Tipping overseas guide for Australians: 10 mistakes to avoid

Australians hate tipping. It's a known fact. Talk to any member of a service staff in the USA or Europe and they'll tell you: we're really bad tippers.

It just feels like we're being ripped off, like a sneaky addition has been made to a bill we've already settled on. It's not part of Australian culture. It's not something we do.

All of which makes us appalling at tipping. It's a skill, a game of knowledge and nuance, and we're way behind. Here are the worst mistakes that Australian travellers are making.

Not tipping enough

It used to be that a tip of 10 per cent for a meal in the US was reasonable. Now, leave 10 per cent and you might as well tip your drink over the waiter too. It's 15 to 20 per cent for normal restaurants, and up to 25 per cent for the fancy places. And don't forget the sommelier, and the bar staff. Then there's the bellboy and the concierge at your hotel, and the cab driver (who'll want up to 20 per cent), and anyone else who's done you the smallest favour. In the US in particular, you need to be prepared: tipping sucks, but it's expected, in large amounts.

Tipping too much

It's really not necessary to tip more than 10 per cent for a meal in most of Europe. Similarly, there's no need to do more than round up the bill in New Zealand. Adding outlandish tips in South-East Asia might make you feel generous, but it's creating a false economy that's not a great idea in the long run. And all those people asking for baksheesh in the Middle East? You don't need to fork out a huge amount. Just a token of appreciation is fine.

Tipping the wrong people

Just because the Starbucks staff have put out a "karma jar", doesn't mean you have to tip them. In fact fast food joints and takeaway coffee places across North America are all pretty much exempt. Stop throwing your money away. In many countries you won't be expected to tip your cab driver. In nowhere but the US and Canada will you have to tip bar staff for each round. In South-East Asia they might appreciate tips for restaurant service, but unless you're somewhere really fancy, it's not expected.

Forgetting the cleaners

It seems ridiculous to you and me, but in the US, and Canada, and many parts of the Middle East, hotel guests are expected to leave money out – the equivalent of a few dollars per day – for the housekeeping team. You'll never see these people, but the cleanliness of your room will certainly increase with the more money you decide to leave.

Not reading your bill

This is a classic error that many travellers make. You get your restaurant bill at the end of the night, check the total, and then whack on a tip. But wait – in plenty of countries, including all of South America, and most of Europe, and even sometimes in Asia, a service charge will be automatically added to the bill. Adding your own gratuity is just tipping twice. And who wants to do that?

Tipping at all

Whoa! You're leaving money on the table in Japan? Settle down there cowboy. Someone will literally chase you down the road to hand it back to you. No tipping required. In fact there are plenty of situations around the world in which tipping is not just discouraged, but considered almost offensive. Don't automatically assume that leaving a gratuity is a good thing.

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Being nervous

Australians are amazingly awkward when it comes to handing over tips. How do you do it? Do you try to be a baller and slip cash to someone in a discreet handshake? Do you leave money on the bar and hope the guy behind it knows it was you? Do you put cash in an envelope and make a big show of handing it to your guide? Plenty of people don't tip purely to avoid this discomfort. But the trick is simple: tip however you want to tip. Don't be afraid of doing it the wrong way. No one will laugh at you for giving them money.

Carrying the wrong currency

Americans in particular seem convinced that people in other countries are going to appreciate US dollars as tips. And in some places, particularly those with low-value or fluctuating currencies, that's correct. But don't assume. For a lot of hotel staff, cab drivers, or even guides, US or Australian dollars can be a nightmare to try to exchange, and are more trouble than they're worth. Carry local currency.

Forgetting your friends

If you have a great tour guide, they'll start to feel like your friend, and after a week or so you'll have added them on Facebook and plan to stay in touch forever. And hey, who would ever think about having to tip their friends? But tour guides are in this business to make a living, so don't forget to sort them out at the end of the trip – whether they feel like your new bestie or not.

Not doing your research

The key to getting tipping right in any country you visit is just to do a little casual research before leaving. It won't take long – just 10 or 15 minutes of googling and reading. But it will save a lot of awkwardness down the track.

What mistakes have you made with tipping overseas?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: 20 things that will shock first-time visitors to the US

See also: How to survive the pitfalls of eating out in the US

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