Tips for eating

Notes from Japan: 4

One of those irritants that keeps me consistently inflamed in life, is tipping. In our UK, class-ridden society the argument is rarely about the principle of tipping, it is about the degree: whether ten percent or fifteen percent, usually. I have a non-mathematical friend who argues that inflation means that it should now be fifteen percent!!! I have other friends who argue that tipping, particularly in a well-frequented restaurant, produces better service and, often, better food. Then there are those friends who reserve tipping for particularly well-prepared and presented meals, as though good eating cannot be taken for granted. They thus elevate themselves to gourmets, with all the attendant snobbery that this entails.

When I worked as a waiter all those years ago in Newcastle, I felt consigned to serfdom by the ignominy of relying upon tips as a means of making a reasonable wage. Hell is others, said Sartre, and there seems to me to be plenty of evidence that Purgatory, at least, materialises whenever others, that is, most of the UK population, have the opportunity to lord it over those less fortunate. Tipping is the perfect arena for this often subtle form of class discrimination. Imagine Dear Reader, whatever your job, be it doctor, teacher, company director, judge – how you would feel if your salary was made up by voluntary subscriptions from your clients. Would it change your sense of personal value and social status? I think so. Sorry to single out certain professions among this blog’s faithful readership but other readers, perennially made to feel lower in society’s invidious pecking order, presumably don’t need the iniquities of tipping, spelled out to them!.

Empathise with this curmudgeon’s delight to discover that there is no tipping in Japan. I have no idea whether this means that everyone has a reasonable wage (as should be the case, everywhere) but customer service was uniformly high, enthusiasm for doing the job well, abundant and I never felt I was being pressured into a dominant/subservient role play which exists in all tipping societies. It made the act of eating (Japanese cuisine is an undoubted glory) an almost transcendental pleasure.

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