Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Big Tipper

I had one of my more memorable "Costanza" moments the other day when I bought a computer at Circuit City. Along with the computer came a monitor and a printer. All in all, a great package, $300 for the whole deal.

So I pull out my credit card, sign on the dotted line, collect my receipt and no less than four rebate coupons, and wait for my computer to arrive at the customer service counter. In no time a goliath of a man appears with three large boxes stacked on his dolly.

“Where to?” he asks.

I led him to my car, which was parked right outside, and he loads the boxes into the back. While he’s doing this, I open my wallet. Four twenties and a single.

What to do? Must tip the man—but a dollar? Should I just give him a twenty? Ask if he can break a twenty? Give him a handful of quarters from the change compartment under the dash?


So I gave him the single with a nod that said, “Good job, ol’ mate!” pretending to be completely oblivious to the social contract I had just broken. I became, and will forever remain, in that man’s eyes: A Bad Tipper.

I have several vices but none of them so irksome—especially to people who land in the unenviable position of dining out with me—as my penchant for overtipping. Curiously, this habit was borne not out of magnanimity but out of fear—the fear of appearing cheap. Welcome to the wonderful world of Yarmulke Boy (a moniker given me by a Merrill Lynch stockbroker, who for no apparent reason felt the need to call out to me one morning, “Hey, Yarmulke Boy!”). Yarmulke Boy goes through life with the knowledge that every one of his actions—good, bad, or ugly—is a reflection, fairly or unfairly, on the Orthodox Jewish community.

And I want that community to look good. I want me to look good. So I overtip.

Some have argued that overtipping is as crude as undertipping, but I disagree. Having been a waiter myself, I know that the urge to say, “Look at that fat, lazy zhlub with all the money, throwing it around like it has no value,” is completely submerged by the more polite and heartfelt, “Thank you ever so much, sir. Please, do come again!”

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this practice is when it comes to taxicabs. Sometimes, usually late at night, I’ll take a cab rather than wait for the subway or bus, rationalizing that it’s worth a few extra bucks to get home a bit earlier and grab a few more minutes of sleep. But then I realize that the five-dollars-and-change cab fare swells to eight or nine based on my generosity. Suddenly we’re talking real money.

Just do the math: A $5.40 fare generates a 20% tip, which comes to $1.08, for a total of $6.48. But you can’t (you simply can’t) ask for change at that point so you round it up to seven dollars. Then Mr. Generous, Yarmulke Boy, comes along and says, “Hey, he’s a poor hack, out here late at night on a twelve-hour shift, with gas costing nearly three dollars a gallon. He’s trying to support a family. Probably has a dozen mouths to feed and an elderly mother who needs her medicine but has no health insurance. Give the guy a break. An extra buck won’t kill you, but it will make his evening.”

So you hand the man eight bucks. And there you have it: a 48% tip.

Bob Hope was a great comedian but a hopeless tipper. Not the way you want to go down in history. People explain away his behavior as a consequence of his going through the Depression.

Frank Sinatra, on the other hand, was, by all accounts, a monster of a man, but as great a tipper as they come. The story is told that Frank once walked into a hotel and asked the bellhop what was the largest tip he ever got. “One hundred dollars,” he replied. Frank promptly took out three hundred-dollar bills from his wallet and handed them to the young man. As he turned to leave, Frank stopped him. “Hey kid,” he asked, “who was it that gave you the hundred?”

The bellhop replied, “Why that would have been you, sir.”

So the next time I’m faced with a crisis like the one outside Circuit City, all I need to do is ask myself, “What would Frank do?” and the answer becomes obvious: give him the twenty.

Especially if I’m wearing a yarmulke.


Blogger Eliyahu said...

may you be blessed to be able to tip really, really big!

Tue Jul 12, 09:04:00 PM  
Blogger Veev said...

I would have gone back inside with him, with a smile and a line like, "I'll take care of you in a minute!" and gotten change from the cashier. However, I live in the suburbian upper midwest, where you can leave a computer with the works in a car for 5 minutes without it being stolen.

Tue Jul 12, 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger Margaritagirrl said...

Boy, do I relate!
And yes, I can see George on Seinfeld stuck at such a moment. I remember that episode.....I'm with you, overtipping instead of not enough, ESPECIALLY if you're wearing a yarmulke...a walking advertisement for the yiddishe velt.

Tue Jul 12, 11:06:00 PM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

I would have said - "can you break a $20, so I can give you a $10 tip?"

If he said no, you could go back inside and get the change for him. $10 is still a great tip, and I don't think you would look like a cheapskate for a $10 tip.

Asking him for $15 back would already be cheap. I think 10 would be OK.

Then again, here in the Muqata, we just shoot you in the kneecaps.

Wed Jul 13, 05:33:00 AM  
Blogger Stx said...

Y'all...It's not the practical dilemma that I think ClooJew's trying to address here. It's the intention behind it. I found this great aish.com article ("http://www.aish.com/societyWork/work/Where_No_Jew_has_Gone_Before.asp) that I linked on my blog where a frum man describes himself as "a blonde, six-foot tall giant kippah with legs." Take a look--It's so tought to keep that mentality all the time, but it's so true...

Wed Jul 13, 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Zoe Strickman said...

I also usually try to overtip if possible, but I wouldn't sweat it if there was a time where I didn't have money to tip. It's good that you didn't give him the dollar. Better to not tip at all rather than to be a bad tipper.

Wed Jul 13, 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...


For three computer boxes, would that have been one kneecap or two?


But I DID give him the dollar! How awful is that? I'm ashamed just to be recounting it

Wed Jul 13, 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Veev said...

Ya know? I've been trying to remember my story of bad tipping, and it just came to me! The night Air and I got married, we hopped in the limo, which we had no money pay for, so my dad took care of it.

When we got to the Marriott in Times Square, we realized that Air left his wallet in the other hotel and that I only had 1 dollar on me! Do you know how many people help you out at the Marriott? Three! So what could we do? We gave our first dollar to the first guy, a bad tip, I know, and explained ourselves to the next two. It was 1AM, we were still in our wedding clothes, and we were very giggly, so I think they bought it.

Needless to say, we felt really bad, especially because my groom was wearing a Kippa!

Wed Jul 13, 10:24:00 PM  
Blogger fsgsf said...

I have encountered the same predicament a couple of times myself.

I would ask the guy for change. He would have been glad to give it to you, or go inside and get it for you while you waited!!


NJ from NJ

Thu Jul 14, 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Me, Uncensored said...

I love to tip big, and when I can, I do.

I've always wanted to go to a restaurant a few days before Christmas and leave like, $200 on the table before I left.

I can kind of understand the whole being-a-credit-to-your-faith thing but on the other hand -- G-d's name is high and lifted up whether we "behave" or not. He was here before we were, and He'll be here when we're gone.

I'm not saying that we should just do what we want or anything, just saying that He doesn't need any help looking good.

Thu Jul 14, 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

When I was 17, it was a very good year.......

Thu Jul 14, 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger brianna said...

The way I see it, every penny I get is an allowance from God, and He watches what I spend it on. Tipping is part of being decent. If you have enough dough to go to a restaurant, you have the cash to tip. And the fact remains that I always have cash when I need it. It's a little deal me and God have going, I guess.

Fri Jul 15, 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

This question comes up for me a lot. Just last night I was in a hotel and tipping for waiters and chambermaid was an issue. This morning I was rushing out to catch a bus and only had one single and had no idea how much was right to leave and...

Mon Jul 18, 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger parcequilfaut said...

I'm a huge tipper because all my friends are in the service industry. I love to surprise servers...they don't expect my sister in law and I (2 young, somewhat "counterculture" looking women who do not drink) to tip at all because young people are so chintzy, but we don't go out unless we can make 30% happen.

Mon Jul 18, 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Ruth said...

We don't have this tipping culture in New Zealand - thank goodness, although it is customary to tip for very good service, up to 10% of the bill. You aren't cheap if you cannot really afford to tip CJ ;-)

Mon Jul 18, 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger parcequilfaut said...

In the US it's necessary for a lot of people, especially food service, as they are not paid minimum wage because they are expected to make up hte difference in tips, and in right-to-work states like mine, employers will terminate you for trying to get your rights by getting them to make up the difference if your tips don't average out to minimum wage. So it's important here. I'm not high class enough to go to hotels, etc, where tipping is required, because I'm poor...but I don't go out to eat at a service restaurant if I know I can't tip at least 20%.

Tue Jul 19, 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Elster said...

I always try and overtip though I disagree that you HAVE to simply because you are wearing a yarmulke. When will Jews learn: No matter what we do, we cannot change how we are viewed by others. Some things cannot be changed no matter how hard we try.

Wed Jul 20, 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...


Just because there are those who will hate us no matter what, does not excuse us from trying. We still have a responsibility to be a "light unto the nations."

The Maharal writes that there are two types of anti-Semites (Lavan and Eisav)--those who hate us for no reason, and those who hate us when we give them a reason to.

There are plenty of Jews and non-Jews alike whose opinion of us is driven by our behavior.

Thu Jul 21, 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger Elster said...

Do not disagree Cloo. However, the idea that we have to always be above and beyond - a 20 dollar tip would be just that in this situation, is not necessarily the way it has to be ether.

Thu Jul 21, 04:50:00 PM  
Blogger The real me said...

Having just read this post, I got a call from a friend to pick something up from his house.

On my way home this Jew came from the front of his house, called me over and told me he was broke and asked if I could give him a few dollars.

I had a few singles and a 20 in my pocket, so I pulled out the 20 and gave it to him.

I gave it to him because I had it, and he didn't. However having just read this post made the choice so much more obvious.

Sun Jul 24, 11:24:00 PM  
Blogger erica Lubavitch said...

It's a mentality.
I have seen a woman being taken out of an ambulance and trying to tip the driver!

Tue Aug 09, 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger BLOGBANK said...

I used to be an outrageous tipper until I realized that my tips had become viewed by the receiver as an entitlement and the service I used to receive vanished. I now tip in spikes. Most of the time I tip very little but when I receive extraordinary service I will give an outlandish tip and then let time some pass. I find it works well.

Mon Aug 15, 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

I over tip also.

I think I feel a bit of guilt too, the poor cabby is out late, and all that.

My husband tips to the penny. Can't help himself. Opposites attract.

Tue Aug 23, 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger callieischatty said...

The real me,

I would have done the same thing.

Tue Aug 23, 11:57:00 AM  

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