagles and all that, but he got SO EXCITED that they had buffalo, "Just like in the movies!" He took like 200 pictures of the buffalo because they were like American Movie Buffalo (tm).

We've been having a kind of trade like this with my friend from Australia. When she went home over Christmas, she sent us pictures of kangaroos from the roadside in her parents town. We were amazed she had seen a platypus in the wild. Meanwhile, she was thrilled to have seen a raccoon in the wild in the woods of New Hampshire recently. She was amazed we had seen wild beavers. IIRC, she took pictures of the deer at the zoo in Indianapolis but laughed and laughed and laughed at the budgie enclosure. She was disappointed they didn't have chipmunks. (In her defense, chipmunks are pretty damned adorable and I miss them here in the city where it's too noisy underground.)
posted by maryr at 7:24 AM on June 13, 2012


So what's the deal? Do [mostly continental European] foreign folks just conveniently forget?

In my experience, it's 1/3 forgetting, 1/3 indignation at the very concept, and 1/3 cheapness.
posted by smackfu at 7:25 AM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Heck, the American-issued cards don't even have chips. So that is step 1.

Step 1 will arrive pretty quickly once nobody is able to use a U.S. credit card outside the U.S.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:26 AM on June 13, 2012


Equally hilarious are the kinds of things foreign visitors to the US love.

A friend of mine had a Korean roommate who, with some difficulty, described the most amazing thing she had eaten at a restaurant and wanted to know what it was called. Once he explained where to find tortilla chips and salsa in the grocery store that's about all she ate for the next few months.
posted by peeedro at 7:29 AM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I came across a stack of USA guidebooks for European and African audiences while volunteering in a library in the mid-80s. Two things that struck me as particularly hilarious were instructions to African travelers to pack lightly as the USA was very much a do-it-yourself culture and one should not expect to find servants at the airport, and that service people must not be barked at or ordered around, but asked courteously and thanked for any task undertaken. I also saw a book intended for Brits which insisted that Dunkin' Donuts was a must-visit to marvel at the range of flavors available and appreciate "what Yank ingenuity and imagination has done with the simple fried cake."
posted by apparently at 7:31 AM on June 13, 2012


Regarding tipping in Europe, have any other Americans noticed over the past several years a feeling that waiters, being familiar with American tipping etiquette and maybe becoming accustomed to Americans overtipping, have started expecting larger tips from American tourists? It may just be my oversensitivity to tipping issues as an American ex-waitress, but I feel like there's more of an expectation now for large tips than there was say 10 years ago, at least in cities that are major tourist destinations.
posted by CheeseLouise at 7:32 AM on June 13, 2012


I find service in the US incredibly servile and denigrating. At the very least it makes me pretty uncomfortable, otherwise it just makes me want to punch them in the face. It's very stressful to think that if i take a sip of my water someone will be there before i put the glass down to top it up, with the biggest fake smile they can muster.
Most of those jobs suck and they get paid slave-wages, they likely should hate me (in fact, they probably do hate you, but they'd get fired if they don't give you the big smile). I really miss the indifferent european-style service.


I'm an American, and I despise this over-service too. (And I think I've seen sketch comedy where the waiter is refilling the glass while the person is still drinking it.)

There is a vein of thought in customer service where consultants and manager types have discovered that people (the idiots filling in the surveys) want their visit to be "an experience" or, like Costco, "an adventure". So they over-correct and direct their employees to act like we are all best buddies, and to constantly harangue visitors with social detritus. I wish places like this would learn a lesson from the churrascarias and hand out different colored hats or badges to wear that will indicate to the service staff whether the patron wishes to be left alone, or whether they need their hands held at every step.

I was in a C.O. Bigelow store the other day, and got this treatment. I was greeted nicely, I asked to be pointed to the men's shelf, and then was asked if I needed help choosing. I cheerfully said no thanks, I just wanted to look around. Perfectly fine. Then chirpy employee #2 appeared, started asking questions "ooh!, you are smelling one of the bottles! Which one is that? Do you like it? Don't you just love that name?? Big date tonight??!!?!!" I again politely demurred her help and she backed off two paces and just stood there, staring at me. I could hear her inhale with glee every time I gazed at a different bottle. I eventually shook her, made my selection, and wandered to the back to pay. Nobody. To. Be. Found. When chirpy employee #2 finally appeared, she seemed slightly put out that I was able to choose without her help, and that I had somehow made it back to the cash register unassisted.

Another unfortunate thing is that some "tipping consultant" put out a publication like "140 tricks to get bigger tips!" So now there is a goddamned smiley face on every receipt.

All that is necessary is to be nice. That's all normal grownups want. I don't want to sample every damn flavor, and (just yesterday!) I WILL NOT eat the sample you are shoving in my face and insisting I eat in front of you.
posted by gjc at 7:42 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wildlife: I have a Filipina friend who comes to visit every year or so, and she always remarks upon the abundant and brazen squirrels, as well as the deer that equally brazenly treat suburban backyards as their own personal salad bowls.

Regarding food - I have had foreign friends visit, and I always take them to San Francisco's Mission district and feed them burritos. They are inevitably wowed. I also remember being part of a large dinner party with some German tourists back in the '90's and what impressed them the most was the green tea ice cream from the ice cream parlor we went to afterwards.

Of course, this being San Francisco, where visitors from just about anywhere can find food new to them.

What's also interesting is that saying "I'm from San Francisco" is a get-out-of-jail-free card for any American trespasses. Other Americans might be ugly, so to speak, but if you're from San Francisco, you are one of the cool kids.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:44 AM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I also saw a book intended for Brits which insisted that Dunkin' Donuts was a must-visit to marvel at the range of flavors available and appreciate "what Yank ingenuity and imagination has done with the simple fried cake."

Sniffiness about Dunkin' Donuts aside, I'd note this: the UK has basically one flavor of doughnut. The first visit to a US donut joint is indeed a bewildering wonder.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:48 AM on June 13, 2012


This is exactly backwards. PIN-based debit transaction fees are generally a fixed amount, while credit card fees are a fixed amount plus a percentage of the transaction amount.

Unless it has changed, the PIN/Debit fee is still very high. Credit transactions are along the lines of 20 cents plus 2%, and PIN transactions were like a dollar. So for anything under ~$50, the merchant loses on a PIN transaction. Plus, the transaction (used to be?) run as a form of ATM withdrawal, meaning the user might get charged extra by their bank.
posted by gjc at 7:56 AM on June 13, 2012


There is nothing I hate more than events (even if it is just a date or dinner with friends) where "Dinner at 7" means we will have food in our mouths at 7:05.

Yeah, it sucks when things are completely straightforward and unambiguous. I hate when people say what they actually mean, too.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:57 AM on June 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


I have had foreign friends visit, and I always take them to San Francisco's Mission district and feed them burritos. They are inevitably wowed. I also remember being part of a large dinner party with some German tourists back in the '90's and what impressed them the most was the green tea ice cream from the ice cream parlor we went to afterwards.

Feeding my Irish friend matzo ball soup and a pastrami sandwich at Katz's deli was a fantastic experience.

...She has recently said that maybe sometime next year or the year after, we could both meet up in New Orleans. You have no idea how badly I want this to happen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:59 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whenever I hear people complaining about "fake" niceness or people who would actually prefer waitstaff to be less friendly with them, this quote from Con-Air runs through my head.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:04 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


don't drink and drive (they take it seriously here!)

What? They take drinking and driving seriously in the States? Hell no, they don't. At least, not the population (maybe the police when they actually catch someone). How can you call it taking things seriously when they make you do a stupid walking test and touching your nose? All those videos of clearly HAMMERED people taking the test when in the UK they'd have been breathalysed on suspicion of drinking (ie smelling alcohol on your breath) and in the back of the squad car. The US seems to appear to take it seriously, but it is lax as hell.

Coming from the UK, where most drinking and driving is spottable a mile off (and so easily caught) and everyone except the most hardened drinker considers more than one pint before driving (maybe two over a full evening) taking a risk in terms of getting caught, I was staggered by how much casual drinking and driving people do in the US (and to a lesser extent Canada).

I saw entire bars of people that have been drinking all evening drive away without a thought. Unless people were actually staggering around most of them thought they were perfectly fine to drive. UK cops would have nabbed the lot of them and the chances of getting caught are MUCH much higher because the police will sit just down the road from pubs that are open late and nab the patrons leaving in cars and breathalyse them. People in the US just drive around drunk like it's nothing and the people you hear of getting caught are often several times over the limit. In the UK, they do random stops the day after New Years (for instance) and cart you away if you're still over the limit from the night before...
posted by Brockles at 8:09 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Be careful about politics" seems like common sense to me. Is talking politics really fair game in other countries? Or are we Americans too ignorant when we go abroad to even consider it?

There's an old-fashioned attitude here in the States that there are three topics not to be brought up in polite company: politics, religion, and sex. Not everybody shares this notion obviously, and it has been in general retreat for years now, but I think it used to be the case in a wide area.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:09 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


BTW, my favorite commonplace US food reaction: Frenchman encountering mini peanut butter cups. The chocolate and peanut butter! Have you noticed how well they go together?
posted by maryr at 8:09 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Someone mentioned sales tax. I agree, this is a thorny subject. If the United Nations was worth a damn, international law #1 would be "the posted price includes all tax, everywhere, for everything".

If retailers don't want to be seen as charging too much, they can itemize it on the receipt if they want, as long as the bottom line adds up evenly.

I don't like that tipping has turned into an obligation. Sure, I'll pay my fair way, and sure, I know that tipping is how waitstaff (et al) make their money. I'm glad to pay what it costs, including my social obligation of tipping appropriately, and even I'm glad to pay a little extra beyond my standard tip if someone does a great job. What I DO NOT like is the "18.5% gratuity will be added" game. Even though tipping is practically mandatory, and something I would never not do, being required to do it comes off as an insult.
posted by gjc at 8:15 AM on June 13, 2012


"I also saw a book intended for Brits which insisted that Dunkin' Donuts was a must-visit to marvel at the range of flavors available and appreciate "what Yank ingenuity and imagination has done with the simple fried cake.""

America: because one variety of outrageously sweet, deep-fried pasty is just unacceptable.




wipes powdered sugar from corner of mouth
posted by Tevin at 8:21 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


We are NZers travelling in the US at the moment so this is pretty interesting. Yeah, the protocol around how you actually pay is hard work - the most annoying bit for me is how much time I feel we waste from finishing eating to getting out the door, since we have to catch our specific server's eye, say yes we're done, wait for bill, figure out tips, wait for them to make change if we need it, etc. We are used to eat, get up, pay, done.

Moab was interesting, most restaurants there added a 17% tip automatically and stamped the reciept with GRATUITY INCLUDED for us obviously-foreign customers. Pretty handy.

And sales tax sucks especially for accommodation. It is bloody annoying seeing a surprise 15% added to the expensive bits of your trip.
posted by xiw at 8:22 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that the fake cheery service in the US is worst at chains that enforce it as policy, but if you go to smaller, locally owned business, you still get quality service, but it tends to be more sincere.
posted by empath at 8:23 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having met plenty of Canadians who told me they were fully aware the tipping guidelines in the US were different from Canada

I have no idea where these people are coming from. Here in Toronto, it's 15-20%, just like in the US. You give anyone in a restaurant 8% in Toronto, you might as well just slap them in the face. I think the problem is not that you were getting "Canadian" tables, you were getting "Cheap Bastard" tables. Of course, if they're coming to Watertown for the cross-border shopping, that may be exactly the case.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:24 AM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


There is a solid economic reason why we the US has an economic culture, btw -- servers only need to report 8% of receipts as tips. So, tip money is basically multiplied since most waiters only pay taxes on maybe half of what they're pulling in -- and if you don't tip, you're probably costing them money. Most waiters would be significantly worse off if tipping went away and wages went up accordingly.

Essentially, the US tipping system is a giant government subsidy to service workers.
posted by empath at 8:28 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Essentially, the US tipping system is a giant government subsidy to service workers.

Which is made up for by the fact that you can pay them $2.13 an hour if they get tips.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:31 AM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


There is nothing I hate more than events (even if it is just a date or dinner with friends) where "Dinner at 7" means we will have food in our mouths at 7:05.

Yeah, it sucks when things are completely straightforward and unambiguous. I hate when people say what they actually mean, too.


Come on now. If you want to eat at 7, then you tell them to arrive before that and give them something to do for that time. "We'll be eating at 7, show up anytime after 6:30" is all I'm looking for. I'm talking about the people who make funny faces at you for showing up early (at 6:45) who then tsk-tsk people who arrive at 7:05.
posted by gjc at 8:33 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the frontier, however, you might see another family only twice a year, and they might LITERALLY be your lifeline in an emergency, and at any rate the folks who'll bring your mail in from town. People developed this etiquette of being extremely friendly and helpful to strangers because your life could depend on it, and because when you only see three unrelated adults per year, you're pretty excited about it.

That's really, really interesting. It's so easy to hate on the way Americans do things but it's really fascinating to know the history behind why we are the way we are. Also, it's good to remember, it's okay for us to have our own culture that is different from Europe's.
posted by Jess the Mess at 8:33 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, she was thrilled to have seen a raccoon in the wild in the woods of New Hampshire recently. She was amazed we had seen wild beavers. ... She was disappointed they didn't have chipmunks.

I'm just from the city in the US, and that's how I feel when I go away for a weekend. Deer! Bunnies! I have like a million pictures of chipmunks on my phone from the last time I was in vermont.
posted by mdn at 8:36 AM on June 13, 2012


I have no idea where these people are coming from. Here in Toronto, it's 15-20%, just like in the US.

Everyone I know, including any wait staff I have asked, in Toronto says tip 10-15%. I've not seen anything suggesting it is supposed to be the same as the US.
posted by Brockles at 8:36 AM on June 13, 2012


maryr: " IIRC, she took pictures of the deer at the zoo in Indianapolis but laughed and laughed and laughed at the budgie enclosure."

Despite having visited the nearby zoo here in Japan at least 20 times since my eldest son was born, I still chuckle at the squirrel cage.
posted by Bugbread at 8:37 AM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Which is made up for by the fact that you can pay them $2.13 an hour if they get tips.


Well, you can consider it a subsidy to workers or their employers, but the fact remains that if we eliminated tips and raised wages accordingly, workers would be taking home less money. And if they raised wages to match their take home pay, food prices would have to rise. Though more likely, waiters would lose jobs as more people do carry out or don't eat out at all.
posted by empath at 8:39 AM on June 13, 2012


Which is made up for by the fact that you can pay them $2.13 an hour if they get tips.

Well, you can consider it a subsidy to workers or their employers, but the fact remains that if we eliminated tips and raised wages accordingly, workers would be taking home less money. And if they raised wages to match their take home pay, food prices would have to rise. Though more likely, waiters would lose jobs as more people do carry out or don't eat out at all.


Yes. And, it still has to work out to at least minimum wage for the week.

Nobody is getting away with anything, it's just (essentially) a different accounting method. It is basically just like working on almost 100% commission.
posted by gjc at 8:52 AM on June 13, 2012


"Oh, come on! Why would a pharmacy carry detergent?"

Our lab has hosted a bunch of visiting European scholars, and I always drag them off to Costco, because that is where I shop (and also it's way cheaper). Most Europeans start laughing at how ridiculously large the packaging is. The Austrian guy was like "THIS IS THE BEST PLACE ON THE ENTIRE PLANET."
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:02 AM on June 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


The wife and I are hosting our friends from Scotland who hosted us on our honeymoon later this year. I am rubbing my hands with glee at the prospect of showing them Los Angeles.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:16 AM on June 13, 2012


the green tea ice cream from the ice cream parlor we went to afterwards.

Would that be Mitchell's?

I'll have to use that "I'm from San Francisco!" bit next time I'm travelling abroad.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 9:22 AM on June 13, 2012


psoas: "he said something to the effect of "Oh, come on! Why would a pharmacy carry detergent?""

My understanding (and I hope this isn't urban legend, but it isn't mentioned in Snopes) is that way back in the day, lots of cities / towns had laws on their books restricting stores from doing business on Sundays, or, even if it were legal, town folk would look down on folks who ran stores on Sundays. Drugstores were a bit of an exception, because when you need medicine, you need medicine, regardless of whether or not it's Sunday. So since drugstores were open on Sundays, they gradually started increasing their range of products to include various sundries, becoming essentially the first convenience stores. Hence drugstores carrying all kinds of random shit.
posted by Bugbread at 9:28 AM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


the fact remains that if we eliminated tips and raised wages accordingly, workers would be taking home less money.

Or they would take home more money. It makes as much sense to say the tax break is an employer subsidy as it does to say it's an employee subsidy.

The reality is, in places without tipping, not only do service people take home good or better money, they're not "service people". Americans have a class system that among other things, stigmatises people who earn from tips. Places I've been that don't have that line between service and "real" jobs, don't make the kind of class distinctions as often or as nastily as is common in the USA.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:28 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for me, my "welcome to the US" brochure told me to shower more. I'm sure this is a common piece of advice for many visitors, but the US does have a bit of a relative obsession with showering and masking all smells with scents and perfumes.

To contrast, I remember a children's poem from the good ole Soviet times that was all about the way people smelled and why that was good: the baker smells like bread, the doctor smells like medicine, etc. It ended with:
Только безделье не пахнет никак
Сколько не душится лодырь богатый
Но от безделья не пахнет никак он
Or, roughly, in English:
Only the layabout has no scent
No matter what perfume the rich oaf uses
To take on a scent his inaction refuses
It's apparently a poem by Gianni Rodari, also famous for his Cipollino.
posted by Nomyte at 9:30 AM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


(The stereotype of pizza delivery dude and weed may be international though :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 9:30 AM on June 13, 2012


#1 tip for MeFites who have not yet been to the States:

Books are cheap here. Shipping them home afterwards, not so much. You will enter a Barnes&Noble. You will go stark raving bonkers. If you figure out the shipping beforehand, you won't regret this.
posted by ocschwar at 9:33 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


-harlequin- (The stereotype of pizza delivery dude and weed may be international though :-)

So in high school I was a very straight-laced, teetotalling kid. I also delivered pizza.

All those questions of, 'Uh, so, you selling anything else?' and the like all make perfect sense now.
posted by Tevin at 9:34 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It makes me furious because I KNOW that their f'ing guide books explain tipping and they MUST know, just like we as Americans abroad are familiar with the idea that tipping isn't generally expected on the other side of the pond. So what's the deal? Do [mostly continental European] foreign folks just conveniently forget?

Firstly, not everybody gets a guidebook when travelling abroad.

Secondly, even those who do rarely bother reading the "history & customs" bits.

Thirdly, even those who do read those bits do not necessarily believe them. There's more than enough made-up stuff in the average guidebook to be rather sceptical about seemingly outrageous concepts, and really, the concept of a "compulsory" 15-20% tip on top of an equally unexpected sales tax seems quite outrageous to the average European.

And fourthly, having grown without the social pressure that a 15-20% tip is "expected", even the most generous foreigner finds it quite darn difficult to wrangle himself to tip at that level.
posted by Skeptic at 9:49 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


then there is the awkward question of do you tip your weed delivery man
posted by The Whelk at 9:52 AM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you get fried pieces of potato, it's a finger food, unless the potato retains some circular shape, in which case use your fork.

Hey! Taters!
posted by ericb at 9:55 AM on June 13, 2012


the fact remains that if we eliminated tips and raised wages accordingly, workers would be taking home less money.

It just occurred to me that your math is wrong on this. In the abstract perfect-sphere-in-a-frictionless-void sense, yeah, there is a government subsidy involved that counts as win, but how it plays out in the real world is very different. Let's ignore the fact that taxes are low or zero when you don't make a lot of money (most tip earners don't), so angling for the tax advantage is a very paltry win (or a non-existent win) for most tip-earners.

The thing that I've observed is even if you earn less than a service person, it's common to end up with more money and enjoying a noticeably better lifestyle at the end of the day because you didn't earn it through tips.

This is because a reliable, steady, predicable income allows people who aren't making a whole lot of money to still plan and manage their finances, while the ever-fluctuating paychecks from tip income pretty much ensures that sooner or later, a few poor paychecks are going to align with a few critical expenses, and suddenly you've got a problem. And in America, once you're in trouble, the buzzards descend. Maybe you need a payday loan... and suddenly it costs you a lot more to do the same things that people earning less (but not tips) can do substantially easier and cheaper. And it's much harder to claw your way out of that trap when you don't have predictable income.

To me, tipping seems to have an insidious way of grinding people into the American poverty trap, who could otherwise avoid it - even when making less money.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:28 AM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm always somewhat amazed at European's assertions that American service worker's friendliness is somehow fake.

Once at a restaurant the waitress came back saying "I'm so incredibly sorry, please forgive me, i forgot to ask you to sign here.", she then apologized four more times after i signed. Seriously.

Also, i was asked 12 times if i needed help in the space of 4 minutes, some of them asked more than twice, in a Levi's. I counted. I left in protest, and i probably won't go back. I don't want people staring at me when i'm spending too much time thinking whether i like a pair of jeans or not.

There is nothing I hate more than events (even if it is just a date or dinner with friends) where "Dinner at 7" means we will have food in our mouths at 7:05.
Yeah, it sucks when things are completely straightforward and unambiguous. I hate when people say what they actually mean, too.


That also means that if i miss a bus, or there's unexpected traffic, or whatever, dinner is cold, or people have to wait, etc.

If the hosts additionally expect you to be exactly at 7 instead of getting there early (because they don't like to still be preparing stuff or something), then it turns into a stressful situation.

But yeah, unless i know how the hosts usually operate i try to arrive exactly on time. In the US, right on time; in Norway, within the hour; in Argentina 2 to 3 hours late; with indians involved, sometime on the same day would be good...
posted by palbo at 11:15 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you get fried pieces of potato, it's a finger food, unless the potato retains some circular shape, in which case use your fork.

Some poor tourist is eating their Lays potato chips with a fork.
posted by smackfu at 11:24 AM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Or waffle fries.
posted by maryr at 11:54 AM on June 13, 2012


Rule: If you are asked if you would like ketchup with it, you eat it with your hands.

Exception that proves the rule: Scrambled eggs.
posted by maryr at 11:55 AM on June 13, 2012


the concept of a "compulsory" 15-20% tip on top of an equally unexpected sales tax seems quite outrageous to the average European

Sales tax not being included in the price is not "outrageous" by any means, unless you're trying to invent a new definition of that word.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:56 AM on June 13, 2012


Yes. And, it still has to work out to at least minimum wage for the week.

In my experience (and those I've asked) the restaurant never, ever brings you up to minimum wage for your time if your tips total less than that, even though apparently they should. I don't know anyone who was ever offered it. (You might find this interesting - Wiser Waitress: Wise Up On Your Wage)

I have no idea where these people are coming from. Here in Toronto, it's 15-20%, just like in the US.

Mostly southern Ontario. And I had plenty of people (including from Toronto, and almost without exception anyone older than 30) tell me 10% was standard. It was a common enough issue that we asked if we could automatically include gratuity on Canadian checks - I found them to be more pleasant customers than the locals, but the tips were brutal: since your credit card receipts were automatically tracked you had to claim 15% of those in tips whether you actually received that much or not PLUS we had to tip out (bussers, bartenders, sometimes other staff).

I think the problem is not that you were getting "Canadian" tables, you were getting "Cheap Bastard" tables. Of course, if they're coming to Watertown for the cross-border shopping, that may be exactly the case.

I am sure there has been drift up to Canada of the USian expectations of tipping over the past five to ten years (IMO there has been drift in many USian expectations and ways of thinking up to Canada in the past decade on all fronts), so you are measuring your more recent "world-class city" anecdata against my medium-sized city (not Watertown) & somewhat less recent anecdata.

I don't think cross-border shopping makes anyone a "cheap bastard" though. I think it's probably closer to Skeptic's take - it's a different culture and it's hard to get people to accept those differences if they don't make sense to them & haven't internalized them. I can sympathize, but it's hard not to feel resentful if you're the one who gets shorted that money, even if you realize it might simply be ignorance on their part, and that it's the system that's sick.
posted by flex at 11:57 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It makes me furious because I KNOW that their f'ing guide books explain tipping and they MUST know, just like we as Americans abroad are familiar with the idea that tipping isn't generally expected on the other side of the pond. So what's the deal? Do [mostly continental European] foreign folks just conveniently forget?

You're coming off as an asshole. But you're probably not an asshole, just oblivious. Let me rephrase what you said, and then explain why the outrageous difference, isn't: "It makes me furious that Japanese tourists speak such broken English, because I KNOW their guidebooks tell them that we speak English here!"

Because you grew up in it, breathing it as your first language, you don't grasp just how complex, contradictory, counter-intuitive, handed-down (and passive-aggressive) the American tipping culture is to try to navigate when you're not from it. "Don't tip" is a rule you can follow. "Do tip" tells you nothing about anything and is no help at all.

Before I illustrate some of that difficulty, I should also add that the people struggling to conform to this cultural peccadillo are often trying their best to do so despite being highly offended by it.
Like, you go to a country, and when you interact with the locals, under certain conditions you have to flash your boobs at them. That's just how it's done there, and they will be angry if you don't. They don't have the honesty to outright ask you, or even tell you that they want to see your boobs, but they'll be furious if you don't show them your boobs, and they will hold it against it. (Except some, who will be furious if you do. Who is which is often unclear.).
Now, even if you love flashing your boobs to people you like, and you'll even do it for people who just ask nicely enough, it just makes you absolutely bristle to have people assume that seeing your boobs is their right. Something that is special and meaningful is taken as entitlement in this culture.
So you try in to appease their stupid offensive custom and suppress your instincts about it and be nice and do as the Romans do, but when you screw it up (and you will screw it up because it's very complex) the offended part of you isn't all that sorry. You make an honest good faith effort, but beyond that, fuck it.

But anyway, moving on to the good faith effort, but... how? When tipping is an alien concept and staff don't ask or mention it, it is hard to remember to do it. American establishments are enough like regular ones that you forget to not act normally.

A result is that when you do remember, it's often at the last moment and you have no time to research the complexity of the situation, perhaps no time to ask the staff, and there is no shortages of confounding factors which have never cropped up before. So you just have to wing it and hope you didn't screw up.

And it is complex! In some cases you're supposed to tip only the people who you see and interact with and not tip the people you don't see, while in other cases it's the exact opposite - don't tip the people you interact with, do the ones you don't.
In some cases, people will offended if you try to tip them. And you're just supposed to know in advance. Some food establishments you tip, some you don't, some you do but they handle it, some you think they handle it but they don't, some you're meant to tip multiple people, some you're meant to tip once, some you tip and they don't take the money and you just have no fucking idea what that means and you can't ask because they're serving someone else now.

You might assume there are tipping rules that make all this simple, but that would be as naive as English speakers who use rules as aids and so assume that English could be explained as rules, blissfully unaware of how many place they know not to apply the rules. You just have to rote-learn all the contortions, and tourists haven't had a lifetime of rote-learning this system.

Even if you put yourself in a constant state of every time you interact with an American to remember to find out whether a tip is needed (I just paid an airline baggage fee to someone... do I tip? Now a man is hailing an airport taxi for me - do I tip? Now a man is driving the taxi - do I tip? etc etc), but that's setting yourself up fail because you'll miss the cases where you're supposed to tip a person you never meet. Out of sight out of mind.

Speaking of out of sight, out of mind, repeated for emphasis - tips are neither requested nor reminded. You really do have to remember on your own to do things differently every time, even when you're tired or distracted and with force of habit working against you! (At restaurants, it helps if you're with Americans - they'll futz around with the bill and you'll remember it's not a regular bill)

I suspect that most people know that bellboys like tips simply because that's a movie trope, but from there onwards it gets murky.

Your assumption of ill intent from people immersed in a really weird cultural aspect of America is a nasty assumption, and adds weight to the biggest impression tipping has made on me - that tipping makes everyone associated with it (on every side) miserable and angry.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:02 PM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


despite being highly offended by it

stupid offensive custom

Stupid, sure. A poor method of paying staff? Yes. Tipping as offensive? I am not following your simile.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:06 PM on June 13, 2012


Speaking of out of sight, out of mind, repeated for emphasis - tips are neither requested nor reminded

It has occurred to me - the extra line "TIP: ......... " at the bottom of a credit card bill, combined with the refusal to take normal plastic, acts as a bit of a godsend really. Countless tips have avoided being forgotten because I noticed that line. It's a huge help, though I notice it's often used carelessly or optimistically by businesses for whom tipping is not traditional.

posted by -harlequin- at 12:09 PM on June 13, 2012


A few thoughts.

There is nothing I hate more than events (even if it is just a date or dinner with friends) where "Dinner at 7" means we will have food in our mouths at 7:05.

Do people not talk to their friends? Do they not talk to the folks that invite them? Every time I am invited to dinner, we discuss what time to show up and when dinner is expected to be served (as two different times). We usually discuss this around the same time I offer to bring a second bottle of whiskey for the host and other guests to drink and when I ask if they need anything else.

Also, it never ceases to amaze me that people travel to other countries and don't adapt their behavior to the cultural norm. Yeah, you're never gonna get it 100% correct, but if you show that you are trying, good enough. I currently have an Italian friend in town who is a professional chef. When we're sitting around shooting the shit and drinking, we talk about the differences in culture and difficulties in traversing those differences. Sometimes the misunderstandings are funny. Sometimes they are not. I cannot imagine me or him (or any of my other friends) flouting the basic societal rules of any country just because they are different from our own, especially when someone's livelihood is at stake. I hate it when I see it.

I'm not arguing against anyone here who has expressed confusion with the American system. I know how inane it is. It's the people in comments section of that article who express pride in stiffing their waitrons.
posted by Seamus at 12:15 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Stupid, sure. A poor method of paying staff? Yes. Tipping as offensive? I am not following your simile.

Cultural difference. A special meaningful gift being demanded by someone as a right and rendered meaningless (and assumed as such righteous entitlement that people threaten to spit in other's food and make people wait over it), can be really offensive, certainly, depending on your background. It seems kind of obvious to me, so I'm unsure what part to try to better explain. From the other perspective of course, thinking of a gift over-and-above as a meaningful thing is something you just have to try to leave at the border, because it's playing a different role in American culture.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:32 PM on June 13, 2012


the man of twists and turns: Tipping as offensive? I am not following your simile.

Well, foreign friends I've talked to find it pretty appalling that the price listed isn't the real price, that it's actually far, far higher, between tip and tax.
posted by Malor at 12:34 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


special meaningful gift

Ahh, this is it. Thanks for the clarification.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:35 PM on June 13, 2012


Wait you are comparing being expected to tip to being sexually harassed? Someone is definitely coming across as an asshole here.

And it is complex! In some cases you're supposed to tip only the people who you see and interact with and not tip the people you don't see, while in other cases it's the exact opposite - don't tip the people you interact with, do the ones you don't.

It's really not that complicated. You tip waiters, hairdressers, cab drivers and delivery people. That's it.
posted by empath at 1:27 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


the fact remains that if we eliminated tips and raised wages accordingly, workers would be taking home less money.

If you look at it in isolation, perhaps.

But that you call institutionalised servility "an economic culture" with a straight face tells us a lot about why the US is fucked. Now go and whip your valet.
posted by holgate at 1:31 PM on June 13, 2012


Empath: it is second-nature and "not that complicated" because we grew up with it. For someone not from the US, it's not all that intuitively easy to remember who you tip. Especially now that there are also tip jars at coffeeshops and places with counter service only and crap like that, which is complicating things even further, I imagine ("wait, I thought tips were only if you were sitting down at a table, what's this jar doing here, do I have to tip here too?")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:31 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's really not that complicated. You tip waiters, hairdressers, cab drivers and delivery people. That's it.

Also strippers (nearly always), baristas (in places where they get called "baristas"), street musicians (though I suppose that's not exactly "tipping"), musicians playing in bars/coffeeshops without a cover, and restroom attendants.
posted by brennen at 1:32 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


You tip housekeepers in hotels, too, and bellhops, and maybe the concierge. You tip your manicurist and massage therapist but you don't tip manicurists or hairdressers who own their own salon. You can tip at coffee shops, but don't have to.

All these people get different tip amounts, too; it's not that simple.
posted by jeather at 1:33 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've never tipped anyone at a hotel -- is that a New York thing?
posted by empath at 1:35 PM on June 13, 2012


Oh yeah - and bartenders, obviously. It is complicated.

But that you call institutionalised servility "an economic culture" with a straight face tells us a lot about why the US is fucked. Now go and whip your valet.

Oh, come on. There are ways that US tipping culture can be kind of messed up, especially at its extremities, but neither the friendly guy pouring my beer, nor me, paying for the beer and leaving a buck on the counter as a tip, are engaged in a form of "institutionalised servility", and the moral judgment you are making about that exchange feels like kind of a weird projection.
posted by brennen at 1:38 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some poor tourist is eating their Lays potato chips with a fork.

Ooh, ooh, let's inform furn'ers this is the proper way to eat candy bars.
posted by ericb at 1:38 PM on June 13, 2012


I've never tipped anyone at a hotel -- is that a New York thing?

You don't tip porters?
posted by The Whelk at 1:43 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't even know what a porter is.
posted by empath at 1:43 PM on June 13, 2012


You tip waiters, hairdressers, cab drivers and delivery people.

And you tip doormen and your house keeper once-a-year at the holidays.

I always leave a tip for the hotel housekeeper. In places like Provincetown and Ogunquit, ME, where most accommodations are in B&Bs, you always leave a tip for the "houseboy" who is compensated primarily by such gratuities.

My parents still tip the postman each year.
posted by ericb at 1:48 PM on June 13, 2012


I don't even know what a porter is.

The person who shows you to your room and brings up your luggage. Also, don't forget to tip the doorman when he gets you a taxi ... and the attendant who fetches your car for you.
posted by ericb at 1:49 PM on June 13, 2012


CNN Money: How Much to Tip.
posted by ericb at 1:52 PM on June 13, 2012


neither the friendly guy pouring my beer, nor me, paying for the beer and leaving a buck on the counter as a tip, are engaged in a form of "institutionalised servility"

Bar tipping is its own specific thing -- slap down a bribe up front for quicker service / more liquor next time. (Former bar worker here, in a country where you tip rarely at bars, after the fact, and never explicitly in cash.) Even then, bar managers and staff get shitty wages and shitty benefits, and you'll see the odd charity jar to pay the medical bills of a staff member who slipped on steps or got injured stopping a fight.

Restaurant tipping, in the context of shitty benefits and sub-minimum minimum wages, really is institutionalised servility, even if it takes foreigners to point it out.
posted by holgate at 1:53 PM on June 13, 2012


My favorite observation I've heard about my people, the Americans: We all insist we are SO DIFFERENT. Call someone from Georgia a Yankee? Whoops. Tell someone from California that they sound Texan? Whoops. When in reality, almost any two Americans have more in common with each other than either would with someone from Germany, or Egypt, or Kenya.

It's not for nothing that global business treats the US as one giant single market.

And a porter is a kind of beer, I think.
posted by BeeDo at 1:53 PM on June 13, 2012


Sales tax not being included in the price is not "outrageous" by any means, unless you're trying to invent a new definition of that word.

It is an illegal practice in Europe. It is also rather illogical: the whole point of quoting a price is to inform your customer about what he's going to pay, not what you are going to earn. Basically asking your customer to know what the total local sales tax rate is and mentally calculate what it is going to cost him, when you are going to do the sums yourself anyway when you bill him, is surprisingly customer-unfriendly. It also adds to the diffuse (but often justified) feeling tourists everywhere have that they are being systematically fleeced...
posted by Skeptic at 2:24 PM on June 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's really not that complicated. You tip waiters, hairdressers, cab drivers and delivery people. That's it.

It's not simple at all. You tip food delivery people, but not FedEx or UPS. I've only ever had flowers delivered at work, so I have no idea about flower delivery people. You tip cab drivers but not bus drivers. You sometimes tip airport shuttle drivers, depending on how they were hired and whether they haul bags for you. What about paratransit? No idea. If your hairdresser actually owns the joint, you famously don't tip -- but without some inside scoop, how can you tell? You tip for valet parking and you tip at a non-automated car wash. But I have no clue whether you tip gas station attendants, because I've always lived in self-service areas.

There's usually someone to ask if you're not sure, and getting it wrong occasionally in an unfamiliar setting isn't a giant crisis. But I doubt anyone has it 100% down.
posted by tangerine at 2:58 PM on June 13, 2012


You tip lawn crew and painters, too, if memory serves me.

When you're used to it, tipping isn't that confusing day-to-day, but even when you're used to it, encountering an unusual situation (a kind of worker that you normally don't deal with) is confusing.
posted by Bugbread at 3:04 PM on June 13, 2012


Ok, so putting it all in order:

It's really not that complicated. You tip waiters, hairdressers who don't own the place where they work, cab drivers, strippers, baristas, buskers, musicians playing in bars/coffeeshops without a cover, restroom attendants, housekeepers, bellhops, concierges, manicurists who don't own the place where they work, massage therapists, porters, doormen, valets, bartenders, food delivery people, car washers, lawn crew, and painters. That's it.
posted by Bugbread at 3:09 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's a good way to piss an argentininan off immediately.
posted by palbo at 8:40 AM on June 13


Not as good as "Hey, you're Argentinian! We own some islands not too far from you guys!"

;-)
posted by Decani at 3:09 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bugbread, you also usually tip newspaper delivery people.

(Granted, a lot of these are irrelevant for visitors.)
posted by jeather at 3:32 PM on June 13, 2012


Sales tax not being included in the price is not "outrageous" by any means, unless you're trying to invent a new definition of that word.

Adding to Skeptic's point, because misrepresenting prices (by omitting some of your overheads, costs of business, taxes, fees, whatever) is textbook consumer fraud where you're from, it is seen as immoral and deceitful and fraudulent and illegal, which easily makes the grade of "outrageous". It's ok to put a price breakdown on the price tag, but it's not ok to put part of the breakdown on the pricetag, ommit some of the price and pass that off as if it's the price.

Some American cellphone companies will flat out refuse to tell you what they're going to bill you - you won't actually find out what you're going to owe them every month for the next two years until a month after you've signed a contract agreeing to pay it! Do you see how crazypants that looks to people who are used to consumer protections against that kind of deception?

Another example (and then I'll note something positive in US transactions) - you can't pay in cash, because the price is unknowable until the moment you have to pay, so you can't have exact change ready, so you would hold up the checkout line if you tried to pay. So you basically have to slap down a twenty and get a pocketful of worthless pennies to lug around, pennies you can never spend because see above.
But wait! The supermarket has helpfully installed a kiosk machine that converts the unspendable coins back into the kind of money that you can spend without pissing people off. Wait what? It skims off 18% of the value and only pays back 82% of what you put in?! Christ, what assholes!

You win some, you lose some. The USA might have piss poor consumer protection in some areas, but it's doing well in others - I love love LOOOOVE that some states have started outlawing the practice of businesses accepting cash for gift cards, then taking the money and running; refusing to honor the value of the card because they printed some arbitrary expiry date somewhere and now claim that the cash that you handed over has somehow vanished. (Under better consumer laws, a card storing a value of cash doesn't expire and/or is refundable for the original purchase price if the business no-longer wishes to honor the face value.)

So, American travelers be warned - a lot of countries don't have that consumer protection yet, so gift cards can be a shady business, and yes, outrageous.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:38 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's really not that complicated. You tip waiters, hairdressers, cab drivers and delivery people. That's it.

This is just outright false. Complete garbage.
If you go to America with this as your understanding, you will upset a lot of people without meaning to, and may even attract passive-aggressive retribution.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:46 PM on June 13, 2012


Do people in Europe just grab a seat at your table and start talking to you at restaurants?

My first trip out of the US, I went to France alone and it was the first time I learned that our "I need my space thing" might not be the norm. I was at first be-weirded by how close everyone sat when dining out. If there were 50 empty tables and one filled, they would sit me right on top of those people. And if things were crowded, they would plunk me down at someone else's table. Usually protocol called for having an invisible line between you and the strangers at the table, but sometimes people would be open to chatting. That was way back in the "everyone smokes" era. I had a lovely hand painted little leather pouch for my smokes. This was often an icebreaker, people would sometimes be curious about what I was smoking and then a foreign cigarette exchange would ensue, and it sometimes led to great chats. Some French boys told me about the coffee as "juice of dirty socks" thing during just such an exchange.

Speaking of coffee and being seated with strange table mates...I took ill in Vienna once and instead of moving on, I laid low for about a week. I didn't have a lot of energy but would head out to the wonderful and storied Cafe Hawelka to sit over coffee for a few hours every day. The gracious proprieters Leopold and Josefine sort of adopted me and would bring interesting people to my table and seat them there, saying "this is our young American friend." One day it was a famous Austrian singer, one day some bikers, one day a flock of fashionistas. Sometimes the people just talked to me a bit to be polite, but with such a great introduction, I was often pulled along into the conversation, stumbling as I was with my 100 words of German and 200 words of French. Those were wonderful afternoons, I felt as though I were experiencing a piece of time gone by. I am so sorry I never got to see them again, they were so kind to me.

And as for tipping, I would just like to say this:

Thank you, all you good tippers everywhere - you helped me pay my way through college and then helped pay off my student debt. Thank you, cute family from Iowa who left me a $50 bill because you said I gave you such invaluable travel pointers during your vacation stay. Thank you, man who left me a $10 tip for a coffee. Thank you, senior citizen lady who told the complainers you were with that if they couldn't afford to tip, they couldn't afford to eat out. Thank you all for the cash and the pleasant surprises, but mostly thank you for teaching me at a young age to be a lifetime generous and non-resentful tipper. And thank you for showing me that with a few extra dollars here and there when I have it, I can be the one who makes some hard worker's day.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:08 PM on June 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


It is an illegal practice in Europe. It is also rather illogical: the whole point of quoting a price is to inform your customer about what he's going to pay, not what you are going to earn. Basically asking your customer to know what the total local sales tax rate is and mentally calculate what it is going to cost him, when you are going to do the sums yourself anyway when you bill him, is surprisingly customer-unfriendly. It also adds to the diffuse (but often justified) feeling tourists everywhere have that they are being systematically fleeced...

Again, this is different, but doesn't really fit within the definition of "outrageous," any more than charging me extra if I want to apply any condiments to my food at all or expecting me to pay you for using the restroom in the restaurant where I have already purchased food.

And requiring tax to be included in the price is a great way for governments to bury tax increases. If you don't pay close attention, are you really going to notice that the line that used to say "inkl. 16% MwSt" now says "inkl. 19% MwSt"? (This is the exact reason that GST/HST is not generally permitted to be included in the price in Canada.)

It's like someone from basically anywhere in North America (Washington and San Francisco being notable exceptions) complaining that they got chewed out for going one station too far on the subway on their €2.50 ticket. Unexpected? Sure. Avoidable, if you do your homework? Absolutely. Outrageous? Not at all.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:25 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


one more dead town's last parade: "Again, this is different, but doesn't really fit within the definition of "outrageous," any more than charging me extra if I want to apply any condiments to my food at all or expecting me to pay you for using the restroom in the restaurant where I have already purchased food."

I dunno. I'm American, so personally I'm used to tipping, but I can understand the idea that someone coming from a country where a specific action is considered so anti-consumer as to be actually criminalized as fraud would find it outrageous that it's not only legal but standard operating procedure somewhere else. As an American, I suspect it would be like the way Americans feel about visiting a country where you are expected to bribe police / government officials, etc.
posted by Bugbread at 5:43 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


FWIW I certainly couldn't muster much disagreement with a patron describing it as outrageous to be denied the restroom without paying extra when they've already bought the meal - especially if they bought alcohol.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:19 PM on June 13, 2012


You tip lawn crew and painters, too, if memory serves me.

Huh? I painted houses for eight years and never got more than a cup of coffee from a customer.
posted by octothorpe at 6:25 PM on June 13, 2012


...lawn crew and painters, too

Huh? I painted houses for eight years


You should have painted lawns.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:29 PM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


So then we had to change our lunch plans and take him to a genuine greasy spoon, which he also found delightfully like TV America

I love the idea of having a stereotypical American day!

When my Swedish friend came to visit, she wanted to go eat at a diner too. We went into NYC and her favorite part was wandering aimlessly around Harlem. (I don't know that she's a typical example of a tourist in America though, since she actively avoided seeing the Empire State Building just so she could say she'd been to NY and NOT seen it.) Then again, her only other requests were having a drink on a rooftop bar (which we did, in January), and seeing a drive-by shooting (maybe next time).
posted by chela at 6:54 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tipping as offensive? I am not following your simile.

I find it pretty offensive because it is anti-egalitarian. It defines some labor as not being real labor. Real-estate agent? Real job. Teacher? Real job. Hairdresser? Waiter? Oh no that's not a real job, that poor, broken person needs personal gifts from you to survive because they don't actually get paid properly for what they do. It's offensive that they don't get paid properly, but it's also offensive that whole classes of people are put into that "not real work" basket.

And it's self-reinforcing, which makes it very difficult to argue against or change. I come from a culture where jobs are jobs, and yes being an architect is better than being a waiter, but at the end of the week both get paid for the work they do by the businesses who employ them.

And regarding sales tax, there's no justification for leaving it off the ticket as far as I can see. Why not leave off overhead costs as well? Why not just put the wholesale price on there, and when people bring it to the cashier, the cashier can say "Well we add on 15% for rent of our shop, and 23% for wages, and 3% for electricity, and 35% for profit, bringing your total to..." It's clearly serves the purpose of making prices look cheaper than they will actually be. If something has a sticker on it saying "$10", I want to be able to slap a $10 note on the counter and walk away with my purchase.

But, hey, the world's a glorious interesting place, and it's all good fun, yeah?
posted by Jimbob at 6:58 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


unspendable coins back into the kind of money that you can spend without pissing people off.

Or, you know, go to your bank. If the teller gets pissed about doing a money exchange, someone needs to be in a different line of work.

Wait what? It skims off 18% of the value and only pays back 82% of what you put in?!

My preferred supermarket offers this service, via the same type of machine, for free. So I don't think this type of 'problem' is universal.

Christ, what assholes!

Yup, look at 'em all - those guys who won't magically solve a pretend problem. Geez.
posted by timfinnie at 7:35 PM on June 13, 2012


Equally hilarious are the kinds of things foreign visitors to the US love.

My argentinian friends wept actual tears of ecstasy over maple syrup and ate huge sloppy french toast sandwiches oozing syrup for as many meals as possible (which, since 24h diners are everywhere, was basically every meal).

They were also huge stoners so that may have played a part in this decision.
posted by elizardbits at 7:43 PM on June 13, 2012


And regarding sales tax, there's no justification for leaving it off the ticket as far as I can see.

Well for any store/restaurant that has sites in multiple places, it would mean printing up different menus/price list for different sites since since sales tax varies by state/county and/or municipality. In the county I live in sales tax is 7% but if I go ten miles west into Beaver County, it's only 6% and then if I go a little farther west, then I'm in Ohio which has a 5.5% rate. It would make regional advertising of prices a confusing nightmare.
posted by octothorpe at 7:58 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's a good way to piss an argentininan off immediately.
Not as good as "Hey, you're Argentinian! We own some islands not too far from you guys!"


Heh, i don't actually give a crap about that one, it was always a distraction tactic by bad governments (and honestly, they're rightfully british).

It does show some political awareness, though, but i guess it's probably a good idea to not do that anyway, unless you know the person :-)
posted by palbo at 8:03 PM on June 13, 2012


Maple syrup also makes a great gift for sweet-toothed Filipinos.

Another reason sales tax goes on top of the price is because each state, and sometimes each municipality, sets its own. Remember that we evolved from 13 individual colonies. Sales tax is a major way that state/local governments (which provide many services including education, transportation, and police/courts) raise revenue. Including those costs in the price would make goods in some states look artifically higher - when in truth, the goods themselves are equally priced, but the state takes a higher percentage of the cost. Some states, New Hampshire for example, have no sales tax at all - the rooms/meals tax is pretty high though, IIRC.

In addition, most states do not charge sales tax on "necessary" items - specifically, food. If you go to Target or Costco, your receipt will usually detail which items you were charged tax on and which you weren't. Here in Massachusetts, clothing items below a certain threshold are exempt ($175 per item). Charmingly, the US flag is also exempt from sales tax here in Mass.
posted by maryr at 8:18 PM on June 13, 2012


Or, you know, go to your bank. If the teller gets pissed about doing a money exchange, someone needs to be in a different line of work.

But should I tip them?
posted by Jimbob at 8:45 PM on June 13, 2012


Pro tip: No tip.
posted by maryr at 10:08 PM on June 13, 2012


If you're a foreigner thinking that the tipping system is a sign of oppression, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Tipping culture is based on the notion of an American sense of fairness. Try to think like a stereotypical American would think if they were to design a fair system.

Without tips, there is an understanding that owners of expensive restaurants would try to get away with paying as little as possible. Waiters would be getting paid marginally more than minimum wage. Setting tips at 15-20% means that it's guaranteed that labor receives 15-20% of revenue. Without tipping, nice restaurants would be underpaying their staff. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone working in the U.S. service industry that hates the tipping system (except for the people working the overnight shift at diners, they get ripped off).

There's certainly an undercurrent of American self-responsibility blah-blah-blahs about linking pay to performance by getting more tips by providing better service, but it's a logical trap from a foreigner looking at U.S. tipping culture to see it as some kind of sign servitude or being a beggar. The right way to think about it is you are guaranteeing that good service labor will be paid well by setting a lower bound of 15% of revenue, even with an irresponsible exploitative owner.
posted by amuseDetachment at 10:28 PM on June 13, 2012


Thank you, all you good tippers everywhere - you helped me pay my way through college and then helped pay off my student debt... thank you for teaching me at a young age to be a lifetime generous and non-resentful tipper.

I understand the sentiment, but I really can't stomach what that implies. Forgive the hyperbole, but the nice slave owners who never used a whip or raised a hand perpetuated the system just as much as the ones who abused their human property.

Be a generous tipper in the US, but be a resentful one: don't resent the person you're tipping, but resent the fact that the fucked-up system requires it. And if you ever walk out of a restaurant feeling good about yourself because of the tip you left, slap yourself in the face until that feeling goes away.

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone working in the U.S. service industry that hates the tipping system

See above. Also: Stockholm Syndrome.
posted by holgate at 10:36 PM on June 13, 2012


amuseDetachment: "You'd be hard pressed to find anyone working in the U.S. service industry that hates the tipping system"

I think you mean "anyone making tips in the U.S.", not "anyone working in the U.S. service industry". The "service industry" is the industry which provides services, as opposed to manufacturing, agriculture, mining, etc. I'm guessing something like 90% of Metafilter users probably work in the service industry.
posted by Bugbread at 10:56 PM on June 13, 2012


Bugbread, yes, I meant anyone working for tips, thanks for the correction!
posted by amuseDetachment at 11:27 PM on June 13, 2012


So tipping is like sexual harassment and slavery. I see the bad analogy crew is out in force tonight.
posted by empath at 12:33 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


So tipping is like sexual harassment and slavery. I see the bad analogy crew is out in force tonight.

OK, but the notion of tipping as 'offensive' isn't an analogy. It is literally offensive to people from non-tipping cultures.

Maple syrup also makes a great gift for sweet-toothed Filipinos.

Ha! OK, so where I live, you bring back small gifts for your co-workers when you travel. My office is very international and we all travel a lot, so we only bother when we visit our various homelands, when we bring back some typical thing from our particular region. So we have had very nice tea from India, sausage from a Swiss village, little bottles of a particular spirit from a German region and so on. I am originally from Canada so a while ago I got everyone little bottles of maple syrup (really not from my region, but I left it to the last minute). A while later I asked what people had thought of it. It turned out they all thought it was some sort of spirit, drank it neat, and concluded that Canadians were weird.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 1:58 AM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Forgive the hyperbole, but the nice slave owners who never used a whip or raised a hand perpetuated the system just as much as the ones who abused their human property.

Heh, well I felt a lot less like a slave pulling in $70-80 a shift than the $24.80 that the prevailing minimum wage would have paid me.

Be a generous tipper in the US, but be a resentful one: don't resent the person you're tipping, but resent the fact that the fucked-up system requires it.

I can see where you might resent it if it is not your culture. Me, I am OK with tipping, it offers an escape clause from what I consider the real crime: a minimum wage system that doesn't pay a living wage in a country as wealthy as this one. Now that's fucked up.
posted by madamjujujive at 2:44 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can see where you might resent it if it is not your culture. Me, I am OK with tipping, it offers an escape clause from what I consider the real crime: a minimum wage system that doesn't pay a living wage in a country as wealthy as this one. Now that's fucked up.

madamjujujive: I guess you could still argue whether thats just a work-around or band-aid to patch a broken institution. That is, foreigners are uneasy with it because it is a symptom of a flawed system.

Unlike holgate (I think) I grew up with the system. So it is part of my culture. But I resented it and continue to resent it. I tip generously when I can anyways but I often get some resentment from my European wife. "Why are you tipping them so much?" She says "It is their employers job to pay them a wage!". I respond with "Yeah, the system sucks but its not their fault..." and she responds with "Well, you're perpetuating the system! Why not leave more money so they can also pay the healthcare neither their employer or the govt is giving them too!" And so we go round in circles...
posted by vacapinta at 3:08 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


vacapinta, I can completely understand your wife's POV. But the reality is that hailing a cab or sitting down at a restaurant table is a social contract. If she doesn't want to support the institution of tipping, she needs to not go to restaurants or get in cabs.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:34 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never thought it was in the social contract to gouge 20% out of the clients so that the employers could shaft their staff.
Also should there then not be an announcement at the top of the menu that reads something in the manner of "your food will be thrown at you unless you agree a 20 % gratuity."
If I left some change on a bar in England or Ireland the barkeep would most likely shout after me "Oi, forgot your change".
posted by adamvasco at 7:05 AM on June 14, 2012


But that is the social expectation. If you don't want to put up with that, don't eat out. Or get elected governor and change the minimum wage for servers. The owners aren't going to give damn if you still the wait staff so you're only punishing the people that you think that you are sympathetic to.
posted by octothorpe at 7:13 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Without tipping, there is pretty much no social penalty for a restaurant paying waitstaff minimum wage if management is willing to deal with high turnover.

The employer will get away with paying as little as possible. In many restaurants in the US, the wait staff can often be paid much better than line cooks. Cooks don't get tipped, as they don't get handed money. As a result, line cooks are often paid pretty close to minimum wage, even though their job often require more skill. It's an unfortunate situation, but that's simply the nature of it, it's far too socially awkward to pay your chef, even though they're responsible for the largest part of the dining experience. My point is not necessarily that line cooks should also receive higher wages via tipping, my point is that you cannot create an incentive structure for restaurants to fairly pay their staff. If given the opportunity they will take the first chance at paying as little as possible. The tipping system gives an opportunity to level the revenue/profit-sharing field a bit better. (My theory on why tipping doesn't extend to cooks is that one wouldn't be sure whether the cooks actually received their fair share.)

It'd be nice to live in a perfect world where waiters get paid a living wage without the need for tips, but it simply won't happen in the U.S. Removing tipping will drive down the take home pay of waiters. One could make the argument that waiters don't offer a service greater than minimum wage, but in a system with tipping, you can certainly convey that message that the waiter doesn't deserve a high salary by giving them a small tip every time you eat out. However, you should deal with the social fallout every time when you say, "I think you should receive a smaller share of the profits relative to the restaurant owners."

The social expectation of a 15-20% tip isn't written in the menu because it's socially understood in the U.S. that you should include tips as part of the cost before ordering your food. I've seen it written on the check and the menu in touristy places. To reiterate, find me a waiter that would prefer being paid a salary instead of tips.
posted by amuseDetachment at 7:33 AM on June 14, 2012


I guess you could still argue whether thats just a work-around or band-aid to patch a broken institution.

I would agree, vacapinta, but that's the system we have and I don't see it changing - just getting a few penny change on minimum wage is even a pipe dream in the political climate at present.

I see people's point and why they dislike it. But whether you factor that 10-20% into the price through wages or through tips, the end cost to the consumer should be about the same. Except at present, the consumer has some power to raise, lower or entirely avoid the amount based on perceived value of the service they got.

So I get that people don't like it and don't like it for various reasons. But you are not paying more than you would if it passed through the employer's hand first. And non-tippers are paying less than market value, which right now penalizes the worker and not the employer. Most people abide by the social contract, more or less.

Wealthy people have a lot of loophole advantages. The tipping economy is one of the few places that the common man can get a little edge if they work hard. "Should it exist" is a good theoretical to debate. But the fact that it does exist means that courteous travelers should factor it in as the cost of travel.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:42 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I resent the tipping culture, too. Sure, waiters might prefer it, and some might do better on it. A few people liking a system doesn't make it a good, healthy system. But I tip anyhow.

There are two ways to fight against it. First, you can avoid restaurants that don't pay all their staff the standard minimum wage. (Perhaps you can stick to small restaurants that don't hire anyone except family? I am not sure.) Second, you can fight it politically, by trying to change the laws.

Trying to fight it by going to a restaurant and not tipping is not "perpetuating the system", it is "being an asshole". (Going to a restaurant is perpetuating the system. Not tipping is being an asshole.)
posted by jeather at 8:18 AM on June 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Perhaps you can stick to small restaurants that don't hire anyone except family?

Heh, those tend to be the ones who really stiff their staff.
posted by smackfu at 8:33 AM on June 14, 2012


Heh, those tend to be the ones who really stiff their staff.

Well, but they have equity? I'm thinking of those places that have three employees total.

The truth is I have no idea. As things go, differential minimum wages isn't high on my list of concerns (it's 9.90 vs 8.55 here). But I tip.
posted by jeather at 8:41 AM on June 14, 2012


Also should there then not be an announcement at the top of the menu that reads something in the manner of "your food will be thrown at you unless you agree a 20 % gratuity."

There are plenty of social rules that aren't explicitly spelled out in writing. We already have a lot of silly disclaimers and warnings plastered all over the place; I'm not sure that slapping a black-box warning about tipping on the top of every restaurant menu is exactly a good use of ink.

In seriousness though, you are correct that an agreement something like that is in place whenever you walk into a restaurant, but it generally isn't written down, because I'd bet that 99.9% of guests in the restaurant know about it already. (What tends to be noted is the exceptional case, of a built-in or automatically-added service charge.) Unwritten-but-accepted rules and norms exist in every culture, and the US isn't (and it's a bit absurd to insist that it should be) an exception -- and honestly the differences in unwritten rules are comparatively small if you're coming from Europe or the UK.

Is tipping a great system? No, but it generally works, and it's unlikely to change in the near future, and it's very difficult for someone to take a stand against tipping without coming off as horribly pretentious and cheap, particularly if they're (as many visitors to the US are) better-off financially than the service workers they're considering stiffing.

Although I have noticed some restaurants in very touristy areas (e.g. Times Square) building in the gratuity along with the sales tax to the grand total on the receipt, presumably to because they get a lot of customers who'd otherwise fail to tip.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:06 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You tip food delivery people, but not FedEx or UPS. ... You tip cab drivers but not bus drivers.

You don't tip porters?

A lot of this is a class issue--"premium" services require tips whereas their mainstream equivalents don't. (And heck, most hotels don't have porters...only the "classy" ones do.) I hear people tip their doormen too, which is something I guess I'd learn to do if I ever lived somewhere with a doorman.

But more basically, a good rule of thumb is that if someone is spending a significant amount of time attending to you, like a cab or a food delivery (and especially a hairdresser) in an individually customized transaction, they get tips, whereas a bus or UPS driver is attending to a lot of people at the same time as you.

Americans have a class system that among other things, stigmatises people who earn from tips.

No. See above. Tips are for valued work.
posted by psoas at 9:40 AM on June 14, 2012


I see the bad analogy crew is out in force tonight.

I see that Professor Pangloss showed up to claim that mandatory obsequiousness to make ends meet represents the best of all possible worlds.
posted by holgate at 10:25 AM on June 14, 2012


I work help desk jobs, for the most part. I have to be nice to every customer I talk to, even if they are rude or stupid or both. And I don't get tips. It would be nice if I could get tips for dealing with some if the shit I put up with from customers.
posted by empath at 10:29 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Except at present, the consumer has some power to raise, lower or entirely avoid the amount based on perceived value of the service they got.

Except that you (and apparently everybody who's ever been on the receiving end of this fucked-up system) don't actually want the customer to have that power, because you're saying "please tip generously or don't go out". You can't argue that the customer is empowered and then say that this power should only be used one way.

As for amuseDetachment's point: I have no idea what happens to tips in the context of American restaurants, whether it's the Waffle House or Per Se. I'm vaguely aware (from discussions here, often) that management can demand that they be pooled, and perhaps takes its own cut. I'm vaguely aware that waitstaff are expected to tip the busboys and kitchen staff. It's not like I'm wiring 20% directly to the server's bank account to make up for the shitty sub-minimum wage.
posted by holgate at 10:37 AM on June 14, 2012


I have to be nice to every customer I talk to, even if they are rude or stupid or both. And I don't get tips.

As do most of us, but not at $2.37/hr base. And the reward for being nice in that context is, one hopes, repeat business.

Ratcheting back, I think amuseDetachment's slip about the "U.S. service industry" was telling, because what we're talking about here is "the U.S. servant industry", by which I mean the kind of jobs that have a legacy in domestic service. Basically, if it's a function that would have been carried out by someone downstairs in Downton Abbey, you tip.
posted by holgate at 10:53 AM on June 14, 2012


Ratcheting back, I think amuseDetachment's slip about the "U.S. service industry" was telling

Slip? Really?

Basically, if it's a function that would have been carried out by someone downstairs in Downton Abbey, you tip.

Not really. I mean, there are boatloads of (often crappy) hourly wage-labor jobs - probably the majority of them - where no one expects or receives tips, and those cover bases like cleaning, etc. There are exceptions in big cities and certain social strata, but the vast majority of Americans participating in the part of the economy that involves tips wouldn't even recognize the functions of traditional domestic servant jobs, outside of whatever they've seen in movies.

I'm all for egalitarian critiques of the existing socioeconomic order and whatnot, but what you are saying just doesn't seem like it has nearly as much to do with the reality of the labor experience in the US as it does with ginning up some good old fashioned moral superiority.

Anyway, it is high time that I add Internet Tipping Argument to my ever-growing personal list of threads that will be so profoundly and perfectly irritating that I should just ignore them by default (it ain't higher than Damn Near Anything About Bicycles, but it's close), and move on with life. Have fun.
posted by brennen at 12:29 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Except that you (and apparently everybody who's ever been on the receiving end of this fucked-up system) don't actually want the customer to have that power, because you're saying "please tip generously or don't go out". You can't argue that the customer is empowered and then say that this power should only be used one way.

No, there's a range of appropriate tips which depend on the level of service. Zero is not in that range (barring some really egregious stuff, like the server insulting you to your face or whatever -- things that go to "manager comps the meal because of something the server did" [you tip on comped meals if the problem was not the server's fault and if the problem wasn't an accident -- anyways, I'm getting too detailed here]). But lots of other numbers are in the range, from say 10% for mediocre service to whatever amount you care to leave. You can debate the ranges, and they differ in places, and sometimes it's tax in and sometimes it's tax out, but there is a range and the customers do have power there, just not unlimited power to stiff/undertip the waiter without being a dick.
posted by jeather at 1:05 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Waiters in the US aren't seen as servants or as lower class or as charity cases. It's a decent lower middle class job at worst and fairly high status at the nicest restaurants.
posted by empath at 1:33 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


holgate:

Saying "let it slip" is a very aggressive way to frame things, this isn't an aristocratic tipping conspiracy. Framing tipping as exploitation is similar to saying, "Kickstarter is bad because it turns everyone into beggars, which brings about class issues." What? No.

My point, which I'm trying to make as explicit as possible, is that tipping allows industries which are prone to exploitation to be mitigated in the tipping system (where you have an opportunity to compensate them above the amount that shitty management gives). Taxi services require tipping in the U.S. but tipping your Fedex/UPS delivery driver is not acceptable at all. That may seem bizarre to a foreigner, until you realize that Fedex and UPS drivers are often well paid and unionized with benefits, whereas the Medallion system of taxi services are incredibly prone to exploitation. This is why traditionally getting your hair cut by the owner does not require a tip -- there is near-zero potential for exploitation.

It's fine to talk about class, but if you have a problem with waiters in the first place, I don't understand how removing tipping is going to remove the historical understanding of waiters as servants. Oddly enough, as an American, I take it from a completely different perspective, as tipping frames the job for waiters as sort-of fairly paid independent contractors than anything related to a servant -- paying them separately after a meal makes it feel more like they're no different than a contracted web designer for a company or a mechanic. The solution to that kind of discomfort is to avoid dining at restaurants completely, it's certainly not to avoid tipping. Tipping is a social hack to compensate jobs prone to shitty management exploitation.
posted by amuseDetachment at 1:45 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Except that you (and apparently everybody who's ever been on the receiving end of this fucked-up system) don't actually want the customer to have that power, because you're saying "please tip generously or don't go out

Wait, did I say that? Some people are saying that and I quoted one of my customers as saying something like that, but my philosophy was you take the good with the bad, and there will be non-tippers and over-tippers and I was willing to play the odds, which generally worked out for me. And I generally liked having travelers from far away places whether they tipped or not -- god knows what cultural norms I trample on inadvertently when I travel, many no doubt.

Plus, I was thinking further about the servility/slavery discussion here - I think I felt less servile than in most jobs I later held, even sort of empowered in that I could have a direct impact on what I earned. I never felt servile just because someone tipped me or didn't tip me. And I am not going to start feeling servile about things now, either, ha!

I was sweet to all the nontippers back then in my salad days, but I am older and crotchetier now. So don't make me call the bouncers on you, holgate!
posted by madamjujujive at 1:46 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This pile of one-dollar bills represents your 'potential tip'."
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 3:23 PM on June 14, 2012


Saying "let it slip" is a very aggressive way to frame things

It's a good job I didn't say that, then. You said "anyone working in the U.S. service industry" when you meant "anyone working for tips", given that lawyers and doctors are part of the service industry; that elision of "service" to mean "food/bar/porter/quasi-domestic service" touches on the historical legacy of those jobs.

if you have a problem with waiters in the first place

It's a good job I didn't say that, either. I have a problem with waiters getting paid shitty wages with shitty job security and shitty access to healthcare. I also have a problem with food service operating on a different set of implied terms to those of a plumber or a lawyer.

tipping frames the job for waiters as sort-of fairly paid independent contractors than anything related to a servant

Sorta kinda nah. Feel free to think such things, but I'll hold off until the waitperson presents me with a separate invoice.

Remind me never to take part in a bank heist with you guys.
posted by holgate at 3:48 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know what would be awesome? Change the law so that every job pays at least minimum wage. Then change the tipping norms to be "between 0% and 10%, with the average being 5%". It would resolve 99% of the arguments in these threads, to both sides satisfaction.
posted by Bugbread at 4:28 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tipping is a social hack to compensate jobs prone to shitty management exploitation.

And so the solution, rather than "stop the exploitation", is "throw some change at the poor bastards"?
posted by Jimbob at 5:08 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


No. They aren't poor bastards. They are working for a living. The tip is part of their wage. I don't know why this is hard to understand.
posted by empath at 7:53 PM on June 14, 2012


At least back when I was in high school, the teenagers working at restaurants and making tips made far, far, far more than any of their non-tip job peers. People who had fast food jobs, or store clerk jobs, or the like, were "poor bastards", but waiters were "rich bastards".
posted by Bugbread at 8:07 PM on June 14, 2012


And so the solution, rather than "stop the exploitation", is "throw some change at the poor bastards"?

Tipping is a way to "stop the exploitation". There is no other solution. Tipping pays at LEAST minimum wage, if tipping didn't exist, shitty managers would be paying minimum wage anyway, as I explained above. The law says that you must receive minimum wage on your paycheck if your tips do not cover you. It's possible for mangers to shirk the responsibility and create an environment which discourages reporting, but the managers run the risk that they will be sued by an employee that keeps copious documentation when they quit.

Without tipping, restaurant owners would do what Wal-Mart does and hire 2 people part-time for what should be one shift and make them work 29 hours a week so they don't qualify for health care. It'd be great to say "Hey we should work for a legislative solution, and tipping is blocking that from happening," but it's not realistic. If we got rid of tipping, no one would be clamoring in congress to increase the minimum wage. There is absolutely no way you can possibly structure a legislative solution that would give something as favorable as "15% of business revenues as wages". Honestly, I can understand an argument of "I don't like tipping because their wages are far too high," rather than the opposite. 15% of revenues, not profit, that's bigger than a lot of industries' profit margins!

Restaurants are exempt from a whole smattering of labor laws because they only employ a handful of people. Many states have thresholds of around 10 people to 50 people depending on the law that exempt you from labor rules like health care and OSHA requirements. This isn't a simple problem that can be waved away by removing tipping, the problem is intractable to a level where there is no legislative solution at all due to cultural and structural issues in the U.S.

As a result, tipping is about creating fair wages in an environment where it would not otherwise happen, even with strong legislative support. Nearly all waiters are much more comfortable having a social contract and restaurant popularity dictate their wages, over the whims of restaurant owners. If they really are being exploited and an oppressed servant class by being tipped as you believe, why do nearly all waiters in the U.S. like the present tipping system?
posted by amuseDetachment at 8:33 PM on June 14, 2012


There is no other solution.

Well, other places have found other solutions. I understand there is no "legislative support", and the ossification of the system means change is very, very difficult. I'm sure plenty of people felt the same way about child labor, once upon a time.

If they really are being exploited and an oppressed servant class by being tipped as you believe, why do nearly all waiters in the U.S. like the present tipping system?

They haven't experienced the alternatives, where the same jobs are paid at least $16/hr with benefits, meal and uniform allowances, and penalty rates for weekend work and overtime, and paid leave, and yet the businesses paying them continue to turn a profit?
posted by Jimbob at 8:51 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


If they really are being exploited and an oppressed servant class by being tipped as you believe, why do nearly all waiters in the U.S. like the present tipping system?

Do you have a citation for this?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:52 PM on June 14, 2012


Jimbob: If it were politically possible to increase minimum wage in the U.S. that easily, then I'd be 100% on your side. It's simply not possible, it may be possible in other places, but it's not in the U.S. You cannot get enough voters behind you to even advocate that as a solution. If it were that easy, the minimum wage wouldn't be $7.25. There simply isn't the political capital to make it happen. Even in an incredibly liberal city like San Francisco, the minimum wage is $10.25. I doubt you'd find many waiters in modestly successful restaurants that would prefer being paid minimum wage -- as that is already the lower bound.

Minimum wage needs to increase in the U.S. but I don't think tipping is the reason that kind of legislation is being blocked. We can't even figure out socialized health care, how do you expect there to be enough political capital in the U.S. to agree to doubling the minimum wage?

His thoughts were red thoughts: I doubt you could find a citation for that says the opposite. Everyone in this thread that has worked in a job which receives tips in the U.S. seems to view the system favorably.
posted by amuseDetachment at 9:36 PM on June 14, 2012


Tipping is a way to "stop the exploitation". There is no other solution.

There is, and I've thought about it way too much since leaving the US. It's the 'secret' for so much that works ok here, in Germany - make it not just possible but not a nightmare to live on 'minimum wage.' Keep cost of living down by keeping the cost of health-care down, by providing a reliable safety-net for people whose lives fall apart and have no recourse but to rely on the state, by assuring the retirement savings of people. In the US you are on your own with this shit. And you need a car 80% of the time or you can't get to a grocery store (and of course cars are expensive).

It's really kind of a fucked up thing: the owners of the restaurant don't want to pay more than they have to, but then it's sold to the wait staff as, "You'll make more with tips, anyway" and then to the customers there is no formal, legal compulsion to tip, it's a purely moral one - "You gotta tip, it's the servers wages." WTF? So the wait staff are independent contractors?

The secret to changing the mechanism is to look broader. Until it becomes as easy to live on less, people will always feel the pressure to look for a job that pays more - not that they are suited to and will make them happy and make those around them happy and generally improve everyone's lot - you just need a job that pays. It's fucking unfair and unreasonable and not the way of the world. Seriously - it does not need to be like that.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:46 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


His thoughts were red thoughts: I doubt you could find a citation for that says the opposite. Everyone in this thread that has worked in a job which receives tips in the U.S. seems to view the system favorably.

Well, I'm not the one making the claim, but here you go - a comparison between the satisfaction of US servers (with tipping) and Australian servers (with no tipping and a decent minimum wage). I can't access it without a US library card, but maybe a US based MeFite could pull the conclusion for me.

It could prove your point - I don't know. All the abstract says is that the study "showed significant differences in job satisfaction, degree of satisfaction with total earnings and degree of control over earnings."
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:11 AM on June 15, 2012


Here's what Triumph The Insult The Comic Dog thinks about tipping at Chicago's 'The Weiner Circle."
posted by ericb at 12:19 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Please take the sniping at other people elsewhere, folks. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 4:40 PM on June 15, 2012


To reiterate, find me a waiter that would prefer being paid a salary instead of tips.
Minimum wage for wait staff here is about $20 an hour. We tend to leave a few coins as a tip if the service was particularly good.
Find me a waiter who would rather work for $2.70 an hour plus tips.
There doesn't seem any justification for enforced tipping except that wage justice in the USA is non-existent, which is a problem for everyone there, not just service staff.
posted by bystander at 4:27 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd note this: the UK has basically one flavor of doughnut. The first visit to a US donut joint is indeed a bewildering wonder.

Agreed, all those different shapes and colours, but only one flavour - inedible.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 11:02 PM on June 17, 2012


You have not been to the right donut joint.
posted by maryr at 7:00 AM on June 18, 2012


Too true. There are some poor doughnut places in the UK (well, places that sell Doughnuts, we don't have 'donut places' so much) but there are plenty of good examples in the UK.
posted by Brockles at 7:07 AM on June 18, 2012


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