Tipping isn’t a city in China

An old joke lobbed at restaurant customers in America that fail to leave a gratuity is “Tipping isn’t a city in China, you know!”  America has by far the most pervasive tipping culture in the world.  And as long as service workers are paid a non-living wage this will continue. Some restaurants in bigger cities are experimenting with eliminating gratuities and building higher wages into their prices. About half of Americans surveyed don’t like this idea because they believe service levels will suffer. I’ll leave that debate for another post though. 

In Bali, as in many countries, gratuities are either not expected or added to the bill as a service charge. Many travel blogs advise travelers that they should not tip because it’s not expected and the workers are happy without it. They worry that workers will become spoiled. I can’t get behind that. 

I just had my first meal in Bali, and it cost me 70k IDR which is about US$5 including service charge. I left 5k rupiah tip. Not because I felt obligated but because my standard of living is so much higher than those living here and I can afford it. And as I sit at the table writing this I wonder, should I leave more?  It’s less than one dollar. Adjusting to other cultures takes time. And the economic realities of the world are harsh. I’m not sure of the answer other than following my heart. 

What experiences have you had with tipping, giving, and the economic disparity in the places you have travelled?