Flechas y Pedradas: Tipping: It’s not a town in China

Opinion by Patrick Kozey
Jan. 14, 2010, 12:45 p.m.

Yesterday, I woke up on my floor.

Apparently I’d walked home from downtown Palo Alto after a friend’s 21st birthday party and had only mistaken one other room for mine before I found it. I just didn’t find the bed.

All night, I spent what brain function I still had converting drink prices into Euros and being impressed at how “little” I was spending. It may have invited me to buy a few more drinks than necessary, but I still enjoyed it. The decidedly blue tint to the lighting tried to add to the ambiance, but all told it was still a Tuesday, and places open until 2 in the morning on Tuesdays are short on elegance. When my friend called a cab and then wasn’t allowed back in to tell me it had arrived, my fate was sealed: I would stay there until closing time.

Ah, and those few hours! They’re a pleasant blur, involving an Indian, flush after starting some sort of new business venture, and an aging Brit who had at some point played professional soccer for an impressive sounding team. Oh, and a cute bartender. Not the kind of cute you’d find dancing on a platform in oddly stitched together white lace garments at a beachside club in Barcelona, but she might have been once upon a time. At one point, she walked over to me while I was mid-sip and asked me if I was visiting. Promising, I thought. “No, I go to school here,” I said, pointing helpfully in the direction of Stanford. Left, I think.

“Oh,” she replied, a twinge of a smile on her face. “Well, just so you know, if you want to get along with the bartenders around here, you should probably leave tips.” Less promising. After she walked away to take an order, I fished around in my pockets but found all I had was a dollar bill, a few quarters and, for some reason, a condom. I elected not to put any of those objects on the bar.

Oh, America. Tipping was something that I’d really almost forgotten after a few months away. Sure, in a culture where good service is not compensated with extra money, there’s likely to be less of it, but it seems more honest, too. I always feel pained watching waiters or bartenders go through the motions of conviviality in anticipation of a monetary reward. Some pull it off of course, and regardless, I normally oblige, having once been instructed in the ways of restaurant work. But four months away was refreshing.

Though I enjoy some of our restaurant customs–offering water (for free!) and providing refills (mostly for free!), for instance–sometimes, it is nice to simply be left alone, given space to breathe and time to talk. You could stay in a small Spanish cafeteria until they were about to close before they’d think to say anything to you. Plus, the only cute girls who ever expected me to pay them for their company was the girls at George Payne’s (see previous columns) selling over priced Jell-o shots and signing people up to their mailing list. Also, actual prostitutes.

As my reintegration into American society continues, I imagine, dear reader, there will be more bumps in the road like this. More times where the minutiae becomes all that matters. The anxieties that bubble up in those moments will find expression here, so thanks in advance for sticking with me.

So, remember, folks, I’ll be here all quarter, the veal is excellent and don’t forget to tip your waitress–or not, depending on which practice is culturally appropriate.

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