Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Monday 9 June: San Francisco – Tipping

The US is a tipping culture. That is not to say it is a culture on the edge of a precipice, although in some ways that is true. I mean that tipping is a necessary part of social interaction. Much of the business you do will have some sort of tip/reward. It is different in the UK and other parts of Europe where tipping is limited to restaurants and cafes (and is roughly around an accepted mark but variable according to service, and often optional) and for bin men (who get a Christmas gift or else you rubbish isn't cleaned up so well in January). In the US it is customary to leave a gratuity for hotel room cleaners, give bellboys and door persons cash in their hand and even to tip taxi drivers. As a European it feels condescending and unnecessary to tip someone for doing their job, but Catherine assures me it is as part of the culture as haggling is in other cultures. It should be noted that wait staff in the US are often not even paid and rely on the tips which in most of Europe would be illegal.

Despite being one of the shortest flights since the Wright brothers flew for about 10 seconds, Catherine still managed to sleep. She is an inspiration to us all. We nabbed a fixed-price airport shuttle bus (plus tip, of course) to our hotel. The driver didn't speak a great deal of English and my Mandarin is not what it was, but we punched the address in the GPS and strapped ourselves in. On the way, a local also taking the shuttle bus warned us about dodgy areas. Don't go straight on or right out of the hotel, otherwise it was fine. The bus drove via the "straight on" route so we could see it wasn't the most salubrious sections of town. We vowed to avoid it during the small hours of night.

Having dumped our bags and freshened up, we decided to sample some nearby nightlife. We had two bars that seemed close in mind. The first, a blues bar had a Southern Swing band playing. But the $15 cover seemed a bit much for the one drink we were after.

The second place was further than it had seemed on the tiny map. It was closing up as we arrived. It was 10:30. Somehow we had expected better of somewhere of San Francisco's repute. As we wandered back, we saw that many restaurants and bars were closed by 11. It's not quite what we had expected. What WAS open was Borders bookstore and the Virgin record store (which I thought had gone out of business). So you can't get a beer at 10:30, but you can buy a book or classical CD. Is this really the message we want to give our kids?

So instead we grabbed a local beer from the late-night liquor store and partied in the hotel. Well, when I say partied, I mean Cath slept and I wrote jokes. Not being the cleverest of lambs, I had bought a bottle of beer, but had no opener. A sensible man with more attire on would have gone down and asked the porter, instead I used several coins and suffered a few lacerations to my fingers before I was able to get into the well-earned beer. Early settlers who had to wrestle bears for their beer would empathise.

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