Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Can't Help but Be Very British When It Comes to Tipping

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Can't Help but Be Very British When It Comes to Tipping

Article excerpt

Byline: Emily Maitlis

AND how are we all today?" asks our beefy, worked-out waiter with a kilowatt smile. "We're well ... GOOD," I correct, adopting my pastiche American syntax.

But it's too late. His smile fades as the truth becomes apparent. I am a Brit and I will be a lousy tipper. I spend the meal hardly aware of the food that's going into my mouth. I am too busy doing the maths, er, math. I am trying to remember whether you double the local tax or do the tip before the tax or whether in Florida they add it on anyway, and if they add on 15 per cent, are you still expected to do more? My children are chattering happily and ordering fizzy drinks, oblivious to my mental trauma. Then the chicken arrives undercooked and the side salad is nowhere to be seen -- I start wondering if I'm allowed to deduct for bad service or whether that would be less American than burning the Stars and Stripes right there on the pier.

Later that day I take my sons out on a big boat for their first-ever snorkelling adventure. There are 50 passengers on board and it is not, let me tell you, an unqualified success. Between the moment where I put one pair of flippers back in the box and retrieve the other pair, the eldest has managed to biff the younger in the eye and drawn blood. It is a row over a biscuit. Of course it is. That is what we row about in my family. A biscuit.

As we are leaving the ship the captain and his mate have us all sit down. It is quite hard making 50 people stop talking and sit down while you ask them for money, so they sort of have to pretend it's a marine wildlife chat at the beginning until they turn the corner and say the immortal words "the wind and waves may tip our boat but the only thing you have to tip is the crew".

And I start having seizures again. It is not a lack of generosity. It is not -- to sound ridiculous -- about the money. It is about getting it right. I realise that we actually have to pass down the gangplank while they are holding out the tips cap and I am paralysed with Britishness.

I decide to get my kids to put the money in, in a sort of "Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye" Sound-of-Music style so that I don't look too creepy. Then I think, what if they don't realise the children are mine? What -- argh -- if they STOP and ASK me? The indignant side of me kicks in. Hang on a second, these guys couldn't even stop my kids from killing each other for two minutes while my back was turned. The wind and rain may tip your boat but my son nearly lost an eye over a custard cream.

In the end we make it down the gangway in one piece and are even greeted with accepting smiles. I am dying for a stiff drink. But the idea of starting the whole process all over again makes me head back to the room holding a DIY can of Coke. …

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