Abroad Perspective: Guilty as Charged

We can all agree that traveling opens your eyes, but what about your wallet? From taxis to dinner to someone carrying your luggage, there are expenses to getting away. Some of these expenses come from tipping and I believe that the amount of the tip is directly related to the phenomenon of tip guilt.

Tip guilt. It’s a thing. I did not know it was a thing until I traveled to Europe with my American spouse. I’m from the Netherlands, and here and in the rest of Europe, tips have to be earned. Let me explain.

If you order two drinks at the bar or if the server brings you two drinks, you are not expected to tip. Hospitality personnel earn a decent wage in Europe versus their American counterparts, so if someone fixes or delivers drinks, they’ve done their job, no tip needed. No one would bat an eye at you if you leave the establishment without tipping in this scenario. My wife however, would feel bad and almost guilty for not tipping at all, as her tip guilt started to kick in.

As an American, you are trained to reward the person who carries your oversized luggage to your hotel room or waits on you at dinner. The standard in America is 15 to 20 percent. In Europe, tipping is very different, as it is based on effort rather than a certain standard.

The way I see it, my American tip starts at 20 percent and if service is good, that’s what will go on the bill. My European tip however, starts at zero and will grow exponentially with time spent with the service and the level of service that was received. What happens when these two cultures collide? That is a case of cross-tipping:

A few years ago, my wife and I visited my mother in the Netherlands and I took her and a friend out for dinner. Mom was in the mood for some Greek food, so that’s where we went. When it was time to pay, I handed over my credit card and went into “American mode.”

For reasons unknown to me, I filled out an amount reflecting 20 percent of the bill in the gratuity spot. After contently signing the credit card slip, I handed over the receipt. I should have known that something magical had just happened, because the owner of the restaurant asked me several times “are you sure?” When I confidently replied yes, I was handed a bucket full of lollipops.

None of this, however, made me rethink what I just did. With a big smile we were bid farewell and urged to come back soon. All that was lacking was our picture being taken, framed and hung up on the spot.

Why was the owner so surprised?

Because where a five-Euro tip would have been more than welcomed, I managed to give a 36-Euro tip. Under the spell of my learned American Tip Etiquette, I failed to adjust to European standards.

When I showed everyone what I did, they were in shock and some suggested I go back. The smiles (and lollipops) I got at the Greek restaurant that night were worth my astronomically outrageous tip.

It pays to do some research on tipping etiquette before going on vacation. Adding 15 to 20 percent to the bill sure takes the guesswork out of gratuity, but feel free to tip as you please when abroad.

As a Dutch American, I am well aware of cultural differences. In my series, Abroad Perspective, I will tackle the challenges of international travel.

Have you ever been puzzled about what to tip on vacation? Feel free to share this or any other cultural shocks with us in the comments below and your idea could be featured in the next blog!

Ray originally hails from The Hague, Netherlands and one day showed up at Global Discovery Vacations’ doorstep. When he is not traveling or writing, you might find him engaged in playing ping pong, swimming or planting tulips.