How to negotiate the tipping minefield

We've all found ourselves in the position of not knowing how much to give the bellboy or taxi driver. Tony Kelly on the traveller's dilemma
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Indy Lifestyle Online
You know the feeling; you arrive after dark in a foreign city, exhausted after a long flight. A porter carries your bags to a taxi, which whisks you off to your hotel where a bellboy leads you to your room. All of these people expect a tip. The trouble is that you don't know how much to give and you haven't got any change anyway. So you fumble in your pocket and fish out $l0 notes for everybody, then spend the rest of the evening cursing your generosity. Or you pretend you don't understand, and then feel mean instead.

Tipping is a minefield for travellers, the cause of as much embarrassment on holiday as anything else. Forget sunburn, altitude sickness and Delhi belly, because high on the list of most people's fears is not knowing how much to tip. From the USA (where generosity is the norm and the British have a reputation for meanness) to Japan (where an offer of money can easily cause offence), we long to know the rules so that we can conform.

Even these can change. When I lived in China in the early 1990s, tipping was virtually unknown and if you left some money on a restaurant table the waiter would probably run after you to return it. Now, with the growth of the tourist industry, Western values have reached Peking and Shanghai. "Some older people still make a point of refusing tips, but more and more people are getting the hang of them," says Simon Lewis, co-author of the Rough Guide to China.

So what do you do when faced with a taxi driver who pretends not to have any change, or a bellboy who refuses to leave the room? How much should you leave for your hotel chambermaid? Does the restaurant price include service, and if it does, is an extra tip still expected, as so often in Britain? Should you tip the barber, the masseur, the bus driver, the tour guide?

The easiest thing is to do nothing as you can always plead ignorance of local customs. But perhaps a better rule of thumb should be "if in doubt, tip". After all, many people in service industries, especially in poorer countries, rely on tips to make a living. (Yes, it might be better if they were properly paid, but they are not.) Nothing annoys travellers to places like Morocco or Egypt so much as the persistent requests for baksheesh, but in most Muslim countries, generosity is a way of life and those who can afford to give customarily do so. And let's face it, if you are travelling in these countries at all, then you are, by local standards, rich.

The rise of the all-inclusive holiday introduces a new dilemma. If you have paid for everything before leaving home, does that include tips? Should it? With even your drinks included in the basic holiday cost, tips may be the only chance you have to contribute to the local economy. Cruises are another difficult area. Traditionally, cruise ships were the haunt of rich Americans and money was used to grease every palm, but as cruising becomes more democratic, new trends are emerging. Cunard now has a no- tipping policy. It still happens, but is not expected. P&O, meanwhile, leaves envelopes in your cabin, along with suggested amounts, which are typically $3-5 per day for a steward. It pays to check the policy before you go, as $10 a day can soon add up.

On holiday in Greece earlier this year, I found a note in my flat from the tour operator, suggesting a tip of 2,000 drachmas for the cleaner. I was grateful for the advice, but as I counted out the money, I felt how artificial this was. And therein lies the problem - we want to know the rules, but we also want to be able to reward good service personally. Any tips?

TIPPING TIPS

Always carry plenty of small change, but not too small. It is better to apologise for not tipping than to offer somebody the equivalent of 2p. Travelex sells bags of foreign coins at its airport bureaux de change. If you want to tip the waiter/ chambermaid, leave money on the table or under the pillow rather than adding it to the credit card bill.

Austria: add 10 per cent to restaurant bills and round up taxi fares.

Cuba: tips in US dollars enable people to buy embargoed items such as soap and shampoo

Egypt/Morocco: small tips of around 50p for any small services, including unsolicited ones. France, Italy, Spain: most restaurant bills include service but it is usual to leave a bit extra and also to tip barmen your loose change.

Greece/Turkey: round up taxi fares and add 10 per cent in restaurants (a little less in Greece where all restaurants include service by law). India: tip temple guides and shoeshine boys and round up restaurant bills.

Japan: for exceptional service, give a carefully wrapped gift, but not money.

USA: tip absolutely everyone, from the valet who parks your car to the man who cleans your golf clubs, at least a dollar.

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