I’ve read the guide books, of course. I’ve even traveled to Europe before — but I still haven’t gotten the hang of tipping. The theory is that you round up a bit, leave your spare change on the table, or maybe leave about 10% of the total bill. So I try to do that, and I usually finding myself cheating up a bit — 12% really isn’t that much more than 10%, right? Ok, if I do the math: maybe it’s more like 12.9%. But who’s really doing the math anyway? And what’s an extra 50 cents to me? It’s not really about the money, though. It’s more that it’s hard to shake the idea that not leaving a sufficient tip is completely rude — that it’s actually making a stronger statement to leave a small tip (say, around 10%) than none at all, since that implies that you could have left more but chose not too.
I’m trying to re-train my brain to understand tipping in the German context. The German word for “tip” is Trinkgeld, which roughly translates to “drink money.” Somehow, by thinking of the tip as leaving a few Euros for a drink, I can overlook the additional non-tipped money.
My take on tipping here is about 180 degrees from how other non-Germans see it, though. The other day in German class, we were discussing tipping practices. Generally speaking, most of my classmates found the customs in Germany significantly more generous than those in their home country. (The other students are predominantly from other European countries and Turkey.) In Germany, people generally tip their hairdresser (my reaction: “duh;” other students: “are you kidding?”), taxi drivers, and so on. The list includes most of the professions that I would expect to tip; the amounts are just lower.
A few weeks ago, I went to pay our pizza delivery person. (Side note: we’ve figured out how to order in, and it’s been fabulous to have another food option!) I realized as I went to pay the man that I didn’t know how much of a tip to leave, so I guess at something between 2 and 3 Euros (probably around 10% of the bill, maybe a bit more). When I came back upstairs with the food, I described the amounts to M., and noticed his expression shift a bit. “Was that not enough?” I asked. “I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I’m afraid I totally stiffed the guy!” M. grinned at me. “Nope,” he said, “that was definitely enough. I would probably have tipped about half as much.”
Sigh. I wonder, sometimes, what the Germans think of me. M., who has a good ear these things, says my accent (although noticeably foreign) doesn’t sound “American,” though I’m sure my tipping behavior is.