A weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday, by Tim Roxborogh
Tipping and I have never been especially good friends. It's not that I don't get that people in the service industry where there's a tipping culture aren't being paid properly, and so genuinely rely on tips to pay their rent. It's more the mysterious rules of when, where and how much. And awkward dilemmas, such as not knowing whether the server is bringing back change and if they do, is it socially acceptable to count out how much of the change is suitable for the tip?
I'm so anxious to do the right thing that I frequently do the wrong thing. Like the time I was at a bar in LA and gave a $27 tip for a $23 meal. My jet-lagged brain thought I was tipping $4 on top of the $23 bill, as opposed to leaving a tip greater than the cost of my actual food. Given the waitress hadn't really done much, she either thought I was generous, stupid or both. My Year 12 maths teacher wouldn't have been surprised.
I've written before about tipping misadventures in Canada, where a $10 Thai meal somehow becomes $20 when you include rice-plus-tax-plus-tip. What I didn't mention were the odd encounters at pubs. It's fair to say my months in Canada in my late 20s were not a financial bonanza but occasionally, while exploring as much of Vancouver on foot as possible, I'd pop into a pub somewhere and treat myself to a beer.
A couple of times I'd order at the counter and hand over the cash straight away.
Being that the bar staff did nothing other than pour the beer from the tap and nudge it across the counter, I thought it was okay to pay whatever amount they told me to.
Especially if there was no chit-chat. I'll tip if there's chit-chat but if there's no chit-chat and I've literally done the leg-work then what am I paying for? (This reads better if said in a Larry David voice.)
My Canadian friends would be aghast that I hadn't tipped. Even for zero chit-chat and me walking to and from the bar counter with my one solitary beverage! (Larry David voice again.)
For all the alleged benefits of being in a tipping society, I could never get my head around this wishy-washy reality where nothing has a set price.
I love North America, but I'll take New Zealand on this one any day.
Giant Dirty Jenga
Nothing like a round of Giant Dirty Jenga to break the ice. Luang Prabang, Laos, 2010, and I've found myself at a restaurant and bar called Utopia, where somehow the name isn't hyperbole.
Down a series of narrow alleyways is Utopia's oddly glorious mix of war artefacts as garden ornaments, musical instruments, traditional Laos cushions, lookout tower, on-stilts section of the restaurant and sunken beach volleyball pit. Yes, a sunken beach volleyball pit. Utopia!
Overlooking jungle and a river, this place had it all. Including Giant Dirty Jenga. Like normal Jenga but about three times the size and with an x-rated twist, I naively started playing with some other tourists I'd only just met.
Each block had a written command, and while "Kiss the nearest staff member" was doable, "Tell the group your most embarrassing sex story", was borderline. Good times.
I think I excused myself to the beach volleyball ... or did I? I did.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two, Coast Soul on Coast and writes theRoxboroghReport.com.