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A tip on over-tipping: Don't

Money talks -- sometimes rudely. Americans' tendency to dole out too much to servers in foreign countries doesn't help our image.

May 20, 2007|Rosemary McClure | Times Staff Writer

PSSST! I've got a secret that can save you money.

You tip too much when you travel overseas. In some cases, you hand out so much money in gratuities that people think you're crazy -- and a little foolish.

So please stop. Otherwise, in no time at all, the entire world will be ponying up 18% every time they buy pommes frites in the Caribbean or tamales de pollo in Guatemala.

Anna Post, one of the etiquette mavens at the Emily Post Institute, learned this lesson the hard way while living in Italy.

"It was difficult for me not to over-tip," she said. "But eventually, I heard from some of the workers in restaurants I visited regularly that Americans tend to over-tip. Of course, they said it with a smile. Then I realized I was doing it too."

Lynn Staneff, of Magellan's travel supply company, spent several months researching overseas tipping. Her findings: "We over-tip outrageously," she said.

"The most glaring way to show you're an American -- besides your accent -- is to over-tip. In some countries, particularly Asia, it isn't even considered polite to tip. When you do it in these places, you're saying that the person you're tipping isn't hospitable enough to provide service without a bribe."

Tipping is a relatively recent custom, even in the United States. It was considered demeaning here until the 20th century, etiquette expert Miss Manners, a.k.a. Judith Martin, has written in her columns. Before that, many Americans thought that accepting a bit of extra money from a customer, besides your regular pay, seemed like a handout. It smacked of old-world servitude.

We got over that, to some people's dismay. As Miss Manners is fond of saying, "[I have] been railing against tipping for years, as a vile system that brings out the worst in both giver and receiver."

Unfortunately, as we wander to the far corners of the world, we're spreading that "vile system."

"The more Americans travel, the more countries expect tips," Staneff said. "Pretty soon everyone will tip 15% everywhere."

And some countries still consider it demeaning.

In Japan, for instance, tipping is viewed as insulting. In other countries, it's considered disrespectful to hand a tip to a waiter. That's why small trays are left on the table in those regions, Post said.

"It's so important to be considerate and respectful of the countries or culture you're visiting," she said. "You need to remember you're not at home."

Respect is what it's all about, many experts agree.

"As the world shrinks, it behooves us to learn the nuances of other cultures," said Ramani Durvasula, associate professor of psychology at Cal State L.A. "To do so is the most fundamental way of showing respect."

There's another ethical issue involved in tipping abroad. Some people think they should spread the wealth, especially in developing nations, where poverty is prevalent. They think tipping is ethically correct, even if it is a cultural error.

"Are Americans tipping to 'pay it forward' and share a few dollars with someone who would greatly benefit, or [are they doing it in] ignorance of the local customs because they couldn't be bothered to learn them?" Durvasula asked.

"At the end of the day," she said, "the responsible traveler does her homework, learns the social mores and applauds excellent service with a compliment."

How does one go about doing that homework?

"Check guidebooks in the region you're going to," Post suggested. "Or ask the concierge. Just say, 'We're from out of town, and we don't know what the custom is on tipping.' "

You may find that a tip is included in the bill. That's true in many European restaurants and hotels.

You may learn that tipping is common in the larger cities in a region but not in the countryside.

Or you may be told that there's no tipping at all, such as in Vietnam, Thailand, Fiji and in parts of the South Pacific.

And that's information you wouldn't want to ignore.

rosemary.mcclure@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Not so fast with the cash

*--* Country Restaurants Porters Taxis Australia 10%, fine restaurants $2 per bag Round up the fare only China 3% in major cities $1 to $2 total None Costa Rica None $1 to $2 total None Denmark None $1 per bag Round up England 10% if no service $1 per bag 15% charge France 5%-10% $1 per bag Round up Germany 5%-10% $1 per bag Round up Italy 10% plus service $1 per bag Round up charge Japan None None None New Zealand None None None

*--*

Source: Magellan's

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