Here we are in the last weeks of June… Summer has officially arrived, school is out for the season, the days grow a little more lazy and for the second year in a row I continue partaking in my daily blogging exercise, marginally focused along a question-and-answer theme I’ve simply called Those 30 posts in June. Still no planning. Still no writing of these words days in advance. Still just this: each day a meanderingly vague prompt drives a meanderingly vague post… and today that post just happens to be:
June 28th // Something You Want To Break
Fifty-fifty chance you’ll completely disagree, but here goes…
When I was a teenager, like a few of my peers, I had a paper route. Each day I’d get a thick, tied pile of the local small-town rag dropped on my doorstep. I’d load those papers into my canvas sling bag, strap on the bright yellow headphones of my Sony Walkman, press play on the cassette, and go for the forty-five minute jaunt (in sun, rain, or snow) to deliver each sliver of newsprint to the various subscribers on my route. Each month, I was also obligated to collect the subscription fee from those same subscribers, usually in the form of a cheque to the newspaper company, but occasionally as cash: even more occasionally, I’d get to “keep the change” which amounted to about a twenty or thirty cent — yes, two or three dimes — tip for my efforts. That was on a good day.
Don’t get me wrong: I tip. I always have. I probably always will. But so much of that tipping it seems has become meaningless… expected… driven by societal guilt and too often unearned and under-appreciated.
Personally, here’s thee thing: Other than those occasional paper-boy pocket dimes, in the remaining history of the twenty-some years I’ve been in the workforce I’ve never since been tipped. Honest. Not a penny. Ever. No, it’s not because I’m a shoddy worker (I hope) nor because I provide crappy job performance (I presume.) It’s simply because I’ve never since worked in a front-line public-facing service job. I’ve had my share of grunt jobs, including a pair of stints in the grubby library stacks, some jobs hauling and building and putting up with utter crap while working constuction and landscaping gigs, time as a cook in a line in a pizza restaurant kitchen, another summer spent ankle deep in pig manure, and yes, I’ve even had a whole lot of quasi-white-collar desk-work jobs. So, I’ll admit, maybe I don’t get this tipping thing entirely.
But, at the same time, I do tip. I’ve participated on the giving side of this little societal charade since I was old enough, and employed enough, to be the one slapping down the cash or credit card at a restaurant. And by that same merit, I’ve been the beneficiary of service from someone who absolutely and unequivocably deserved that little extra payola for their efforts. The thing is… well… it’s stopped being a question of tipping versus NOT tipping, and become a question of a standard tip versus a BIG tip. Somehow the idea that even mediocre service deserves SOME tip seems to have weaseled itself into my brain and habit. Thus, I’m often left feeling gutted and taken. Yeah, that’s right. I’ll tip you even if you don’t deserve it, but you might have just lost me as a customer.
Maybe it’s just a little green about the green. I’ll consider that possibility. Maybe because no one ever approached me in the library aisles and handed me a fiver for a great job keeping all those books in order and lined up on the shelves, or that I never got waved over by some thankful pedestrian whilst endlessly, every day, mowing grass that one summer and got handed some sweet coins for keeping the lawns tidy. Heck, even when I delivered newspapers back as a kid — aside from those few pity dimes — the closest I got to a REAL tip was some candy or a card — and that one time a whole tray of mixed nuts — around that certain major holiday. And, of course, who tips a guy who spends his days doing project management, communications or web work? (Hint: the answer is nobody.)
I get it. This is a controversial topic. Those folks in the habit of receiving tips have often come to rely on tips as part of their incomes. In some cases, we are told, employers specifically under-pay their workers because they use some twisted version of free-market economics as a kind of crutch to get around basic labour and pay standards, somehow deflecting the blame onto their workers and down the chain onto obliging customers. Is that our problem? Sounds like the system needs some bottom-up fixes, actually. Sounds like real free-market, customer-driven economics should kick in somewhere.
I don’t know. I really don’t. I just know that I FEEL cornered on this topic, and as if the choice is being eroded by some momentous force of societal pressure to play along in a game. Tipping SHOULD be about reward for service. Tipping SHOULD be about building a service relationship between customer and business. But from where I stand, tipping has become just a thing you’ve gotta do or risk being classed as a jerk.
So? So, here it is again: I tip. I always have. I probably always will. I don’t disagree with tipping… not in principal, at least. But in my old age I might be getting a little gumpier and stingier with the payola and taking a few cracks at breaking my own modest (but somewhat generous) tipping habit. Like it or not… you’re going to have to earn it.
Or maybe, I’ll keep track and give more to charity instead.