for those in the snow

Here’s a tip for you

I love how uber perky Americans are in ski resort towns as if the entire water supply has been spiked with Prozac.  Many a time I have looked for the hidden Truman Show cameras convinced the have a nice day banter has been scripted for the screen.

Of course it’s easy to strike up a conversation with an American especially if they have grown up on the compulsive disclosure culture of reality television. I once spent time on a walking safari in Africa with a woman from Missouri who had a running verbal commentary to her own life.

“Oh look at the pretty lion, I wonder how long the lion has lived here, doesn’t he have big feet, my father has big feet, born with a size thirteen, it’s not unusual in my family, I have big hands, here have a look” and on it went.

We counted how long she was silent for on a four hour safari drive.  Nineteen seconds.  Not that I can talk (pun intended) I’ve been known to hold the talking stick for too long myself.  That’s why I love the ‘strike up a conversation’ attitude of American ski towns where friends can be made in an instant and kept for life.

What I don’t like in North American resort towns is when they start talking about tips and how much someone has given them. Worse still, when they act all surprised when you hand over a folded up note.

‘Oh, why thank you’ they say in faux shock as if they hadn’t hinted all along when they heard your Aussie accent and ready to curse you when they unfold the said note and discover you haven’t tipped twenty percent.

We have a reputation , us Aussies, and it’s usually for being ‘tight’.  I constantly have to apologise for my low, or no, tipping Aussie travellers that have come before me and explain our own tipping culture, or lack of it. The idea of tipping for good service with a percentage determined by the level of care and happiness from the customer is as foreign to Americans as ugg boots worn outside the home is to Australians.

I believe one must embrace the culture of the country one visits.  You wouldn’t go to Afghanistan and wear a bikini down the main street without expecting some repercussions so I tip when I am in the States.

But I still have an issue with tipping in a country where the emphasis is on the general public to provide the employee with what the employer should already be giving them.  A decent wage.

I was accused of being a ‘communist’ for this attitude this week because while I believed a private enterprise right to make a buck I also believe that an employer who makes a ton of money should treat his employees with financial respect for helping make him/her that ton of money.

How? By paying them appropriately and not expecting me to do it for them.  I guess Australia is a nation full of commies then and we’d better expect to be invaded.

Tipping is so confusing.  In a non resort town they say 15% is standard, in a resort town where prices are already bumped up they want 20%. Plus there’s the distress of who to tip and when?

I went into a meltdown this week when I realised I did not have any American money on me after a porter brought my bags to my hotel room.  I explained my situation and he told me where the ATM was!

Ski instructors want tips, boot fitters want tips, coat check girls want tips, taxi drivers want tips, ski tuners want tips, massage therapists want tips.  It gets to the point where I think I have to tip everyone who says ‘hello’ or ‘have a nice day’ and in a resort town you will have handed over $50 in tips to super perky people before you’ve even ordered your breakfast.

Trouble is, you can’t even get a receipt and claim it as a business expense.  As a ski journalist I have paid $120 tip to an instructor, $50 to a guide, $40 to a boot fitter, $10 to a driver and so on and so on.  It’s well over $500 in tips in a week.

Twice in the past week I was offered a lift back to my lodging or to the resort by strangers introduced by new friends. I broke into a sweat as we arrived at my destination wondering whether I was supposed to tip them for their generosity or whether handing over a fiver to a bloke driving a European SUV was expected or an insult.

Then I started wondering whether I should be requesting tips for the stories I write about the US territories I visit and if so then who do I ask to pay it?  The reader, the tourism destination, my editor?

If you are as confused as I am, here are some tips (pun intended) on how to handle tipping in America’s ultimate tipping ski town, Aspen.

Do you tip when travelling in America? If not, why not? Post a comment on the blog below and read more blogs on our home page.

4 Responses to “Here’s a tip for you”

  1. Sarah

    I can’t agree with you more.
    I have ZERO problem tipping for good service, even though, as an Australian, it’s a really foreign concept. We just got back from a week in Whistler where the service was fantastic, and we met some of the friendliest people imaginable.
    What really gets me is the simple fact that comsumers and customers are forced to support an irresponsible (and frankly, verging on unethical) system. If you employ someone, you pay them–it’s that simple. You want someone to work for you, then pay them. I just don’t understand how companies making very reasonable profits can possibly feel OK about their business practices when they’re simply not paying their staff enough to survive without their customers tips is beyond me.
    Expecting a business to pay their staff, treat them well, and with respect isn’t communist. It’s as black and white as expecting a business to pay their bills.

  2. joolery

    Oh dear, you’re supposed to tip ski instructors? I had the best ski instructor I’ve ever had in Canada and didn’t tip him… now I feel terrible!

  3. Samone Terese

    I understand the frustration with employee’s not paying as much, but I guess their profit margin isn’t as big as it is in Australia either. Food is cheaper, alcohol is cheaper, everything is cheaper. Which is why tipping often evens out that price gap we have between Australia and American products and service. One thing I have noticed though, and always frustrates me on return to Australia is the service is so much more friendlier in the States, as they rely so much on your generosity to tip.

  4. peter

    Im happy to tip for good service, and the service is generally so much better than what you get in Australia, maybe that is a result of the tipping system of doing things, it spurs the employee to do more and get more reward for it.
    In Australia wages are way to high, everything is expensive, pretty easy to see by the numbers of us heading overseas for holidays to get a better deal.


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