Is tipping ‘un-Australian’?

Tipping is widely seen as ‘an American thing’. This was a point made clear by one of the commentators on my last blog and I suspect a view held by many.

It is not uncommon to hear someone say in Australia something such as, “They have to tip in America because their wages are so low”.

The argument that follows from this is that tipping is not something that is appropriate here. This is partly because of Australia’s higher minimum wages but also because, well, tipping is just an ‘American thing’, and we are not Americans. We are Australians.

That said, Australians have adopted lots of things from the United States and we have incorporated them into our everyday lives. Some examples include Coca-Cola, Microwave Ovens, and the tasers used by the responsible members of our state police forces, to name a few.

We Australians have imported such things from the US without a thought, but tipping somehow challenges our identity of what is means to be ‘Australian’.

Why?

Lynn & Lynn (2004), in their study called “National values and tipping customs”, suggested that tipping customs reflect differences in national values. Their conclusions were that when ‘national values’ were linked to achievement, individualism and an aversion to uncertainty, the customary sizes of tips and the number of ‘tipped professions’ increased.

Supposedly then, this means the people of the US are consumed with thoughts of themselves and what they can achieve, whilst at the same time are unable to leave things to chance.

By the same logic this study also suggests, if Australia is taken to have a non-tipping culture, that we are more communally minded, have little concern with accomplishment and are happy to leave outcomes that affect our lives to the flip of a coin.

To the extent one is unconcerned with the minefield of issues that arise out of assertions of there being ‘national values’ and the supposed differences between them, maybe Lynn & Lynn’s research explains why some Australians are so opposed to tipping, but are happy to wear Levi-Jeans and watch NBA basketball.

That is, some Australians prefer to not adopt tipping because it runs counter to their ‘Australian-ness’, whereas eating at McDonalds does not.

So perhaps Australians don’t tip, not because its ‘an American thing’ after all but, because it just happens to be an ‘un-Australian’ thing.

Or, perhaps, is it just a convenient excuse when one decides they do not want to tip?

References:

Lynn, M. and A. Lynn, National values and tipping customs: A replication and extension. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, 2004. 28(3): p. 356-364.

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4 Responses to Is tipping ‘un-Australian’?

  1. I think that Australians tip someone as a reward, as a way of showing gratitude for unexpectedly good service. It’s nearly like, if you tipped everyone, then the meaning would be lost. Growing up, I didn’t realise that tipping in the USA was more about supplementing incomes, and so tipping in that country felt quite awkward to me.

    It might be part of the Australian ‘no-fuss’ attitude, our aversion to making anything feel over-complicated? After all, it’s much easier to give staff higher wages in order to eliminate the need for tipping.

  2. Kirst says:

    From a customer point of view tipping is better – the staff work to provide better service (maybe even sickeningly so – im thinking of overly smiley, flirty staff in canada) to get your tips! sometimes i have to get my own water or ask a few… times, which isnt the end of the world, but it wouldnt happen in a place with staff vying for your tips.

    Not sure about better managment argument as resto management doesn’t usually leave a lot of time for performance indicators etc… it is self driven capitalism – the harder you work the more money you make – straight away – the less hard working staff will make less, sell less and usually get shifts dropped off, like anywhere else

    While our wages are better than other places, 30-40 grand for a full-time professional service-employee job is not great – and if 9 out of 10 people are guilted into a tip when you ask for it why not give it a try! Isn’t all paid work a form a prostitution anyway? 🙂

    But i have become more and more pro tipping! Especially since i spent years in hospitality and when you work hard you should be rewarded. the end.

  3. Kim says:

    Tough topic. I am not sure what being “un-Australian” means but I am pretty sure those know-it-alls on Today Tonight do.

    You say we have no problem with incorporating Coca-Cola and microwaves into our Australian lives. Of course we have no problem with it. Reheated Coca-Cola is delicious.

    However tipping is a custom not a tangible, thirst quenching liquid like Coca-Cola. So I am not sure that it is fair to group a custom and a product together.

    Defining what “un-Australian” actually means is impossible. Believe me, I’ve tried. Perhaps I should have focussed on my Jenga game though. So returning to the introductory sentence of this sloppy paragraph, saying something is “Un-Australian” is is the perfect argument ending phrase. Just ask Today-Tonight.

    • tippingoz says:

      I suppose there are two separate issues there Kim.

      Firstly – the meaning of ‘un-Australian’ (or, more to the point, its lack of meaning).

      I agree that the term is often used as an insult and is done so as if the term is an absolute that we all understand. I appreciate that it is a term that is impossible to define, but I think each of us has a ‘sense’ of what it means – even if deep down we know its a bit made up and not going to be exactly the same for everyone.

      So, given we are all able to have a (poorly defined) sense of what it means to be Australian (and therefore un-Australian) people are then able to make a call as to whether tipping is ‘Australian’ or not. I think we all do this, to some degree.

      Secondly, you suggested that lumping together the practice of tipping with the consumption of US products is inappropriate.

      I agree that there is a fundamental difference there – and perhaps in that difference is the explanation we are looking for. However, I’m not sure if the difference matters as the act of consumption is a behaviour in itself. So, I suppose I was suggesting there might be an inconsistency between consuming American icons, in the form of McDonalds for example, and being ideologically against consuming service in a fashion that is iconically American (i.e. tipping).

      However, I appreciate there are issues with this position and am happy to be convinced otherwise.

      You’re right though, it is a tough topic. I too have concern with straight out assertions of something being ‘un-Australian’ or not, and this concern flows onto comparing what is ‘Australian’ with what is ‘American’, particularly in the way in which Lynn and Lynn have. But I suppose they have tried to give an answer to this question of the apparent inconsistency of general customary practices between nations.

      Tomorrow’s blog moves away from ideas of nationality and deals with another issue raised by someone in an earlier blog – why do certain jobs get tipped and not others? Also, that blog will leave Lynn and Lynn behind to see what pop culture can teach us.

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