Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tipping & Gratuity Guidelines For International Travel

Tipping & Gratuity Guidelines For International Travel
Americans can sometimes be loud, boorish, and extroverted. We’re the class clowns of the world. But we’re also the biggest tippers. We know that clowns are laughing on the outside, but crying on the inside, right? According to Michael Lynn, associate professor of market and consumer behavior at the Center for Hospitality at Cornell University, countries with more “extroverted” and “neurotic” people gave tips to the greatest number of services and also tipped the largest amounts – with the U.S. topping both categories.
Based on this reasoning, it makes sense that in countries where decorum, group-thinking and introversion are king, tipping would be low. You’d be right in countries like Japan, where if you tip, it could be seen as a mistake on your part (the waiter may chase you down to tell you that you left money on the table). But how do you explain the lack of tipping in Australia or New Zealand, whose big-mouthed, extroverted drinking culture rivals our own? Answer: Aussies in the service industry don’t depend on tips for their income.
So what’s tipping like in the rest of the world?
Germany: When I traveled to Germany a year ago, I remember being told it was not necessary to tip as much as in the U.S. I assumed it was because the Germans were too proud to take tips or something stoic like that (being from hardy German and Polish stock myself). Turns out the waitresses in Germany actually make a livable wage—a monthly salary considerably higher than U.S. minimum wage. So if they get tips from clueless Americans, they get to keep them! Tips are generally less than 10%. Taxi drivers get 10%.
England: A service charge of 12.5% is usually included at restaurants. For taxis, a 10% tip is generally expected. The exception is at that British institution, the local pub. If you are impressed with the barkeep’s service, do not tip cash at the bar in a pub. Offer to buy them a drink, like a half pint of beer, or small spirit.
Italy: No tip is expected in restaurants throughout Italy. This is because you are being charged a coperto (cover charge) or possibly for pane (bread), as well. If you’re feeling guilty, you can leave some coins on the table.
France, a service charge is usually included in the bill at the end of your meal; if not, 15% is pretty standard. Taxi drivers generally don’t expect to be tipped.
Switzerland: Apparently tipping has been ABOLISHED in Switzerland, and a 15% “service charge” has been included in all hotel, restaurant and taxi bills. However, if you had a jolly time and wish to show your appreciation, they are not going to call the cops on you if you leave an extra 10%.

Spain: From Eclectic Rebel Blog reader Chris: “In Spain or at least southern Spain no tip is expected and you might get an odd look, even if you are in a nice restaurant. I spent some time in Granada Espana where a good friend had a flat. As far as tipping goes: for Tapas no tip is expected (it’s free, just pay for your beer), for dinner (just get tapas ;-)) at a nice restaurant you may tip if you’re feeling generous but they will often ask you if you’ve made a mistake, taxis it is a good idea to tip if they get you somewhere fast, driving is not for the faint hearted over there.”
Japan: Tipping is not required and in fact may cause embarrassment or offense to those tipped. If the bellboy stands an extra moment in your hotel room, he’s not waiting for a tip, he’s likely waiting to make sure you get settled in properly. Customer service (*gasp*)!
Singapore: In Singapore, tipping is a way of elevating one’s status. However, the Singapore government does not encourage such tipping-officially. Traditional after-meal tipping is not usually required as good establishments levy a 10% service charge with the meal. If one wishes to ensure good service when entertaining special guests, one can give an extra 10% of the bill amount to the headwaiter who will share the tip with the other service staff.
China: Don’t tip anywhere. Try not to think about how you’re generally charged more for everything because you’re a foreigner – by your friendly neighborhood Chinese government.
Hong Kong: Taxi drivers don’t expect tips unless they are taking you to the airport or the MTR station which connects with the airport, when the cost of carrying luggage increases.
Brazil: Tipping, like the lifestyle in Brazil, is flexible. If you feel like tipping, do. If you don’t, then don’t! Nobody cares! Then have a drink, dahling, you look tired.
Ethiopia: Tipping is not required, unless you want to show your enjoyment of a dancer, in which case you are to stick a paper bill on their forehead. Which you should only do if the dancer in question has a light film of sweat on their forehead.
Mexico: Tip everyone, if only for karma points because the wages there are dismally low. Figure on 15% for good service at a restaurant. If you’re taking a taxi and speak Spanish, you can negotiate up front for a fare that will include the tip. Oh, and don’t expect that the driver will know where to go better than you. If you find one that knows where he’s going, it’s worth a good tip.
Canada: It’s probably because of its proximity to the U.S. but most service staff in Canada expect something in the 10-20% tip range, depending on what city and the level of service. Tipping differs however depending on whether you are in French or English Canada. Tipping is expected for restaurants, bars, food delivery and taxis In Montreal, tips for a good meal at a good restaurant with good service should be tipped more.

In general, tip like a Rockefeller in Canada, Chile, Ireland and Egypt (except taxis), and tip like a hobo everywhere else!
Asia and the Pacific: Special care must be taken to insure that your well-meaning gesture is not taken as insulting. If you are unsure, it is best not to tip. If possible, observe the locals and follow their lead.
Europe: Many hotels and restaurants add a service charge to the bill. In most cases, an additional tip is unnecessary. If no service charge is added to your bill 10% is the general rule for restaurant service, a dollar per bag will be appreciated.
Middle East/Africa: While your tip will not be seen as insulting, it may be unnecessary. Once again, the best bet is to do as the locals do.
Central/South America: Many hotels and restaurants add a service charge to the bill, and an additional tip is unnecessary. If not, 10% is the general rule for restaurant service, and a dollar per bag will be appreciated.
"When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” ~ William Least Heat Moon

Confessions Of A Baggage Handler And A Flight Attendant

A baggage handler working for a major American airline agreed to dish on the scene behind the scenes. Here's what he had to say --

On Embarrassing Baggage Situations: Ten years ago, the security wasn’t as in-depth as it is now. Today, unless there’s something wrong with the bags, we don’t go through them. But every once in a while, we’ll get a bag with a certain low grade humming noise coming from it, and we’ll have to open it. If you touch the bag, it feels like a light vibration is coming from within. About 99 percent of the time, it’s just an electric razor or toothbrush with a battery that gets turned on while the bag is being tossed around. So we open the bag and turn it off. No big deal.But this one time, we came across a bag that we couldn’t get open. So we had to go out to the jetway, where the passengers were boarding, and call the owner up to claim the suitcase. It was a woman, and we told her, “Sorry, ma’am, your bag is vibrating, you’ll have to open it.” She knew what it was right away -- her face turned bright red. She opened it up, and there was her vibrator flopping around. She turned it off, and said to us, all embarrassed, “I’m a single person who travels alone a lot…” And I’m like, “You don’t have to justify it to me, just zip up the suitcase and we’ll pop it in the plane.” And that was that.

On Bizarre Baggage:  Particularly on flights to lesser-developed countries, people bring all sorts of weird stuff that you don’t normally see in suitcases -- it's usually stuff their families can’t get, or things that are considered a luxury. We see a lot of mechanical and hardware items that you take for granted that you could go to Wal-Mart and pick up. Boxes break open, and we’ve seen small engines for lawn mowers, a lot of car parts -- air filters, oil filters, starters and alternators. You name it. Then there are the food items. When I worked at one mid-western airport, just about every flight coming in from Europe had either Italian sausage or Polish sausage, but it wouldn’t be refrigerated and it would just start turning bad after a nine-hour flight. People bring other delicacies, too -- things from Thailand and China. We’ve seen crickets and snails and different kinds of unidentifiable meat. Usually it comes to our attention because they’ve just wrapped it in wax paper and tossed it in their bag thinking, “I’m going half-way around the world, that'll do.”
On Luxury Luggage and the (Non) Functionality of Fragile Stickers:  Whether it’s a cheap duffel bag or a Prada or Louis Vuitton suitcase, it all gets treated the same. I’m sure there are a handful of baggage handlers who know the difference, but there are a lot of knockoff designer bags coming from China anyway. And the fact is, every bag is treated the same. What most passengers don’t understand is that most of the time, all the baggage handling is done mechanically by computers and robots. When they weigh your bag and push it down the belt at the check-in counter, it is now on a conveyor belt. It goes behind the wall and rides miles and miles of belts -- it’s being scanned by lasers, passing through different checkpoints and getting routed depending on the airline and the city. By the time the baggage handler actually sees your bag at the airplane, all he’s trying to do is put a piece of a puzzle together in the cargo hold as quickly as possible. The cargo holds are actually very, very small, with a curved bottom and a flat top, so it’s really like working a puzzle. He’s got garment bags, briefcases, soft sided and hard-sided suitcases, golf bags, strollers, car seats and so on. He really doesn’t care what kind of suitcase yours is or how much it costs -- he just cares how to put it all together to take up the least amount of space. On a medium sized plane with roughly 150 bags, they’re going to be stacked five high and five across, ten rows deep, with the heaviest bags on the bottom. Sure, go ahead and put a fragile sticker on your suitcase. But I’m not going to lie -- there are bad apples out there, and they might see that fragile sticker and either make a joke or even treat the bag a little rougher. We see these huge bags that weigh a ton, stuffed with all sorts of stuff. Then there’s a fragile sticker on it and it’s like please -- you know there’s no delicate piece of crystal or an on ornament in that heavy, over-packed bag. Do those passengers really think their bag is going to be treated any differently? Even if someone comes to us and says “My bag has a glass frame in it,” that fragile sticker is only relevant at your original departure point. If you connect, there’s no way for us to let, say, New York know that when this flight comes in there’s a bag with a very special picture frame with a fragile sticker on it. We can’t just say, “Look for the black one” -- at a busy airport, there are 50,000 bags going through per day.
(Budget Travel) -- Tim Cigelske was a baggage handler for a major airline in Milwaukee from 2005 to 2007.
$7.50 an hour: Baggage handling is boring and strenuous. The pay is terrible ($7.50 an hour) and the hours are worse (shifts begin at 4 A.M.). But off the clock, we can fly for free if there's an open seat on our airline or its partner carriers. I flew free--a few times in first class--to Cabo San Lucas, Orlando, Costa Rica, San Francisco, Denver, and Seattle. The downside is that airline employees are the first to get left behind if a flight is full, so travel plans can get screwed up: I had to spend a night under the Phoenix airport's fluorescent lights.
Still, we all took advantage of the perk; otherwise it was tough to justify flinging luggage when the windchill was 15 below zero. I tried to fly at least once a month. I heard of handlers who flew to Philly just for a cheesesteak.

Rookie fliers: A baggage handler can tell when it's spring break or a holiday without looking at a calendar. That's when the bags bulk up because inexperienced travelers overpack (and get slapped with fees for bags over 50 pounds). I'd rather work a flight filled with hard-core bowlers checking their balls en route to Reno than a trip headed to the Caribbean. How much stuff do you need for the beach?

Luggage left behind: Check in at least 30 minutes before the flight. Any later than that and your bag will probably miss the plane. Sympathetic ticket agents sometimes call and ask us to swing back and pick up late bags, so you might want to beg them for help. Most times, bags are delayed or lost for other reasons. Depending on the airport, luggage is sorted by the three-letter destination code, flight number, or both. (The ticket agent usually tears off bag tags from old trips, but it can't hurt to rip them off yourself to avoid confusion.) There was one day when a delayed flight meant that we had two departures at the same time to the same city, and I loaded an entire cart of bags onto the wrong plane. Another day, we loaded so many bags of golf clubs bound for Myrtle Beach that the plane ran out of storage and we had to hold 10 bags. And sometimes there's no explanation. Miscommunication is easy when everyone's wearing hearing protection and shouting over jet engines.

No special treatment: Pristine new bags don't stay that way for long inside a cargo bin, so buy luggage that's durable, not fancy. But don't go the cheapskate route: An overstuffed duffel bag held together with duct tape is a mess waiting to happen. Baggage handlers can cram a Boeing 737 with 150 bags in under 30 minutes. Factor in even higher loads for bigger planes, and multiply that by several incoming and outgoing flights a day. Do you really think anyone's bag is going to receive special treatment?
Back pain: In nearly two years I probably hauled 250,000 bags. If it weren't for that job, I wouldn't have traveled to half the places I did, but I'm glad I quit. My chiropractor says my back problems are likely related to the job--and I'm only 25 years old. While I miss the free flights, I'm pretty sick of airports. For my next vacation I might just go as far as I can pedal on my bike. But if I do fly, you can be sure I'll try to bring only a carry-on.
Confession of a flight attendant

Provided by: An anonymous confessor who has been a flight attendant for the past three years.
Smiling is job one: Airlines put would-be flight attendants through four or five interviews before hiring them. The interviewers specifically look to hire people who are sweet and smile as much as possible--and what better testing ground for that than a few rounds of job interviews? After getting hired, I attended five weeks of flight training. It was during the course that I found out a certain amount of makeup is required of female flight attendants, as are high heels when you're in uniform outside the plane. (Flats are recommended on flights.) But no rule is as important as nodding your head, addressing passengers as "sir" and "ma'am," and smiling.
Block time: Passengers always take out their frustrations about delays on the crew, claiming we must be thrilled to receive overtime pay. But 99 percent of flight attendants are paid only for "block time"--from when a plane pushes back from the gate until it opens its doors at the arrival city. When there are delays, flight attendants can work a 13-hour day yet receive only seven hours' pay.

Want a stiff drink?: Tipping is not encouraged by the airlines, but greatly appreciated by the staff. The key is insisting that we take the money; we're not allowed to accept it on the first attempt. I make doubly sure to attend to the needs of anyone who has tipped me, sometimes throwing in a free round--and the drinks are always strong. Another way to the crew's heart is to give them snacks. Day in, day out, we stare at the same dull airline food. So we're overjoyed when a passenger treats us with fancy chocolates or even packaged trail mix. Simply wait until boarding is complete, hand the gift to a flight attendant, and say, "This is a little something for your crew."
Pet peeves: If it's a short flight, please use the airport's restrooms before boarding. On many short flights, we're required to do the full beverage and snack service, which is incredibly difficult when there are people in the aisle. Other ways to get under a flight attendant's skin: asking for beverages and food before we even take off; requesting seconds before the rest of the cabin has been served; ringing the call button so you can give us your trash after we've passed through with a garbage bag half a dozen times; ringing the call button to find out when we'll land. Basically, you never want to push the call button at all.

First-class perks: Our business-class passengers receive unlimited free cocktails and snacks. But management actually discourages flight attendants from offering these passengers our "expensive" snacks. When taking an order in business class, we're supposed to mention only the items that sell in coach for $2. We give the stuff that goes for $4 or $5 strictly on request. So if you're in business class, open up the airline magazine and take a look at what's offered onboard. If you ask for something you see, your flight attendant has to hand it over

Happy hour, any hour: If you want to meet flight attendants outside the work environment, it's as simple as going to the bar of the hotel nearest the airport, where you'll find airline crews unwinding at any time of day. Sometimes we party with staff from another airline in someone's room, the hotel lounge, or poolside. Snacks and cocktails are always provided by the airline (wink, wink).
"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” ~ Bill Bryson

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Carnival's plan to switch port of call upsets Antigua

The Miami Herald
Posted on Wed, Sep. 30, 2009
Carnival's plan to switch port of call upsets Antigua

A recent decision by Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines to drop Antigua and Barbuda from its seven-night Southern Caribbean cruise itinerary could cost the tourist-dependent nation more than $40 million, the country's tourism minister told The Miami Herald on Tuesday.
John Maginley, who is attending the Americas Conference, said he only learned last week via e-mail that Carnival would no longer be anchoring its Victory ship in Antigua as of Jan. 3, 2010. Instead, the 2,758-passenger ship will be sailing to St. Maarten.
``There was no discussion, none,'' Maginely said. ``We're supposed to be partners in this thing, and all we got was an e-mail sent to the agent in Antigua that Carnival is pulling its boat.''
Maginley has a meeting scheduled with Carnival on Thursday. He says before the cancellation, he had been speaking to Carnival about increasing the number of cruise ships visiting Antigua. He was told, he said, that it takes 18 months to two years to make such a decision.
Maginley pointed out that the decision came three weeks after six Carnival Victory passengers were jailed in Antigua following a scuffle with police and claims by a local taxi driver that they had refused to pay a $100 taxi fare. The incident made international headlines with popular radio and TV personalities calling the Caribbean island a rogue nation, and accusing it of illegally detaining Americans.
Maginley said the characterizations are unfair, and the passengers are being given due process in what is being considered a police matter. Further, he said, U.S. embassy officials have been in touch with the passengers who have been released and are awaiting a court appearance in Antigua.``Until this date, they have not communicated to me as tourism minister . . . saying they are pulling the boat,'' Maginley said.
The Victory brings in about 150,000 passengers annually, and according to 2006 figures, each passenger spends an average of $115 on souvenirs and other purchases. The head tax, alone, he said, adds about $500,000 to Antigua's government coffers.
Carnival has denied that the decision has anything to do with the arrest of its passengers. Jennifer de la Cruz, spokeswoman for Carnival Cruise Lines, told The Miami Herald that the company had ``opted to take Antigua off the itinerary as of the beginning of January and replace it with St. Maarten.''

``We had been looking at that itinerary for quite some time; we have not modified it in four years,'' she said. `` We occasionally change out ports of call.''De la Cruz said: ``We do have another ship that calls in Antigua about once a month, Freedom, which sails out of Port Everglades. It will continue to call in Antigua.''
"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey!"- Fitzhugh Mllan