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Where you should never, ever tip

Tipping abroad isn't about being generous, it's all about knowing the customs.
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Heather Cleland, June 27, 2013 1:52:29 PM

Tipping is complicated enough at home but take yourself out of your country and into someone else’s and suddenly tipping takes on a whole new dimension. The etiquette around tipping varies drastically around the world. While you might think its a nice gesture to tip even if it’s not customary, you could end up offending someone. Here are some guidelines to follow when it comes to tipping ’round the world.

Definitely not
Tipping in Japan is considered insulting so even if you had the time of your life at a restaurant, keep your tips to yourself. This doesn’t just apply to wait staff either — when you pay for food, a cab, a drink or any kind of service, the price is the price and to offer more is confusing or even offensive.

Probably not
In a lot of countries, a service fee or a tip is automatically applied to your bill so that means you can keep your cell phone in your pocket because you won’t have to calculate a tip yourself. The service charge is usually about 10% to 15% and is often mandated by the government. Tips are included on many bills in several countries in Western Europe.

In China, on the other hand, tipping is traditionally not the norm, but areas that have seen more westernization welcome the custom.

Sometimes tipping varies by scenario. For example, in the United Kingdom, it’s common to tip in restaurants but not at bars or pubs.

Not common, but okay
There are some countries where tipping is not customary, but it’s appreciated if you want to acknowledge exceptional service. Tipping in Australia in New Zealand isn’t the norm, and it’s even a bit of a point of contention for some. You won’t offend by leaving a tip, but it’s certainly not expected. Same goes for much of Scandinavia. Occasionally you’ll see a service charge on your bill, otherwise a tip is appreciated but unexpected and unnecessary.

How to know what’s appropriate
The North American custom of tipping about 15% to 20% (even when the service wasn’t that good) is actually quite rare in most parts of the world. Where tipping is expected, it’s often a much smaller percent or involves just rounding up to the nearest dollar, kroner, dinar, Euro or whatever the currency.

Because tipping customs vary from country to country, check an up-to-date travel guide for advice about tipping at your destination. Outside of Japan, a good rule of thumb is to consider income levels at your destination relative to what you’ve got to spare. A small token of your appreciation means a lot to a porter in Vietnam, for example, even though it’s not expected. On the same note, you don’t want to go overboard with tipping in a country where what you can offer means a lot more. Giving someone a month’s worth of wages in one generous tip, regardless of good intentions, can cause problems. If you want to give back to a country, a local charity may be a better idea.

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Heather Cleland

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