A hotel room in Phoenix, Arizona, 7pm. A weary traveller, recently off an 11-hour flight from Gatwick, has just eaten half a bucket-sized portion of beef, cheese and peppers in the hotel restaurant and is about to get into bed.
Caller: “Hi, Mr Richardson. This is Brad here. Your waiter for this evening.”
Me (puzzled but friendly): “Oh, hi, Brad.”
Brad: “I was just calling to check you enjoyed your meal this evening.”
Me: “Well, cheers for asking, Brad. It was fine.”
Brad: “Only, I guess you being tired and all, you forgot to express your appreciation in the customary way…”
Like a lemon I got dressed, went downstairs to the restaurant and handed Brad a $5 bill. The recollection of this episode has tortured me ever since.
Yes, I know that Brad gets paid diddly-squat and, like all American waitpersons, relies on tips to stay alive. I forgot, I screwed up. But I was already in my pyjamas, for God’s sake.
Tipping, let’s face it, is a cultural and pecuniary minefield. There are complex cultural variants, such as baksheesh in the Middle East (basically, daylight robbery) and ta’arof in Iran, a preposterous formality whereby offers of money are refused two or three times before being greedily gobbled up. But these require a lifetime of study.
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