Tipping and other social etiquette

Hand holding coins

So, we received a wedding invite recently and since it arrived from down under, it’s one I’m very much looking forward to attending. But this would be a pretty redundant column if I didn’t have something to constructively criticise (bitch) about, so strap yourself in.

Let me state for the record that in spite of my Yorkshire heritage I am not tight fisted (though I can at least guarantee one laugh from this blog when my dear wife and possibly others who know me, read that last line) but regardless of, on occasions, a slight disinclination for my fingertips to reach the bottom of my pockets, my gripe is not a financial one. What caught my attention is the line I have seen on a number of wedding invites- including my own- that state:

‘We value your presence more than your presents but if you’d like to contribute a little something to our special day, we’ve included a gift registry that would quite frankly make Bill Gates accountant reach for oxygen.’

Okay, I might have made that last bit up but you get the gist. I just love that; the idea that there’s no pressure not to turn up empty handed. Now don’t get me wrong my wife is a loving, patient (my turn to laugh) person but if our own wedding invite had actually been written without the flowery overtones as stated above she would have had it say something like:

‘We value your presence but since this ‘special day’ is costing more than it cost NASA to send the first space shuttle into orbit (simply because every time we mention the word wedding before booking the- venue/flowers/pianist who, incidentally, will piss off before the first glass of champagne is poured) note, if you do turn up empty handed expect to be hunted down by packs of rabid dogs for the rest of your life, I will find you!’

Kind of takes the edge off the whole special day thing doesn’t it.

But it’s not the only time we’re emotionally blackmailed into giving more than we should. Restaurants are a minefield of social etiquette. Specifically I’m talking about tipping. Now I can talk with some authority, as I spent my pimply teenage years in some backwater restaurant serving unsuspecting customers ‘home made’ cottage pie straight from Tesco’s. But I’m sorry unless you’re dining in downtown Calcutta is there really a need to give a tip anymore? Again I have no problem with the cost of the meal as a whole (and let the record show I have had open wallet surgery at Gordon Ramsey’s Hospital Road- I kept the receipt in case there comes a day when paramedics need something to shock start my heart) but if it’s unlikely the staff get it anyway why not incorporate it into the cost of the meal and raise their wages accordingly.

In this day and age of course most people pay by card allowing restaurants to enforce a little game called visa debit tipping. At some point you will be handed the card machine to put in your pin number. But it will also ask whether or not you wish to add a gratuity. The waiter, who only seconds ago appeared absorbed by something on the wall, is now staring flintily eyed at you and is so close to your shoulder you can feel his breath.  No matter that the meal may have tasted like baked leather, unless you have nerves of steel you are going to press ‘yes’. But the ordeal is not over and now you are about to reveal your crippling cheapness. It asks how much you wish to add. Suddenly you wish for the old days when everybody paid in cash and you could get to the exit before the waiter returned to find that you have left him twenty five pence and a button on a plate. Now however you must allow them to read what exactly you think they’re worth when you hand the machine back. Whatever you’ve put on, their expression will remain deadpan, but the difference is evident when they either bring you your coat and wish you a pleasant evening or smack the door into your kidneys as you leave and have you pick your coat up from the pavement.

An extension of this and no less subtle is to be found at certain fancy bars. I find this adding insult to injury because for ‘fancy’ read ‘one round of drinks is going to cost more than you make in a week pal’. If this wasn’t bad enough you will be handed your change, if any, on a little silver plate. Bar staff seem to be under the illusion that the fact your money is being presented to you in such a way will guilt you into leaving it for them to pocket. Again, this becomes a war of attrition whereby they pretend to become absorbed washing glasses only inches from the plate, ready to snatch it away as soon as you leave. If, by a Dynamo inspired slight of hand you take it, don’t expect to be served any time soon when it comes to getting the next round in.

In spite of the fact that it’s only recently I’ve been exposed to this level of drinking sophistication, my younger years were no better. Most of us in less reputable nightclubs will at some point have come across ‘toilet trogs’. Visiting the toilet is clearly unavoidable in this type of environment and it is during these alcohol driven visits you are forced to engage in a sort of subterranean haggle to take a piss. Going in is fine, but it awakens the golem strategically positioned near to the exit, who will demand payment for handing you a paper towel or pumping the soap dispenser as you leave. In some clubs he (or she so I’m led to believe on the other side- my research only go’s so far) will try to entice you with a spritz of cologne that blends beautifully with the stale smell of urinal cakes and vomit. I have had to employ Mission Impossible style diversions in order to escape these people.

But for sheer bambi’esque, doe eyed, guilt enforced tipping my final word goes to cab drivers. I’ve no problem with what they charge but tipping, it appears to me, is given either for an outstanding service or to compensate for a woefully underpaid job. The twelve pounds I give my cab driver for the ten minutes he takes to convey me four miles from train station to home appears to fall into neither. And yet on the odd occasion I’ve not given him more than the agreed price (and in spite of my whinge, I tip quite frequently) I am looked at as if I’ve just informed him I wish to take a dump on the back seat. I’ve now become so paranoid about this that if we are being picked up at the airport, I refuse to let the driver load our suitcases into the boot for fear of being subjected to a heart rending- ‘Blimey that case is heavy, however will I feed little Timmy when I can barely reach the baked beans and gruel on the top shelf, deary deary me.’ This frequently results in an unseemly ‘It’s a knockout’ style competition between the driver and I as to who can load the most suitcases quickest. My wife alas, simply shakes her head and sits in the car.

And on that note I feel it’s time to sign off. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s whinge. If you’d like to leave a tip, feel free, but not that one about ‘don’t eat yellow snow’. I’ve heard it before.