Tipping in Asia
This article was interesting.... But I have yet to find a satisfying answer to this question: Should I tip at hotels in Hong Kong? When ever I ask I get, "I don't think so..." What about hostels? I suppose I have the same question for Macau, but I've never stayed the night there so it isn't as pressing a question.
Any other observations on the changing state of tipping in China?
bodaweiJuly 08, 2011, 07:26 AM
You know I'm going to say 'don't do it'. :)
But look at the fundamentals - first, tipping is demeaning (people should be paid adequately for their work and not forced to beg from their 'betters' to get enough to live on) and secondly, if it is supposed to encourage good service it clearly doesn't work.
For the record, in Hong Kong hotels up to 1,100 or 1,200 HKD a night I have never seen tipping.
Ah, well... the way the world should work and the way the world does work are two different things. I agree tipping is in it's essence not a beneficial thing. However, if that is the system in place I don't think it is moral for my moral objections to affect an innocent person's bottom line.
I have never tipped in China or Hong Kong.... this article just made it seem like the tide was shifting. Not a tide I want to be on the forefront of, but neither do I want to be left out to sea.
Thanks for your input! I value your viewpoint on things such as these.
I usually tip on my trips to Hong Kong (although I only go once every 6 to 8 weeks) and the tipping is usually limited to rounding up the taxi fare to the nearest 10 hkd simply for convenience and tipping the guy that insists on bringing your luggage up to the room (hotels are usually jwm or Sheraton)
you have gone and pulled my whiskers so I must speak. I have to agree with Orangina, the way the world works doesnt match the way it should. In the US jobs such as waiting tables are permitted to pay an hourly wage well beneath minimum wage law, because of the expectation that tipping will indeed be the largest portion of their income. They are now required however to declare all tips on federal income tax forms and pay taxes on them. How well that works is another subject. Anyway I look at it like this, many foreigners who are well used to tipping take advantage of the fact that they might not be expected to in China and therefore dont. There is a name for that, "cheap". If it doesnt affect the quality of my life but may very well change theirs, I do what I do everywhere, I tip. I can feel good that by giving something that I barely notice, I may be helping someone in a real and significant way. Tipping is a good deal in China. You get more for your money (or someone does). Only if I see that it causes confusion, or the "tipee" just hands it over to the owner of a restaurant for example will I hold back. This happens less and less because I think the genie is out of the bottle now. There is no turning back. I think it is demeaning to say, "Im not going to do for you what I do everywhere else just because I am in China and you are supposed to be ignorant of this custom, knowing full well that wages are low here". I will not tip if I suspect it offends, but mostly tips are met with appreciation and yes, better service.
many foreigners who are well used to tipping take advantage of the fact that they might not be expected to in China and therefore dont. There is a name for that, "cheap". .. I think it is demeaning to say, "Im not going to do for you what I do everywhere else just because I am in China and you are supposed to be ignorant of this custom, knowing full well that wages are low here".
Really RJ? I have to say I find this surprising, and hard to agree with. Here's my perspective on tipping.
I know waitpeople in the US really need our tips to earn a living. If the concern is to improve the livelihood of certain people in China though, then do you also say, add 25-50 percent to the price every time you buy something from a street vendor for instance? Because you could, and the cost of buying breakfast from him or her (yes I'm aware food prices are escalating in China now, this is probably rapidly changing) is about one-fourth or one-fifth what you might pay back home. Why should only people lucky enough to be in the tipee (cool word.) position have their lives improved by foreigners? Apologies if this is a stupid question but do we know for a fact that people working in hotels and restaurants are underpaid everywhere in China and need such help?
There is no tipping in Japan, thank goodness. We had to learn the (mafan, I think many of us see it as) foreign custom when more of us ordinary folk began traveling overseas about 30-40 years ago. In Japan we take nice service for granted I guess. I think most of us when we travel abroad can't believe we have to pay (tip) and still frequently get such sub-par service in so many parts of the world including the US. I never looked at it the way you put it, and when I travel to "non-tipping" countries I don't tip. The one time I did in Seoul was for two girls who gave me an extra hour of leg massage for free after my half-hour treatment was done, just because I'd gone with a friend whose eyebrow work was taking two hours. I tipped them both because I would have felt bad for getting all that work done on me for nothing, and because they were so considerate, had such nice manners and made me feel nice too. Am I cheap?
Remember too we Japanese (foreigners) often are already paying all kinds of extra bits and foreigner prices in China just for arriving some place and being Japanese (not being savvy in the locals ways or language can be cause for penalty). Here I mean "Japanese" in the sense of being a foreigner, and also perceived as a type of traveler who parts relatively easily with his money, either due to naivety or weakness under pressure. Nothing to do with any anti-Japan sentiments just to be clear. You know, based on my very limited experience in SH, I would expect in a big city in China the same unsolicited extra hour of massage that was given free in Seoul to simply end up as a random extra hundred RMB slapped onto my bill--no proposal, no prior indication and acceptance of price, no bantering. To be fair, the owner of that particular place in Seoul was really nice. Perhaps her shop was exceptional.
So in that sense, they ought to just let me tip in China and leave their place feeling good and generous--which I would, if the service and manner caused me to feel like showing appreciation. Or they should learn that customers feel much better about an establishment that is upfront about any service that is going to cost extra and how much. Of course then many will refuse that service. But it doesn't pay in the end to have people leaving your shop unhappy and feeling cheated.
Thanks for your perspective. I understand that tipping is universally frowned upon and not practiced in Japan. If I found myself in Japan, I would respect that, and not cause issues by tipping. I would also expect that in an advanced economy such as yours that wages have developed and equilibrated themselves "properly" in the absence of tipping. Maybe as it should be everywhere, but it is not. I sometimes do tip street vendors and I am still paying less than I would at home. I am not shy about withholding tips when service is poor, regardless of where I am. I feel a bit guilty not tipping in China, especially at major hotels. Actually it bothers me more to tip in the US where it has become a form of robbery almost due to excessive expectations. I tip when it feels right. Its a matter of conscience and I suppose that is affected by what one is used to. The idea of a tip is that it is an insignificant amount given by one person, but the sum of many becomes significant to the recipient. When it becomes a burden to the giver, then it is too much.
OK I have to amend "based on my very limited experience in SH, I would expect in a big city in China the same unsolicited extra hour of massage that was given free in Seoul to simply end up as a random extra hundred RMB slapped onto my bill", which is taking it way too far. I have had 10 RMB added to my hairdresser charge making the grand total 30 RMB for something I expect in Japan to be price inclusive. What I do expect is maybe to be offered a massage then only afterward being clearly shown it wasn't free, but again not "a couple of hundred RMB" and not that an hour-long leg massage by two people would be offered as if it were free of charge in the first place, outside of the most suspect sorts of shops. I realize also that my inability to communicate in Chinese probably meant that the people were discouraged from attempting to banter with me and they just skipped the process (still makes me mad though, that they do that). I apologize if anyone found my comment offensive.
The extra massage in Seoul was not something I would expect anywhere, I considered it way above and beyond just "nice service". That it was extended at all though said something to me about the way Koreans think of hospitality, and maybe also the way they think we think of hospitality, because that shop gets a lot of business from Japanese travelers.
It's not frowned upon in Japan, the concept and custom just don't exist. There are times we give certain people small money envelopes, in certain situations. We don't consider those as tips.
Obviously our cultures and societies are different. Of course Japan has disparity and uneven distribution of wealth too but it's nothing like in other countries including China and the US. We don't really have immigrants working as housekeeping staff, bellhops or valets and our society is classless. When I went to LA on business most of the people who received my tips at hotels were immigrant workers from Central and South America. It's different. So I don't feel guilt about not tipping when in countries with no tipping custom.
Are the staff at major hotels in China not getting paid well?
The other exception to my non-tipping rule when in non-tipping societies--at a nice hotel I will leave a dollar bill or two under the pillow for the housekeeping staff who come in to clean my room. I do it because that's just so personal as well as hard work, and I want the message to be clear that I appreciate my personal belongings being handled with care. I would do that at a nice hotel anywhere in the world except Japan and probably also Korea. In Korea I think the staff in a major western-style hotel would find it insulting if I tried to give them a tip, because I'm Japanese and they would know we don't have that custom.
Ah, see, even to those who have a clear stand on the issue, there is room for interpretation... I don't stay in hotels frequently, but the one person I was taught you MUST tip is the hotel maid. (Though I always leave it on the counter, somewhere where it is hopefully obviously for the cleaning staff and not something I just overlooked. I suppose under the pillow fits this requirement, but it never crossed my mind to leave it covered in any way.) Even restaurants are negotiable depending on the type of establishment.
Even if the room isn't cleaned well one day, I was taught to tip the next day because it might be a different person the next shift.
As babyeggplant expressed, my goal is to follow the customs of the place I live. This does not mean however that I will start spitting in public.
RJ - didn't mean to pull any whiskers. Sorry if my post offended in any way. I have to say I am surprised about your general points, not so much about what you said about China. On the latter, it is clear (as we have agreed before) we move in different circles.) In more than three years in China now I have not SEEN anyone tipping at all. Like zhen's Japan, I think it just does not exist, except maybe in that tiny part of China that is becoming indistinguishable from the West. I have stayed in a couple of five star hotels in China (not foreign chains but expensive and high quality service) where I saw no tipping. On occasions when giving too much in payment Chinese people seem to go to great lengths to give you back the right change, so how you go about tipping in my China is another question. Actually when I come to think of it I have made dozens of transactions in high class hotels in China - I have never been made aware of tipping.
The thing that really surprised me was your approach that if it is your general practice elsewhere then you would do it in China. I don't tip in China because it is not in the culture; I tip in the US because it is in the culture. But tipping in the US is not an argument in favour of tipping in China.
I'd be interested to know how much of the world has incorporated this behaviour into their economies in the way you describe - I thought it was a largely a N American phenomenon. On a global scale tipping is practiced in a relatively small number of markets, affecting a relatively small number of people. Does it happen in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea?
I am also concerned that you are seeing tipping as a 'good deal' - I look at this as far as I can from the point of view of others, or the average consumer, (most who can't afford goods and services to the same extent as I can) - in other words how does this practice impact on the local economy. Read consumer.
'Are the staff at major hotels in China not getting paid well?'
I know there may be arguments about what constitutes 'well' but I would think that in the Chinese economy these are relatively sought after jobs - bringing security, regular pay, and a nice environment. There is a very large part of the Chinese economy where the conditions and pay are not so good.
Oh duh. How could I forget! There IS tipping in Japan, in the kind of nightclubs where hostesses in low-cut dresses sit and drink with the patrons, and probably establishments with strippers and near-naked pole dancers (with these though, it's just an excuse to go up to the dancers and slip bills under their tiny garments). It's obviously not for "good service". With the "host clubs" it seems the female patrons tend to show their appreciation with gifts like wristwatches and sometimes cars, rather than tips. But I'm not too knowledgeable on this. Haha. Clean forgot about all that.
Is this the kind of thing you meant Bodawei? I wasn't too sure what you meant by "On a global scale tipping is practiced in a relatively small number of markets, affecting a relatively small number of people. Does it happen in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea?"
And thats not tipping? I do the same (only not under the pillow). And for exactly the same reasons you state. I have always considered that tipping and it probably makes up most of the tipping I do in a hotel as I never accept the offer to carry my bags. Somehow I dont appreciate that offer and it always seems like an annoying intrusion to me as I am quite capable of carrying my own bag. I prefer to maintain control of my own things. If I eat at one of the hotel restaurants, I may leave a tip if the service is good since in the large cities, at major hotels, it is no longer so rare and they have come to expect it from foreigners at least. It has never been returned to me. In a cab I round up to make the transaction change free unless its a long ride, for which I may tip a little more. If he overcharges me I dont tip. I complain. In a small restaurant, in a small city It depends on a lot of things, but I dont rule it out just because Im in China. Being nice is universal. Empathizing with the situation of another and showing appreciation for good service is universal. There are places in which I dont tip. How I make that call is complicated. Lets just say if I feel that the culture of the place is dont tip, I dont tip.
now surely you know you didnt offend me. There is nothing here that could offend, Im just trying to offer up the other side of the argument. I care little about the affect on the local economy. I am thinking on a more personal level but you have given me some things to ponder, and I will.
calkinsJuly 10, 2011, 03:49 AM
This is an interesting topic. It is definitely difficult for a Westerner to get used to not tipping in Asia. When I first moved to Taiwan, I intitially tipped for taxis, meals, haircuts, etc. I guess I knew that tipping was not the norm here, but I was so used to tipping that I didn't even think about it.
Then a Taiwanese friend told me that I shouldn't tip, for a couple of reasons:
1. It makes the person receiving the tip feel as if he or she needs to "repay" the tip by providing more services. I guess this is a 面子 "face" thing?
2. That in most establishments, the person receiving the tip must give it to business (i.e. the tip goes straight to the owner, not to the person who performed the service).
It is very strange and unnatural for me, as a Westerner, to not tip. I don't know conclusively that tipping improves service, but my gut and experience tell me that in general it does. I do know that *in general* the service in Taiwan is very poor when compared to the service in the U.S., where tipping is the norm. I have been amazed (dismayed) at some of the service (lack of service) I have received in Taiwan.
There are some restaurants that add a 10% service fee to the bill, and I have noticed that the service at those restaurants is generally better.
I'm all for a change towards tipping in Taiwan, but I really don't know or understand the Taiwanese thinking about it, if it's something they would welcome, and if it's something that could be feasibly implemented. I think it would be a difficult change. Would it be a good change? I don't know. So many things that work in the West don't work here (and vice versa).
I agree that assimilating oneself into the culture in which you find yourself is also important. In fact I think I do so more than most, but this is one area in which I am conflicted. I like people, I like to be nice, and here its a bad thing?