Not sure of whether to leave a tip? Read on.
Tipping is a hot topic among travelers, primarily because tipping practices vary so widely from country to country. But in most destinations, the differences are small—many service workers accept and appreciate tips for various services ranging from waiting tables to cleaning hotel rooms.
There are some places around the world where tipping isn’t a standard practice, but there are a few others where tipping actually goes against the grain of a country’s culture. Whether collective societies are uncomfortable with individual recognition at the expense of a group effort, or they simply view hospitality as unconditional, these destinations should be approached with care among travelers accustomed to North American tipping practices.
While these countries generally have an adverse view of gratuities, it should be noted that there are also some exceptions.
Tahitian welcomes are legendary. In this country, spanning an area of the Pacific roughly the size of Continental Europe, the prevailing culture is one of hospitality given effusively, without obligation or expectation. Because of this, tipping isn’t expected, and attempts to tip may be refused. Hotels that use standard point-of-sale systems across multiple destinations may still print restaurant checks with space for gratuity, but service is generally included in all restaurant checks.
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In restaurants, paying the bill at the host’s stand or bar is common, and a manager or proprietor typically processes payments himself. Standard point-of-sale systems in French Polynesia produce credit card slips without additional line items for gratuity.
Good service is expected as a standard in Japan, and tips are not part of the culture. Tipping an individual can be viewed as an embarrassing singling out of the individual to the detriment of the collective effort. For example, tipping a restaurant server would be to recognize their service but not that of the kitchen crew that prepared the meal.
Japanese culture also places a high value of pride in work, and tipping suggests that exemplary service is bought for a premium rather than considered a standard. While it may not be considered particularly rude or offensive (many Japanese are well aware that tipping culture exists outside Japan), it may come across as a rather weird foreign affectation.
Another obstacle to tipping in Japan—it’s also generally frowned upon to pass money directly from hand to hand. Most restaurants and shops will offer a plastic tray to collect and return paper money and coins.
Similar to Japan, South Korea’s culture is rooted in Confucianism, which places values on pride in work and collective effort and recognition. However, some Western-style restaurants, particularly in hotels, will add service charges, although no additional gratuity is expected. Generally speaking, if a service charge is not added, tips are not expected—and this is especially true in traditional, Korean-style restaurants.
One exception to the no-tipping rule in South Korea is tour guides, who do appreciate a gratuity of 10-15% of the tour price. Tips for tour guides should be given discreetly, preferably in an envelope.
Tipping is also not done in China. Here, it may be viewed as an insulting attempt at charity, as though giving a tip implies that the recipient “looks like they need the money.” There are even some establishments in China (like airports) where tipping is prohibited by statute.
Tour guides are an exception, like in other no-tipping countries, and tips should be handed over discreetly.
While tipping is uncommon in Mainland China, it should be noted that the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau continue to follow the tipping customs of their European colonial era, so the tipping culture in these parts of China is far more Western.
As in French Polynesia, Fiji is a communal society, so tipping is neither expected nor required. Here, tipping may be considered an uncomfortable individual recognition of a collective effort. In some resorts, however, many guests from outside the country may still wish to offer tangible recognition and appreciation for the service they’ve received. Many resorts set up “Staff Christmas Fund” collection boxes, where money is collected discreetly to be equally distributed among the staff regularly.
Whether travelers are in a country where gratuities are a large part of the culture or not expected at all, there’s another form of currency that translates well across all languages and cultures, and that is an expression of genuine gratitude. That may be the universal gratuity among travelers, regardless of where they are