Random Travel Tips – Part #10:  Tipping

New Orleans      Over the last eight years with Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, we’ve learned more about tipping than we ever really wanted to know.  The bottom line is usually, locals and regulars, yes, tourists and one-timers, way less so.  I read a recent article in the New York Times on tipping with interest.

They reported on counter-service tipping, which is what coffeehouses offer.  On point-of-sale systems they claim the nudge suggestions are converting into rates of almost 50% tipping in the United States and in some cases averaging 17%.

More interesting is the problem of tipping while traveling.  The article tried to claim this was increasing where they had Square-type systems, but my own experience is that such systems are still rare in EU countries including Great Britain, so I’m skeptical.  At bars in the UK, tipping seems common, especially where regulars know the servers and bartenders.  The article claimed that tipping was becoming more common in South Africa.  Perhaps that’s true since South Africa has traditionally had the strongest economy on the continent, but having just been to Tunisia, it was clear that tips were not expected although appreciated when we rounded up the bill.  I wasn’t sure whether workers actually received the tips on a bill as opposed to when the money might have been left on the table.  Generally, tipping seems nonexistent in other African countries where I have traveled and largely unexpected.  This may be especially true in Francophone countries since tipping still seems rare in France, and less an income substitute.

In Europe, it is not uncommon for servers to actually return or refuse to accept tips, especially in my experience in Germany and France.  In Italy, at espresso bars, exact change is given back by the cashier and a receipt is presented to the barista for service, so there is no exchange of money at the counter at all.  Latin America is also not a big tipping region.

The Times reported that tipping on Uber in the forty=eight countries where they operate is now on offer.  Uber, as always, was unwilling to provide exact data, but claims that “the United States and Germany have higher rates of tipping, whereas countries where tipping is not standard, like Brazil, have lower numbers.”  Lyft admitted that tipping was very low, certainly less than 10%, and often not yet standard practice, so not a large contributor to driver income.  None of that is surprising, since use of the service requires pre-payment on a previously provided credit card.

Lonely Planet and other guidebooks often offer information on local practice, but most of it is speculative.

The best tip is that when you are traveling you should do what feels right to you without embarrassment.  If you tip, high or low, it does make sense to make sure it goes directly to the worker, rather than the establishment.  There’s nothing good as an economic or moral principle about tipping, so you must navigate precious little local information with spur of the moment impulse and hope for the best.

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Giving France’s Yellow Vest Their Due

Gulf Shores     The Yellow Vests or Gilets Jaunes protest in France began in the middle of November of 2018.  In July in rural France in the Rhone/Alps region when ACORN International organizers met at an old farm house fifteen kilometers from St. Etienne, less than ten minutes from our meeting place, we could still see the signs of the Yellow Vests as we passed through our last traffic circle before hitting the farm.  Nearby, just outside of the circle, a tent and plywood headquarters for area Yellow Vests and their protest was still standing and active, even if not fully manned and at the top of their lungs as they had been months before.  Though they might be the scourge of Paris, they seemed accepted and supported here in the countryside.

What is the real story on the Yellow Vests?  Was this a rightwing, Le Pen movement of the angry and anti-Semites protesting modest steps towards climate change or something different?

Yoan Pinaud, head organizer of the Alliance Citoyenne’s local group in Aubervilliers, the lower income, working class suburb of Paris, affiliated with ACORN International, had argued in Social Policy  that the Yellow Vests were a movement erupting to oppose the government for the right reason, mainly its support of the rich and the increasing burden placed on the rest of the population.  Was our organizer just a lonely, hopeful voice in the spring speaking more from hope than reality or was he onto to something?

An article in Harper’s Magazine for August by Christopher Ketcham entitled “A Play With No End:  What the Gilets Jaunes really want,” puts the finger of Yoan’s scale and weighs heavily in the direction that we were making the correct call.  Ketcham found no indication in his discussions with many, both in Paris and outside, that indicated anything other than direct anger at the neoliberal program of current President Macron and his predecessors, even from the Socialist Party.  He finds, with us, that this was a movement based in righteous anger at policies that were excluding the masses and benefiting the rich, where the last straw was the unequal fuel tax on rural and depopulating villages in France.   He cites an Oxfam study from 2015 that found that “the wealthiest 10 percent of French citizens emit some seventeen metric tons of carbon per capita…while the poorest 50 percent emit less than five,” noting in the US that the ratio is 50 metric tons for the same rich percentage versus eight for the poorest 50 percent.

In fact, Ketcham argues that the French establishment “slandered” the Yellow Vests “in service of class interests.”  And, then the established Western media ate it up like candy and repeated the false analysis raw.  The French bourgeoisie reacting to the disruption was as afraid of the Vests as they were in the 1800s of the sans-culottes in the French Revolution and the subsequent terror.  He finds them to be progressives looking for a party and politicians to oppose neoliberalism that has hurt them terribly, especially outside Paris.

They have also won results from their actions that we should all applaud.  Macron made $5 billion euros worth of concessions.  Lower-income families received a tax cut. Pensions were indexed to inflation.  Public service cuts were forestalled, including shelving Macon’s plan to cashier 120,000 public service jobs.  The privatization of Paris Airports has now been stymied and may be defeated.  Of course, Macron also rescinded the fuel tax which had ignited the protests.

Furthermore, and this is perhaps most telling, just as our observation of the Yellow Vest still active outpost outside of St. Etienne, Ketcham writes, it’s not over and still goes on,

“They have refused to be mollified by what they perceive as crumbs tossed from the throne of power.  Their war against the rich, in the age of climate change, is one driven by an understanding unique among protests movements in France:  that the privilege to lord and privilege to pollute are one and the same, and that confronting the climate crisis means a confrontation with unregulated capitalism.  It is a call to arms that should resound across the world.”

They hear it clearly in France, and I swear, I can hear it in the United States and everywhere I go these days.

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Please enjoy “I Only Cry When I’m Alone” by Beth Bombara.

Thanks to KABF.

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