11 June 2014

Tipping: one word, several cultures

My mother has just returned to her home in Melbourne, Australia, after a short holiday in Hawaii. Like other Australian visiting the United States she had trouble understanding the tipping culture and, in one case, was sharply abused by a restaurant employee for not leaving the right amount as a tip.

Australian newspapers frequently carry articles on the topic.
Examples include:
Tipping? What for? Aussies just don't get the American way,
'Australians are the worst': tips on tipping in the US,
A guide to tipping in America (after failing miserably),
US-style tipping may hit Australia: study.

Of the several articles I read today, the best is definitely
Do restaurants really expect Australian diners to leave a tip?
For anyone interested in language, the issue boils down to different versions of the English language and different communities of speakers having different concepts of what the term means. In other words, one term, many meanings. For translators, I think it's interesting to note that the word is easily translated, but the social, community and behavioural connotations that it carries will seldom, if ever, be conveyed by a single term.

Do restaurants really expect Australian diners to leave a tip? explains some of the connotations Australians associated with the word rather well:
We know the majority of Australians are opposed to a local tipping culture. ...
the head of the Restaurants and Catering Industry Association of Australia, John Hart, conceded that when it comes to tipping, it’s too late.
... “You can’t overlay what is the highest wage cost base in the world with a tipping culture. That has pushed us to point where there is virtually no latitude for customers to leave a tip. The propensity to leave a tip is minimal.”
The lack of a tipping culture in Australia is largely down to our wage structure which sees a minimum wage (around $17 an hour) mandated on hospitality pay. This is in stark contrast to the United States, where there is a strong tipping culture but minimum hospitality wages of between $2 and $3 an hour.
The hospitality workers’ union United Voice acting national secretary David O’Byrne said ... “Staff in the US are effectively begging for a weekly wage. You can’t plan your life, you can’t get a loan and you get caught in a poverty trap. My first job was as a porter in a hotel and you got tips from time to time but you can’t plan what that’s going to be.
I’ve spoken to workers in the US and it’s not a dignified life. In Australia, tips are a gratuity and people who go to work deserve to have dignity. There’s no substitute for decent wages, training and culture.”
Some words hide more meaning than others.

Thursday 19 June: Today, the Huffington Post published an article entitled To tip or not to tip, that is the question, complete with a guide to tipping practices in various countries for restaurant service taxi drivers and hotel porters.

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