14 October 2012

Escupimos en su alimento

It's been almost a year since I came to Germany. At this point I'm already used to the way of living, the language is getting better and better, the habits of the Germans are no longer strange to me. There's just one thing, one little thing that I haven't quite got used to yet. The concept of tipping.

As a Portuguese, I'm not used to giving tips. With the exception of fancy restaurants, we almost never give anything more than what's on the bill, and when we do, it's only some spare change. If we pay by credit card, it's almost certain we won't leave any tip. In cafés and bars we wouldn't think of leaving a tip. And why would we? We're already paying for the whole service. We assume they raised the prices of food and drinks a little bit to account for the service, so the service is in the bill. Why would they expect us to pay more than that?

Well things are different here. Apparently the service is not included. So if you sit at a table and someone comes to serve you, you have to tip them. You have to. You see, my problem is not the fact of you wanting to leave a tip, that's perfectly fine, you feel overly satisfied about the food and the service and want to reward them that way. The problem is that they expect you to leave one, and probably will hold it against you if you don't. Germans will tell you about the three reasons why you should tip waiters and waitresses:

  • Waiters make money mostly on tips - OK but, why is that my problem? Why can't they just raise the prices to account for the service like we do? Or why don't they include the tip on the bill? (Italians do this, it's called the coperto.) By doing this, the owners of bars and restaurants are just telling is it's not their burden to pay the waiters, it's ours. If we don't pay them, it will be on our conscience. And they are artificially lowering the prices because you always end up paying more than what's in the bill (for example, the bill is 25€ but you actually pay 28€).
  • Tipping is a way to evaluate the service - but really, how hard can it be? It's bringing food and drinks to people! Of course most of them will do an average job. Some of them will earn some extra tip money for being extra nice, but that's OK by me as I've said. And if the service was that terrible, wouldn't it be better to tell them what happened or file a complain rather than just getting out without leaving a tip?
  • If you never give tips, they will start spitting on your food - or doing other equally nasty thing to it. This sounds a lot like a Mafia style of thing, where you have to pay them to protect you from themselves. I have to treat them like mobsters because they brought me food and drinks, really?!
At least we're nowhere near the United States, there the tip is mandatory and it's almost 20% of your bill. And what about those places where they have an included tip but expect an extra tip on top of that? Mr. Larry David puts it better than me:

You see, I am also protesting the math. The Germans have a system here, you're expected to give 10% of your bill as tip. The waiter will tell you how much it is, you add 10% to it, round the result up to an acceptable number and tell him that's what you want to pay. A friend of mine spends almost 10 seconds with the money bills on his hand doing all the math mentally before he tells the result to the waiter. What is the purpose of this? If they expect us to pay an additional 10% every time, why don't they include those 10% in the bill? For me it's that simple: they tell me this is what I have to pay, and I pay this.

Anyway, it's their society, their rules, and when you live in society you don't get to make your own rules and expect them to be easily accepted by others. You either play by their rules or you're gonna have a bad time. For a while I skipped most of the tips because of my problem with German numbers (since I didn't understand exactly how much it costed, when it came to tell them how much I wanted to pay I didn't say anything, which they interpret as not wanting to give a tip), but I started taking it seriously after a first date went terribly wrong because I didn't tip the waitress. My date was shocked at my lack of manners, she gave me a whole lecture on how to give tips, didn't accept any of my excuses, and hasn't spoken to me ever since.

So now I'm behaving properly but always thinking whether I should tip this or that person. Like, should I tip waitresses that bring me just coffee? Taxi drivers? Hairdressers? And why don't I tip the cashier in the supermarket? The mailman for giving my that package I was waiting for? The bus driver for transporting me? The girl in the shop that helps me choose my clothes? The guy in the kiosk for selling me the newspaper? The guy that puts gas on my car in the gas station? Why do I tip the waiter but not the cook? Hell, why don't I get a tip for the work I do? If you're gonna start giving tips, who says waiters are the only ones that deserve them?

P.S.: The title of this post is a reference to the movie Anchorman. In the middle of this movie a Mexican restaurant appears, with the words "Escupimos en su alimento" on its signboard. It literally means "We spit on your food".

(versão portuguesa)