Life can be strange. Fifty years ago it wasn’t like this. But in today’s culture of instant everything, the edges have blurred. two things have changed the world. The main one is the internet. And, linked in with this, there’s the sheer ease of international travel. And that’s not only the immediate booking of a flight to anywhere in the world from wherever you happen to be sitting, but also something as simple as paperless tickets, too: just produce your smartphone with the booking details on-screen.
But this all has a downside. Because it means that it’s more or less effortless for someone to zip away from their own land and culture and find themselves confused; a stranger in a strange land with different expectations and ways of life. It’s an in-built instinct to assume that everything’s the same there as it is back home. And it can come as a profound shock to realise that the police, the laws, the banks and even the ‘rights’ you assume you have are now suddenly all askew. And that also goes for the very ordinary day-to-day aspect of tipping.
Let’s take two extremes. The USA has a strongly ingrained culture of leaving a gratuity for everything that has an element of ‘service’ attached. Whereas in China, for example, as a visitor you’ll never have to tip at all, because the government policy of charging foreigners has an in-built extra for everything. This seems straightforward enough until you realise that the same is true in New Zealand, too. Here, nobody will tip – tourists and locals alike – as the service charge is built-in. But that brings us straight to the next point; the difference between being a local and a visitor.
As mentioned, in some countries this makes no difference, yet in others it does. And in all honesty, you’ll just have to do your homework yourself and research the shape of the cultural landscape before you travel; just about everywhere is different. In some parts of Asia for example (Japan or areas of Indonesia) you’ll be regarded as a guest and cause embarrassment if you try to tip. But the same is true of most English pubs (although in this case you’ll just be thought of as half-way between stupid and weird!). However, in both of these instances there’s a common ground. If you feel the need to show appreciation, then offer a gift instead. A drink for the barman or a toy for the children. Because, with the exception of America, the international reason for a tip is to show appreciation.
Objectively the USA is the odd one out. As a pretty general rule of thumb, it’s only the poorer and less-privileged countries where everyone will expect or hope for a tip; it’s a necessity where most people have a low standard of living. But one of the most affluent nations in the world, America, has it both ways, as tipping is ingrained into the fabric of their culture. However, whatever country you are in, as a native or a visitor, there is one rule that’s universal. If you’re staying in a good hotel, you’ll be expected to tip, service charge or not. Waiters, concierge, bell boy, domestic staff; they’ll all be upset if you don’t tip them.
And that brings us to Thailand. The Thai people are not big tippers. In fact many Thai people think that giving free money away for nothing is totally crazy . . . but that won’t stop them accepting a tip if you offer one! To that end, we now have to examine the concept of the ‘farang’. There are now hundreds of thousands of foreigners (farangs) living permanently in Thailand. Additionally, each year more than 10 million of us come for holiday breaks. To a large degree, the majority of Thai people don’t (or can’t) distinguish between the two – a farang is a farang, and it’s common knowledge that farangs give free money away. So, whether you’re a visitor or a resident, don’t be surprised if you are expected to leave a tip!
So what’s the score with Samui and tipping? Well, essentially, use your common sense. The ethos of big hotels has already been covered. But with smaller ones, express your appreciation appropriately. If someone’s particularly helpful, reward them. If it’s a family place then buy everyone presents when you leave. At the end of your stay, leave the girl who cleans your room all your unneeded small change in an envelope. But bear in mind that nearly every resort (and restaurant) includes the service charge (tip) in with the bill, so you are not required to add any more to this. And also remember that at the end of the month this service charge money will be divided up among all the staff. So if you have a favourite waiter, make a quiet little private donation in person before you go.
And how much to tip? Well please don’t go crazy. If you’re eating in a little street restaurant, they’ll be delighted with 20 baht – 50 baht will cover a group of you. A top restaurant with no service charge? Between 10 and 15% is fine, and maybe 100 baht or so if service is already included. Massage or spa staff? Be generous; they earn very little. Perhaps the only exception is taxi fares. They already charge 400% more than the rest of the country (by far the highest rates in all of Thailand). So the final tip for you is, once again, to be thoughtful when tipping!
Rob De Wet