Australians, as a general rule, don't do tipping. It's not part of our culture. We don't know how to do it, and we don't enjoy doing it. It feels like a rip-off.
Restaurant bills are bad enough. You think you have a rough idea of how much you're going to have to pay, and then you realise that there's actually an extra 15 per cent to throw on there. But at least you know how to deliver that tip – you just put some cash on a tray in the middle of the table, or add it to your credit card bill. It's done.
The tipping situations we're most uncomfortable with are when we're not entirely sure how much we're expected to tip, and we definitely don't know how we're supposed to deliver it.
Paying the bellhop at a hotel, the guy who has insisted on dragging your wheelie bag up to your room (which you could easily have done yourself) just so he can explain how the unreasonably difficult shower system works: how much is he supposed to get? One dollar? Five dollars? A couple of euros?
And what if you don't have the money ready? Do you make him wait while you dig around in your bag for some change? And then do you just roll up the cash and hand it to the guy? Or do you try for some suave palming maneuvre where you shake the guy's hand and the money is magically transferred? And can you then ask for change?
That's awkward for the customer. It makes people feel bad. You've just checked in and immediately you've been put in this situation you don't want to be in. I don't understand why hotels make you do that.
But there are other, more annoying tips to give out. Hotel cleaning staff in the US expect a tip. You're supposed to leave some money out on the dresser each day as a gratuity for the people who will be cleaning your room.
This isn't as personally awkward as the bellhop, but it is annoying. Surely this stuff could just be built into your room bill? Surely the hotel could pay its staff enough so that its customers don't have to be supplementing the cleaners' income? It's pretty easy to feel like you're being ripped off when you have to keep paying more and more money in tips on top of what you thought was the cost of the hotel.
But still, that's not the most annoying tip I've come across. For that one, turn your attention away from hotels and restaurants entirely, and look instead towards tour companies, and any all-inclusive experience that features the services of a guide.
Because as most people would know by now, it's not all-inclusive. If you do a tour that includes a guide, or stay at a lodge with a guide, you'll be expected to provide them with a tip at the end of your stay. It's a "tradition", you'll be told. The company is actually doing you a favour, allowing you to express your gratitude in the form of a wad of cash.
We're talking up to $20 or $30 a day. Sometimes more if there are several staff members looking after you, which means the tip is something you have to work into your budget, and plan to have enough cash for at the end. It's not some little token of appreciation – it's a genuine cost.
And it's awkward. It's annoying. I think I speak for most Australians and anyone who doesn't come from a tipping culture when I say that we don't like this. We don't like to end our amazing holiday by paying extra money that we feel we shouldn't have to pay. That leaves a bad taste. It ends things on a sour note.
You're often told that guides survive on those tips, and as someone who once worked on tours I can totally understand that. But why not build the cost of paying them an adequate wage into the original price of the tour? Why wait to sneak it in at the end, when you've formed a relationship with your guide and would feel terrible about doing anything but obeying the "recommended" tip?
Often, this tipping ritual is a fairly brutal reminder to all involved that the guy or woman you've spent all of this time with, enjoying their company, becoming their friend, is just doing it for money. They're counting on a tip. That's a disappointing way to wrap things up.
Maybe some people really do enjoy thanking their guide by giving them money. But more often than not this isn't a genuine token of gratitude, but rather a ritual that you're forced into performing.
Your entire holiday up until that point is focused on making you happy. So why end it with a small annoyance?
Are you uncomfortable about tipping? Would you prefer that guides' tips were just included in the upfront cost? Or do you enjoy thanking them with cash?
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