Wednesday, 19 May 2010
But it's customary to do it..
Customs are funny things. And no I am not referring to the custom in some countries where burly blokes wear tartan skirts with work boots and socks to footy games as well as other lesser, but still momentous occasions like their weddings (that's just for you Mike, the best Scottish blogger around).
I want to talk about customs and public toilets in particular. No, not the squat toilets in Asia, the toilet slippers in Japan, outside urinals in Africa or garderobes in castles in the UK. None of these have particularly concerned me.
I'm talking about public bathrooms in the USA.
I think the most uncomfortable tipping situation that I have ever encountered would have to be the bathroom attendant. There is nothing worse look than leaving a public bathroom in a classy establishment with someone running after you asking for payment is there?
It's not like Europe or some other parts of the world where an odd looking person sits at the entrance of a toilet facility and demands payment before allowing tourists with full bladders in.
In the US it can be a whole different experience. If you visit an upmarket establishment in some parts of the US and need to run off to the bathroom, there's a very good chance a very nicely dressed person will be standing near the sink holding fresh paper towels.
Once you relieve yourself, they will offer you the towel.
They will also likely have breath mints, lollies, chewing gum, cologne in the men's or perfume in the women's. Some attendants may have cigarettes for sale.
It's customary to hand over a dollar or two to the attendant after they hand you a paper towel and allow you to pick through the lollies, freshen up your breath and slap on some scent.
If you decline their goodies, but still receive a paper towel, it is still a good idea to hand over a dollar ... at least.
Most Aussies like me are confused by tipping in general. When, how much etc.
I've never felt comfortable with it simply because it's not customary in Australia to tip, other than perhaps at a restaurant if you REALLY, REALLY think the service and food are great.
And it's also unnatural for most Aussies to mingle with strangers in toilets, let me tell you.
My first toilet attendant tipping experience happened twenty years ago in the lovely bathroom of a fine New York restaurant. I was oblivious to the whole concept of toilet attendants.
I saw this person approach me, offering a sway of goodies and I panicked (as I am wont to do with anything outside my comfort zone). I went to the sink, declined the person's invitation for a paper towel, grabbed my own, and rushed out. I may have been feeling a little sensitive because a few nights earlier I was picked up at the airport by a 'fake' cab and charged a fortune. I also may have wrestled my own luggage from the driver in an effort not to allow him to carry it into the hotel and thus avoid having to paying a tip on top of his large fare....
The next day someone explained the whole tipping/bathroom attendant protocol to me i.e. you've got to be prepared to tip everywhere, even the bathroom. After that, I couldn't stop thinking about how the attendant probably had five starving kids at home and the only job she could find was hanging out in the toilet offering paper towels and perfume to passers by.
I went back the next night and handed her $5USD. She was happy. My conscience was relieved.
I've never visited a public toilet since without at least a $1 note in my pocket just in case.
What customs have you come across in your travels that you don't understand? I am sure we have loads here that make no sense to tourists either.