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Tipping in China (other Asian Countries)

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

It's very customary in Western culture to give and receive tips. It's a way of showing that you're happy with the service and wanted to show gratitude. You can tip for bar and waiting service, taxis, valets, hotel baggage carriers etc. In this country, tips are mostly given if you feel you want to reward the person for such great service. In the extremes, in the USA waiting staff don't get paid a full wage for their work. So it is expected from you to tip 10-20% of the bill to make up the amount to a living wage (maybe). You could refuse and ignore to pay the tip but then you'll be chastised as being very rude along with some colourful choice words.

Now to the other end of the scale (and the world). If you try and tip waiting staff in China, you'll be met with disdain. You see when you tip in the West, the context is "your good at what you do, thank you, here's something extra."

Try that same thing in China, you arrive at your journey in a Didi (Chinese Uber). You give the driver the amount owed and then give him a tip. The context is now "Wow, looks like you could do with the money, you'll need all the help you can get." Tipping in China can be offensive to many people. Especially as I don't think they'll know it's very normal in the West.

Even here in the UK it can cause problems. My friend and myself was in a bakery owned by a Malaysian family. He's a good friend who has a big heart and is very generous. He can be very giving and can be very adamant about it. At times I respectfully decline, but then it gets the point where there's so much back and forth I give up and accept.

In the bakery, he pays for his items, but also he gave 'extra, as a tip'. In showing his gratitude to the baker, he accidentally gave the context of "Looks like your business isn't doing well, let me help you out". The baker, with the tip he desperately doesn't want, politely declines it, in which my friend tells him to keep the money. This leads to it getting refused again with his hand outstretched and my friend declines to take the note presented.

I'm standing there and can see a never-ending battle over this tip. My friend wants to show his generosity, appreciation and persistence. Oblivious to the cultural gap he's falling into. The baker doesn't want to lose face by accepting the tip and with that, a non-verbal confession that his business is doing badly.

Back and forth, it went on and on, no one was conceding. It's like an unstoppable force meeting with an immovable object. I knew I had to do something before things started to get heated.

So I came to the counter, with my palm facing up, I interjected clearly 'I'll take the money'. The baker passed it to me with such swiftness, like it was cursed and he was happy to be shot of it. Situation averted, I saved the day.

I wasn't the hero they wanted, but I was the hero they needed.

So if you find yourself in Asia, check to see if it's ok to tip.

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