“Why tip someone for a job I’m capable of doing myself? I can deliver food. I can drive a taxi. I can, and do, cut my own hair. I did however tip my urologist, because I am unable to pulverize my own kidney stones.”
– Dwight Schrute, from The Office
For those who haven’t seen the US version of the television show The Office, Dwight Schrute is the office joke. The one who craves authority over others but has no respect from co-workers. The one who acts like a know-it-all but is really quite naive.
In short, Dwight is hilarious but never in ways he intends.
But Dwight’s comments, above, do make an interesting point. Dwight argues against tipping anyone who provides him with anything he can do himself. He only tips someone who he feels he needs, like his urologist. Furthermore, he only considers himself to need someone if he is unable to do himself what they are doing for him.
As absurd as this attitude appears it is much more consistent than our own.
We might tip at restaurants, but not fast-food outlets. We might tip at a cocktail bar, but not at the local RSL club. We would never tip a dentist or a sales assistant, but we might tip a hairdresser or taxi driver.
So even though we tell ourselves ‘we tip for good service’, this only applies in certain contexts. It certainly doesn’t apply in other contexts, regardless of how good the service is (have you ever tipped a shoe salesperson?). There is no logic or consistency in this. What are we doing?
Dwight, the office joke, has us in an intellectual corner. At least he knows why he tips. It might be a reason based in selfishness, but is it any less polite? We might call him rude for not tipping a waiter who delivered great service, but he could point out that there are plenty of people who we do not tip that deliver equivalent services. Where’s the politeness in selective or discriminatory generosity?
Does this inconsistency effectively make us fools by our own standards? Does the fact that we act in such a haphazard way make us Dwight’s joke, funny in ways we never intended?