Unfamiliar With American Practices on Gratuities : Tourists to U.S. Are Often in Need of Tips on Tipping

Associated Press

To tip or not to tip, that is the question many foreign tourists face when they visit New York or other large American cities.

"I don't mind tipping," said Tadashi Nishimura of Osaka, Japan. "But services I got in America were so bad that, on a number of occasions, I could not reward them with money.

"Yet, you are more or less forced to tip everywhere you go."

Refused to Give Change

Nishimura says a New York cab driver who took him from Kennedy Airport to the city refused to give him change for the $20 and $10 bills he presented to pay a $24.75 fare. "I thought you would let me keep the change," the cabbie told him.

An official at the French tourism office in New York, who declined to be identified, said the problem is complicated by cultural differences.

In France, for instance, the tip for the waiter is included in the check as the service charge. You leave a franc or two on the table if you are "really" satisfied with the food and service.

The tourism official tells the story of a French visitor who felt insulted when a waiter followed him to the door, handed him a dollar he had left on the table as a tip and told him: "I think you need this dollar more than I do. Take it."

The visitor, of course, had assumed that he was paying "the regular tip of 15%" for the waiter with his check at the cashier.

Round Out Figures

In West Germany and some other European countries, customers tend to round out the figure. For example, if your taxi fare comes to 8 marks and 50 pfennigs, you give the driver 9 marks.

"If you leave only 50 cents for a tip for the $8.50 fare in America, I'm sure many taxi drivers would lock the doors of their cabs and wouldn't let you get out," said Annette von Schmidt of West Germany.

In Japan and several other countries there is basically no tipping, while in China tipping is prohibited by law. Although most visitors from these countries learn quickly they have to tip in America, they often do not know when and how much.

"Fifteen percent is acceptable and 20% is preferable," said John Turchiano, spokesman for the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 6.

Many waiters depend on tips for their livelihood as most of them are getting the minimum wage of $3.35 an hour from their employers, according to Turchiano.

$100 a Day in Tips

The amount of tips waiters haul in varies from as much as $100 a day in expensive restaurants to $15 in coffee shops, he says. Workers at fast-food restaurants get no tips at all.

As for customer complaints, Turchiano says: "Most people tip not because they have received fast or courteous service. They just do it out of habit.

"Believe it or not, they tend to leave more tips for waiters who are said to be slow and haughty or intimidating to their customers."

Lawrence Goldberg, an official at the Taxi Drivers and Allied Workers' Union, says taxi drivers in large cities make between $80 to $100 a day, of which 25% to 30% comes from tips.

Goldberg, who drove a taxi for more than 13 years in New York, confessed that there were times when he threw dimes and nickels back at departing customers from his taxi. But he could not say whether they were visitors from Europe.

"On the whole, I found that customers, including foreigners, were generous tippers," he said. Asked who were the worst tippers, Goldberg thought for a moment and replied: "Those rich old ladies out shopping on Fifth Avenue."

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