America is now the land of the fee when it comes to tipping.
LET'S be careful. Very careful. Tipping, the gentle art of voluntarily giving a financial reward for good service, has been taken to a sinister and dangerous level in the US.
America is no longer the land of the free.
It is the land of the fee.
A few years ago I lived in the US. That's history. Things have changed.
I was recently in New York and Washington for less than a week and in many cases tipping was no longer a voluntary payment for good service but a compulsory payment to get service.
The change has been subtle and insidious. Americans are conditioned to tipping.
They apparently accept it without question or protest.
But Australia should be alert and suspicious about the changing intent and philosophy of tipping.
If it is true that Australia adopts the worst elements of American culture - anything from McDonald's and Oprah to The Bold and the Beautiful - then the rapid expansion of tipping cannot be discounted.
Yet international tourists and other visitors are feeding the habit and setting the example.
Here are a few examples to support my concern that tipping is no longer a legitimate reward for good service but a blatant bribe to get things done.
Example 1: Because of a delay out of Melbourne to Los Angeles, I missed the connecting flight to New York.
Someone I happened to know on the flight went to the American Airlines desk, explained his problem and put his passport on the counter, a $20 note peeping out of the pages.
The AA clerk pocketed the money and gave my friend a business-class ticket to New York.
I waited another four hours for a Delta Airlines flight.
That was clearly a bribe, not a tip.
Example 2: After the first night in my five-star Washington hotel my room was serviced but my bed was not made up. I could have complained, but instead the next morning I left $2 on the pillow.
The room was magnificently serviced, the bed made with clean sheets and a complimentary bowl of fruit left on the coffee table.
Tip or bribe?
Example 3: At an elegant cocktail party I asked for a glass of champagne.
"Sorry,'' said the lady behind the bar, "there's no more champagne.'' I dropped two $1 notes on the bar.
Within two minutes the girl came over and gave me a glass of champagne.
Tip or bribe?
Example 4: A friend who went to a hairdresser in Washington was handed an envelope and told: ``Please put a tip in here and drop it in the box on the counter.''
Never mind how good the hairstyle was. Tip or bribe?
In some cases, restaurants automatically include a 15 per cent tip on your credit-card bill. Never mind how good or bad the service was.
I could go on.
The examples of tipping emerge in almost everything you do.
A familiar story.
"Sorry, we have no booking in that name.'' Produce $10.
"Oh, of course, come this way.''
I have three fears about tipping First, this trend - which I am sure many people find unbelievable - is gently being introduced into Australia.
Second, from little things, big things grow.
People like Senator Nick Xenophon should look at this growing trend from tips to bribery and corruption.
The link is as obvious as it is reprehensible.
Third, if the Americans are prepared to accept trivial corruption in their streets, restaurants and service industries, why would it not spread to higher levels of business?
In Wall Street Gordon Gekko summed it up: Greed is good.
Where does that stop?
Australia should watch with alarm the spreading culture of tipping in the US.
I give you the tip.
Whatever it takes, this practice should be kept out of Australia.
TIPS ON TIPPING IN THE US
- The Eye Witness Travel Guide says tipping in the United States is expected for most services.
- A 15 per cent tip is expected in restaurants and in some cases the recommended tip may be 20 per cent.
- A tip of $1 per bag is expected for anyone who helps with your bag at an airport. At a hotel, $2 would be expected.
- Bartenders serving drinks expect 50c to $1 for every drink served. Once you pay the continuing service becomes exceptional.
- If you visit a hair salon or hairdresser, 10 per cent of the bill is the minimum expected tip.
- Taxi drivers expect a minimum of 15 per cent tip on the fare. Unless the tip is good enough the driver will not assist with luggage.