Not Very Gratuitous

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

Americans are renowned the World over for being the most generous tippers whether they are inside the US or traveling abroad. The standard rate of gratuity in the US is to leave a tip ranging between 15-25% of the total bill. Since service type jobs in the US like waiting tables, bell hopping, pumping gas and the like are typically low paid jobs, workers rely heavily on tips to supplement their already meager salaries which are half of the national minimum wage. Workers in the US service industry often make a decent wage as a result of the tips they receive from customers. And the customers often tip even if the service they received is not up to par as tipping has become a part of the American culture. To not leave a tip, in the US, is considered to be miserly and constitutes poor manners.

Things are not as gracious, however, in the Middle East where there is no set minimum wage. Workers in the service industry are often exploited as they come from poor South Asian countries. They often earn a mere $100 per month as a wage and don’t have gratuities to rely on like their American counterparts do. In the Middle East, most patrons to restaurants and hotels simply assume that the tip is already included in their bill because when they get the bill there is a ‘service charge; calculated into the final total. However, this fee never makes its way into your poor waiter’s pocket. You know, the guy who just spent the last hour answering your every beck and call? Rather it goes right to the owner of the establishment’s overstuffed pocket.

To citizens born in the Middle East, tipping is rarely on their minds as they polish off their plates in a restaurant or pass their hotel chambermaid as they head to the front desk to checkout of their room. Leaving a gratuity is not a part of the culture however, there are some people who do leave tips but it is not based on having empathy with the workers but rather with the service received. “I never leave a tip unless the service is absolutely perfect,” says Nadia Khandari, who is a student in Lebanon, “and even then it is only the equivalent of about a dollar in my local currency.” Others simply use the excuse that their bill already has a ‘service charge’ with it so there is no need to pay a dime more. “Why would I leave more money?” says Khalid Saki, an office worker in Kuwait, “ they already charged me for the service!”

To expatriates living in the Middle East, tipping is based on the rules of gratuities in their own country. For example, an American expatriate in the Gulf often will give the 15-20% rate of gratuity based on the total bill no matter which Middle Eastern country they live in. Contrastingly for British expatriates, who unfortunately have a reputation for not being satisfied with most services they receive, tipping is not a part of their culture so they often leave nothing on the table or in the hand of a service provider. Whereas, a Chinese expatriate will often leave a tip that is 10% of the total bill which is the norm in their country.

When traveling abroad, one might find themselves in a country where tipping is considered to be offensive as it is in Singapore or Japan. But still if they want to leave a tip to their service staff they can always ask the manager of the establishment what their policy is. And in countries where tipping is acceptable, but there is confusion over the exchange rate, the norm is simply to leave a couple of dollars as a tip which is better than leaving nothing at all.

Regardless of where we reside or what our cultural background may be, tipping is a way to thank another human being for the service they have provided us with. It should not be thought of as a penalty that is levied against us but rather it should be considered an act of charity for someone who most assuredly is not earning what he or she should be for their hard labor.


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