Monica Dyson: To tip or not to tip ?- that is the question

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To tip or not to tip, that is the question. It would seem that it’s not really so straightforward.

If you do tip and give too little, then you can be thought of as a cheapskate – but if you tip too much, you are ostentatious and showy.

At present, the only people I tip seem to be the paperboy who delivers my newspaper, come rain or shine before eight o’clock each morning and to whom I give an appreciative tip each Christmas, but maybe I should tip him more often?

I remember my mother tipping the binmen, milkman and postman in the good old days. I also tip my hairdresser, although I do know people who would prefer that there was a staff tip box in hairdressers in order that the money was shared out.

I remember a holiday in Austria many years ago when my husband got confused with the currency, and only realised too late that he had probably tipped the waiter the equivalent of a week’s wages. Luckily he did it near the start of the holiday, as we got excellent service from then on.

Tipping seems to vary according to nationality. Sixty per cent of Americans tip, but Brits come nearly at the bottom of the list according to one recent study.

Tipping seems to have originated in 16th century England when guests at English mansions were expected to give a ‘vail’ or small amount of money at the end of their visit to compensate the owner’s servants for the extra work.

One theory about the origin of tipping comes from the time of Samuel Johnson who frequented a coffee house where there was a bowl with a notice ‘ to insure promptitude’ This was shortened to TIP.

Before 1840, Americans did not tip, but after the American Civil War when rich Americans started to visit England and learned genteel ways, they started the practice back home. By the 1900s, it had become the norm.

President Benjamin Franklin, on visiting Paris, said ‘to overtip is to appear an ass, to under tip is to appear an even greater ass.’

However, it seems that we are stuck with the practice of tipping but it can still be a minefield. Many people would like to see it totally abolished.

Emily Post was the etiquette queen of the USA. Her 1950 guide – Emily Post’s Etiquette – became the Bible of everything from social graces to social networking for generations of Americans and has been reprinted four times between 1965 and 1995 by the Emily Post Institute, a unique family business run today by her granddaughter-in-law Elizabeth Post.

She said in her original guide that ‘tipping is undeniably an undesirable system’ believing that people should get a decent living wage and not have to rely on tips.

Unfortunately, in many cases tips can be wages, with very low-paid workers in bars and restaurants working 12-hour shifts and totally relying on the tips they get to live on.