There are obviously countless articles out there about the “strange” custom of tipping in the United States. From an American’s perspective, tipping is the custom because waiters and their peers don’t make a living wage. It’s normal, accepted, and everyone from the U.S. understands how the system “works.” I’m not going to get into that, because it’s not the focus of my rant today. But anyway, the same goes for sales tax, and on down the line.
I read yet another article the other day that mentioned the tipping issue, in a story that looked at the quirky intricacies of English-language guidebooks made for those who are visiting America. Angela and I started talking about it, and once again became a bit irate at how it all goes down over there. I’m not trying to write a groundbreaking article or anything; but it’s on my mind, so it’s getting posted here.
Before I continue: We’re both born and raised in the U.S., and fancy ourselves as big tippers. In the States, we tipped everywhere. Big tips at restaurants, tips at our favorite coffee shop, tips to valets, tips to food delivery folks – if it was customary to tip, we tipped. Big time. This was the case especially at restaurants or shops we frequented, where the wait staff knew us by name and the service came with perks that your average customer never got. Tipping 30% or more was not uncommon at places we loved to go. (Then again, we would never frequent establishments that lacked friendly staff, so it was definitely a circle of sincerity.) We’re not ballers by any means, but we do appreciate a good meal, and appreciate sincere service even more.
Now that the whole tipping thing is out of the way, I want to focus more on the question at hand: How can you possibly know how much anything costs in the States? It’s truly amazing when you think about it. Beyond tipping, you have sales tax. And sales tax is not only different in every city, county, and state, but you have different tax rates for different things. Food is taxed one way, liquor another, forty-two different taxes and fees on your mobile phone bill, hotels another, sundries for the home yet another way, the list is virtually endless.
So you have $20 to spend at the grocery store? Awesome, $20 in groceries! Right? Nah, I don’t think so. You should probably keep it to $15, because it’ll end up being around $20 by the time you actually pay for it. And don’t forget the parking you might have paid for, or the meter you didn’t have change for and proceeded to get a ticket for. Go ahead and tack on more costs to all that. (I’ll save the driving issue for another post someday.)
Don’t bother trying to figure it out either; as I mentioned a couple paragraphs back, everything is taxed differently, and differently even more so if you’re in one town or another, one county but a different town, a different town but the same county. I’m telling you, it’s not worth your sanity.
And that coffee at Starbucks that’s already expensive at $3.50? Not so much. It’ll be nearly $4.00 by the time you actually pay. And don’t forget to tip!
That $8.95 burger at the bar and those shoes that are finally on sale for $49.99 at Foot Locker…they’re all going to cost you more. The former will cost you tax plus tip. The latter, just tax plus partial blindness from all the employees in referee stripes.
In fact, there is only one thing I can think of that actually costs what it says it will. Outside of newspapers or magazines, but let’s be real: Nobody reads those anymore. (I’m talking on a daily basis as well, not all-inclusive monthly rent and things of that nature.)
What is that one thing? Gasoline. And guess what? It’s priced by the tenth of a cent! Gas is not $4.50/gallon. It’s $4.509 a gallon. Or whatever the price may be on that one hour of that one day, because it changes constantly. Good luck trying to add that up. Pretty much everyone who owns a car in the States doesn’t calculate price anyway. It’s more about filling up the tank. But since 99% of America can’t really afford to do that anymore, it’s more about saying, “Can I please have $10 (worth of gas) on pump number three?” It also used to be priced differently if you were paying cash versus using a card, but I have no idea if that’s still the case. After all, when we lived in America, we always used a card, and always filled up the tank when we could. Usually during a short hop across the border to a neighboring state that had cheaper gasoline and lower taxes.
When you live in the U.S. – born and bred and it’s part of your daily life – you don’t even think about things like this. It’s just how it is. You vaguely calculate how much the groceries in your cart will be, and you assume your $15 meal at the pizza place will cost you $20 or more.
And oh man, that is all so f*cked up!
After our little ranty dialogue last night, we proceeded to be giddy with excitement – yet again – at how things actually cost what they say they’ll cost when you live or travel somewhere else. Yes, there are taxes. Loads of taxes. (Pro or con, taxes can be another article.) But guess what? They’re all included in the price!
Everywhere has sales tax. Well, almost everywhere. But fortunately for everywhere other than the U.S., these kinds of surcharges are already tallied into prices and bills and whatever you’re paying for. If you want to know the (high) tax rates you’re paying when you’re in Germany or somewhere else, just look at the receipt. It’s back-calculated for your reading pleasure.
That €25 T-shirt is going to cost you €25. That chicken at the store, on sale for €5.50? Yes, it will cost you €5.50 when you get to the checkout counter. The beer at your local bodega, the meal at the Asian noodle spot down the street, the pack of smokes at the corner store, the toothpaste at the drug store: They will all cost you what they say they will cost you. Taxes are included, and you can bet that the €20 you went to the grocery store with is actually going to get you €20 worth of food.
Even though wait staff and other service professionals actually earn a real, accountable living wage in many other countries, tipping is more customary than it used to be. And I will gladly put most of this phenomenon on the shoulders of American customs and tourism. But it’s never 15% here, or 20% there. It’s always a few Euro here, maybe 10% if you had good service there, rounding up over there, etc. As mentioned before, tipping doesn’t bother me. I just like to know what I have to pay, and what I can choose to pay. And I’ve never had an easier time with that, than when I’m outside of the U.S.
After all, these are trying times for many people. Especially in America. Wouldn’t it be great if you actually knew what daily life would cost you, and what you could truly afford, instead of vaguely, kind of knowing, on no certain terms, a hazy ballpark amount that you might be asked to pay at any given establishment? Yeah, I would as well.
What’s your take? Do you like the all-inclusive deals so you know what you’re paying, even if it’s higher? Or do you prefer that price tags look cheap before your daily life’s surcharge is tacked on? Share your love and hate in the comments – we’d love to hear from you.