Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The quintessential tipping...


In the process of shifting to a new home, we have suddenly been exposed to a heavy dose of the tipping culture that has found its way in India. In the last few days, we may have handed out a substantial chunk as tips to the delivery guys, assembling folks, security guards etc. And that after ignoring almost devouring eyes of the liftman, the other guard on duty who merely watched the delivery van park, the yet other guard who created a ruckus about letting the deliveries in the building...

I still remember the first time I was making my first trip to the US and was almost completely ignorant of the concept of universal tipping. My mentor had thought it necessary to tell me as part of orientation that I was expected to pay a tip to almost anyone who moves the slightest limb for my benefit. The thumbrule for restaurants/cabs etc was to pay a 10% tip if the service was average, 15% if I was happy with it and 5-6% if it was bad. He also instructed me to leave a dollar on my bed everyday for the housekeeping woman. I remember telling him how stupid I thought the American culture was. At least in India they had still called it with a gross name (ghoons) and attached amoral perception to it. America had brought the 'under-the-table' business right out on the table.


Today suddenly, even in India I find expectant faces everywhere waiting for that extra bill. Every delivery person, the cleaner, the carpenter, guard, electrician, wants a part of the purse. I do believe that the culture has unmistakably flown here from abroad. That's why the tipping is at its peak at the airports. If you have committed the sin of flying or so much as breathed the airport air, there is a host of people expecting you to draw out the purse strings -the person who handed out a trolley to you, the one who took it from your hands and nudged it to the counter, the scanning guy who pushed your luggae onto the trolley, the auto/cab guy, the taxi usherer etc etc.

I for one have still not found it natural to tip. More than the monetary consideration, I find it awkward to hand that bill. For one, I have never known the right amount to give. I am certainly not thinking of paying the 10% of my furniture bill to the delivery boy, but then what is the acceptable figure? I have only sometimes seen a face light up in smile as the note was handed over. More often than not, the transaction leads to an awkward smile, or a judging look, or in the worst cases an argument about insufficient tipping.

May be its time someone wrote a book on tipping guidelines for India and it became a standard chart to refer to. And it would help if the document was simple and not as archaic and complicated as used by the IT department to collect their tips. After all, the ITD asking Hutch to pay $1.9 bn for the telecomm deal is no different from a guard who is asking for a tip to just stand in a corner and watch a truck unload?

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