For the past three weeks, my Italian friend, L, has been visiting. It has been an experience, to say the least – especially given that, until now, he had never been to the United States.
L is well traveled, but he has “never seen anything like this”: the fleet of sunrise joggers that nearly stampede him every morning, the over-priced (but air conditioned!) D.C. Metrorail, the enormous portion sizes and the free refills … Virtually everything is an exciting novelty and he couldn’t be more starry-eyed or visibly thrilled to be here – well, except for when the bill comes at the restaurant.
Albeit, no one is ever excited about dolling out 15 bucks for a burger, but with L, it is a bona fide ordeal.
“Why does the total not include the tax? We have to pay the tax anyhow, so why say total in the first place? It’s like some mean trick, ‘Hah! You thought your burger was only $15… gotcha!”
His indignant reaction to the “fake total” is only the tip of the iceberg … so to speak…
Most of the meals we’ve eaten out have involved me having to explain at length the concept of a tip, usually resulting in a lengthy explanation of waiters working primarily for tips due to their being paid minimum wage, thereby necessitating a brief overview of the roots of capitalism and consumerism, incentivizing workers to do their best, etc., to which he replies: “They chose to be waiters. They chose to work for minimum wage. If they want more money, get a higher paying job – don’t expect me to tip you because you were nice and speedy. That’s your job.”
The first time L countered my ‘it’s the capitalist tradition to tip’ argument with the above rebuttal, I was floored. Despite growing up in Italy – a country whose political culture is much more left-leaning with an enduring communist presence – he was clearly advocating a very capitalist, open job market in which unsatisfied workers are free to seek alternative employment. “No one is forcing them to wait tables. Go work at Starbucks or something,” he said.
My argument for leaving a 15-20% tip (depending on how nice and speedy the service was) has henceforth been reduced to a stern, simple, “Look, it’s just the way we do things here. You have to tack on an extra $3.25 to that $15 total. Sorry.” L always relents, but not without muttering about it being “so much better in Italy,” where tax and tip are included and there’s never an awkward lull at the end of a meal while trying to figure out how much is dutifully owed.