TRAVELLING in America with our strong dollar is very attractive at the moment, but the insidious tipping culture can wear you down.
Tipping when you want to because you've received good service is one thing, feeling obliged to do it is quite another.
In a restaurant in San Francisco, a waiter took my order and before he even placed it in the kitchen he asked for his tip "in case the bus boy takes it at the end of your dinner".
At the time, I hadn't been in America long and didn't know what a bus boy was and even though I was shocked at the audacity of the waiter asking for money before he'd delivered any service, I tipped him.
(A bus boy is the poor lowly person who is obliged to clear the tables. I tipped him, too).
The relentless request for tips flowed through all aspects of daily routines.
Everybody wanted my money: taxi drivers, barmen, doormen, room-service attendants, check-in clerks...even people I had not sighted and who had not given me any direct service asked for tips.
In a small B&B in Bodega Bay north of San Francisco I found an envelope by the bed with a note inside: "Hi, my name is Betty-Jo, I cleaned the room and made up the bed. Please leave your tip in this envelope."
In the change room in a day spa in the Napa Valley as I was undressing before stepping into a mud bath - an experience I'll relate to you another time - I spied yet another envelope in the locker.
"Hi, my name is Mary-Lou, I put the robe and slippers in here for you. Please leave your tip in this envelope."
You might think I'm making this up, but I'm not. (Well, perhaps the names).
So, be forewarned if you're planning a long stay in America. Take lots of tipping money.
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