By Karen Z

“Gosh,” I cried after I left a restaurant, “I forgot to pay tips!”

Being a Chinese, I take for granted that I don’t need to tip for service in China. In fact, that’s what I often give as my first tip to my non-Chinese friends when they visit China. “You don’t need to tip the bell boy or the waitress,” I said matter-of-factly. “It’s not our thing.” Plus, in most high-class restaurants in China, the service charge, at about 15 percent, is already included in the bill. It’s not joking that China does have cheap labor. Either the labor force is cheap, or we Chinese are cheap to give away.

So in addition to my poor math, I’m just not used to figuring out how much I should pay in total for a meal in America. To avoid that embarrassment, I’m not a frequent restaurant goer as I would be in my country. I’d rather shop and cook at home in my own kitchen with my own invention of recipes. No tip needed!

I remember last year when I travelled with my classmates and my teacher to New Orleans, I deliberately brought a calculator with me for fear I would embarrass myself in the go-Dutch scenario. Luckily, my travel mates were more familiar than me with the strategy of adding up and division. In a minute, the result of how much each should pay was crystal clear. I saved my calculator for the next time which never came during the trip.    

“What will happen if I don’t tip the waitress?” I asked, seeking for a making-both-sides-happy solution.

“Huh,” my American godparent gave me a surprised look, “you’ll not get good service next time and it’s really a bad manner.”

“But what if I only dine in that restaurant once?” I argued. “The waitress might never see me again. Does my tipping matter?”

“Yes, you don’t want to disrespect others. Frankly, the servers are living on your tips. Unlike the cook, they have very low salary.”

“You see, I’d rather the bill comes with a service charge like the restaurants in China do. So I don’t need to figure it out on my own. Plus, isn’t tipping voluntary? Is there a law in America that customer must pay tips?”

“No law restrict it, but tipping has become a custom here. It’d be unusual to not pay tips in a restaurant.”

I guess I can’t win the debate. After all, tipping is an unwritten practice in America. I have to tip my server even though at times I have a bad service. As unaccustomed to adding sales tax to my purchase, when in America, I must do as the Americans do to tip my waitress.

I rushed back to the restaurant and dropped three dollars for the cashier.


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