My argument, as ever, is that whatever the local custom is, it should be followed, whereupon I am accused of being stingy myself.
This month's topic is one which could not be more culturally distinct: tipping. By which I mean leaving a gratuity for a service received, not dumping stuff illegally somewhere or predicting which horse is going to win a race. The reason for this choice is that I have often found myself in a Catalan restaurant having an argument with Brits - but not Britalans, either visitors or ex-pats - who criticise the locals for being stingy and not tipping enough. My argument, as ever, is that whatever the local custom is, it should be followed, whereupon I am accused of being stingy myself.
Regular readers will be aware that way back when I spent a couple of years in Japan. And that's a good place to start, as the act of tipping there has traditionally been considered insulting, seen as it is as feedback on how well someone has performed their job, when it is inherently assumed that everyone is doing their job as well as they can. There is no such thing as a slacker in that particular culture, as being one would bring shame on you and your family, and therefore not an option. Some may detect a contrast with certain waiters they may have come across in other cultures, where shame is the last thing to worry them in their waiting endeavours.
In the States, where I've also lived, tipping is considered obligatory, even though it actually isn't. The correct amount is widely held to be 10%-15% of the bill in restaurants, and, smitten as it is with North America, the UK now copies this model.
If we look at other European cultures, we find that restaurants in France include a 15% service charge on the bill, as required by law, meaning tips are rare. As for Italy, a travel guide states “Tips are not customary… Almost all restaurants (with the notable exception of those in Rome) have a service charge”.
In other words, analysing just a handful of countries we find completely different customs when it comes to tipping, so here's the question: should we use our own criteria or follow those of the local culture, especially if we have made it our adopted home? I would suggest the latter, not purely out of respect for the country where you have chosen to live, but also from an economic point of view, as breaking economic norms in other countries may have serious consequences for the people that live there.
In other words, would you like to be priced out of a restaurant because tables are reserved for bigger tippers? What happens when wealthy tourists come along and price the locals out of that lovely chiringuito down on the beach on the Costa Brava? Simply because they can afford to? My argument then, is not based on an unwillingness to tip 15%, but on the importance of respecting local customs rather than stomping all over them with your big boots shouting “That's how we do it back home!”