Monday, October 17, 2011

The Tipping Point

Some cultural traditions are so strong, so ingrained, you barely have to think about them. If someone sneezes, you bless them. If traffic needs to merge into one lane the unwritten rule is that you let one car in front of you. (Just one though.) If someone is walking through a doorway right after you, you hold the door open for them. And if someone performs a service for you, you tip them. Pretty basic, right? But the question is, who am I supposed to tip in Morocco? And how much? Yeah, that's the tipping point.



Morocco has your standard tipable services. Servers, hair stylist, massage therapists, bell hops and nail technicians. But, we also have other more exotic services. No, not those kinds of exotic services. I'm talkin' the hammam lady, the henna lady, the gas station attendant, the parking attendant and the bathroom attendant. And that's just the tip of the tipping iceberg here. Cause the list of people who will ask you for money here is extensive. The garbage guys, the security guy and yes, even the guy selling the tissues in the middle of the street.

With all the people who openly ask for money, who are you really supposed to tip? And what if they don't actually do their job? Like when the parking attendant who is supposed to help navigate you into a parking spot backs you into a lamp post? Or worse yet, he doesn't do anything but comes to collect his tip? What if you're using a filthy squat potty and there's no toilet paper? What if the henna lady grabs you and accosts your hand with her paste without your permission and then charges you for it? And yes, that happens here. No joke. I have to confess, I did tip the henna lady who did that. But, I only gave her a fraction of her asking price. That's right, I taught her a lesson. And I'm pretty sure that lesson was that crimes of henna really do pay. And pretty well too actually.

Ok, I admit it. I'm feeling a bit tipsy and confused. How and I supposed to figure thing out? Who am I supposed to tip? How much? And mm I a morally unconscionable person if I don't tip? Have I mentioned I'm half-Canadian? So, I not tip that wouldn't be nice. And if I'm not nice, I'm fairly certain I have to give up my Canadian citizenship. And even though I do tip, it doesn't mean I always do it with a smile. Oh yeah, sometimes I do it begrudgengly. Ok, a lot of times I do. But I do it begrudgingly under my breath in English so they don't know what I'm saying and sometimes I even under tip. Oh yeah, you heard me right. UNDER TIP. Please don't report me to the Mounties.

In America, I know precisely who to tip and how much. But nothing is precise in Morocco. Nothing. The only Moroccan tipping certainty is that a parking attendant gets 2 Dirham (less than .20 USD). Unless you park your car over night that is. That's a whole different story. Any other service? No one really knows with any definity how much to tip. I've asked and gotten price ranges so extreme I'd need to pole vault across them. I've asked. I've read. I've googled. And I still have no idea how much to tip the hammam lady. What is the price that you put on a woman ripping your skin off with a scouring pad anyway? Is it the 50 Dirham I was told by a friend the first time I went? Or is it the 20 Dirham I was told by someone else?

I don't know. So, I'm just going tip like an American. Problem solved, right? No. No, it's not. This creates new problems.

First there is the fact that there are services here which have no American tipping equivalent. Like the garbage man. Does the trash company even know that their garbage men are ringing doorbells asking for tips? Second of all, how do I know these men actually are my garbage men since the garbage truck comes in the middle of the night when I'm asleep? Then, how much is having my garbage picked up worth to me? And how can I put a price on that? Especially when the whole street is filled with litter anyway. So I could just actually scatter my trash on the street and not put it in a can and that would be fee. Huh.

Then tipping occasions also tend to be social occasions. I don't live in a bubble, after all. Well, actually I do. (But, that's a whole different post called Bubblicious.) So, you have a nice lunch out with a big group and the check comes. And then so does the inevitable question. How much do we leave for a tip? Someone has heard from so and so that 5 Dirhams is an appropriate tip in a cafe. But someone else read somewhere that 10% is a good restaurant tip. After about a half hour discussion about whether we're eating in a cafe or a restaurant and everyone's personal version of Moroccan tipping etiquette, then it's time to commit with some cold hard cash. Because you can't skip the discussion by just plunking down your credit card here. Most restaurants don't take them. Unless of course, you're eating at the TGIF in town. And yes, there is a Fridays here in Rabat. Although it doesn't serve alcohol and that makes Fridays seem a lot more like Mondays. (Looks like someones got a case of the Mondays...)

Americans typically tip based on service. But, our expectations of what good service is, well, it's pretty American. And American standards often times just don't translate in Morocco. Think of using a hole in the floor with no toilet paper as your public latrine option. You wouldn't right? And you definitely wouldn't pay for the priveledge. Not without a killer case of Montezuma's Revenge anyway. So, living her requres a whole new tipping mind set. And you can call it a tip, zakat, baksheesh, tithing or charity. But I like to call it good ole' American guilt. I have the means to be generous here. And usually the difference between a small tip and a big tip is only a couple of dollars to me. What could possibly be the problem with that? Generous tipping without discrepancy only perpetuates the Moroccan tipping problem.

My Tipping Point: Don't tip the snake charmer to take the snake he forced on you, off.

What's your tipping point?

Recommended Reading: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
A book not at all about tipping. But, about how social interaction tips social epidemics.

10 comments:

A Brilliant Life said...

I have no earthly idea how much to tip the hammam lady either and to complicate things I get a different answer from my husband everytime I ask him!!!! Also yes, the trash guys are assholes. Sorry but they are. Where I live they don't collect the trash all week and then come on SUNDAY MORNINGS and knock on our steel gates while the girls are asleep to get their tip. Everytime my husband confronts them they swear up and down that they come everyday but we are never here at the time they come so that is why we don't know it. What they don't realize is that #1.) There are two maids here that never see them either and #2.) It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the trash stacked up outside of your house when you return from work to figure out that the trash guys didn't come that day!!

Sorry guess this turned into a bit of a rant. I Do want to say though that I am enjoying your posts alot lately although I have not been commenting. I think I have a case of the season changing blues!

The Loerzels said...

Thank you for confirming the trash guys are actually trashy guys! We have had them ring the bell in the middle of the night (like 2am) to ask for money!

Cerebrations.biz said...

Just flash your credit card to them. Even they would determine you had no cash....

Anonymous said...

Another great post. I can relate about the tipping after a holiday in Egypt a few years ago, it was quite amazing.
P.S. I have the rest of the family reading your blog now and they're enjoying it as much as I do.
Take care, Sheila

TexaGermaFinlaNadian said...

Sheesh I would not do well in this situation. I feel so nervous and guilty when people start asking for stuff like this, and I would probably always cave, leaving us broke. Crazy! And so different from up here where NO ONE expects a tip, but when they get one they are ever grateful.

Sine said...

Haha, I've been meaning to write a post about tips for ages! Same story here in South Africa about the parking guys, though I'm glad we don't have a hammam lady, whatever she does. I also never know what "one does" and then I always feel slightly guilty that I want to tip "what one does" and not just what I think is adequate or even generous. The parking guys I mainly tip so they stay out of my way and I won't run them over, but I've been told they're also here to guard my car, so that I guess is a service too. My problem is when I go buy some bags of lawn dressing or something at the builder's market, and get a guy to carry it outside for me. He brings a whole cart ful to my car and starts loading, and I've already worked out a 5 Rand tip in my head, and the another guy comes along and helps the first, which the first doesn't seem to mind. What now? Does the second guy, clearly having done less than the first, get the same tip? That wouldn't be fair. But tipping them differently, wouldn't that be weird too? Or not tipping the second guy at all? And then I hear from others that they've tipped the hairdresser something like $25 on top of the already (in my frugal mind) steep price, and I feel even more guilty for my sparse tipping habits. But I probably agonize way too much over these things. Maybe I'm also too Canadian? Even though I've never lived there in my life...

MuMuGB said...

I think that you need to go with the flow and act as if you know exactly what you are doing, even if you don't.

As for me, well, I tend to let my husband to the tipping. He does it beautifully. He folds a note in his hand and shakes the hand of the other person to give it. A performance in itself. Best of all, the other person doesn't know how much he has given until we are gone.

Thom Brown said...

When in Rabat, do as the Moroccans do - methinks.

Joy Page Manuel said...

Where formal rules don't apply, we really only have informal rules or norms to follow, right? And yes you're right, it's so much easier in America given that structures are more in place and expectations are clear. Once again, your post reminds me of home (Philippines)...This is why I so enjoy reading your posts! :-))

Samantha Bangayan said...

Haha! How confusing, Marie! =) I totally laughed out loud when you said: "I'm fairly certain I have to give up my Canadian citizenship" -- I can relate to this. =) When I travel, people seem to have the best impressions of Canadians! =) As for tipping, thankfully, I don't have to deal with any of that here in Peru where tips aren't standard at all. You either pay the price or you're giving charity to beggars. Interesting to think about though! =)

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