Tipping and Dehumanization

by alexlucascion

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but no one tips in Korea. Cab drivers, bar tenders and waitresses all get by on their—presumably inflated, but considering how they treat workers here, maybe not—hourly wages. In a lot of ways, this is nice for consumers. Because prices in Korea are listed with tax already included, when you order, say, some Soon-dae-gook-bap (soon-dae=pig intestine, gook=soup, bap=rice, so basically pig intestine soup with rice. I promise, it’s actually not bad. I like it extra spicy) for 5,000 Won, you will end up paying 5,000 Won, as opposed to the 8,000 or so you would pay if forced to add tax and tip.

Still, there are disadvantages, both practical and otherwise. When I order my usual Jameson, neat, Korean bartenders have the infuriating habit of measuring out the whiskey in a shot glass before pouring it. This drives me insane, and I do my best to subtly register my displeasure. Usually I just kind of stare and sulk, but last night I gave the bartender a sort of a pleading look, and he splashed in some more booze from the bottle. Then I tipped him. Generosity is contagious, and everyone wins. What could be simpler? This concept is sadly lost on Koreans.

Either way, this sort of nonsense would never happen in America—or any tip-positive country—for several reasons. First, I feel like it is pretty universally understood that a neat whiskey should include more than just a single shot. It’s insulting; the act itself demeans my importance as a customer. A measured drink tells me that my 5,000 Won has paid for exactly so much whiskey, and not a drop more, while the bartender is relegated to the status of vending machine, taking in cash, dispensing a beverage. We are both reduced to our most basic roles, two sides of an equation where $(X)=1.5 oz*liquor(Y)—it dehumanizes us.

On a more practical level, a bartender expecting a tip would never be so pedantic. Even if it’s just a pleasant fiction, tipping forces some degree of camaraderie between server and served, turning the relationship from purely functional into something at least resembling mutual humanity. The bartender knows the size of his tip depends largely on customer satisfaction, so he pours accordingly. Pouring the minimum amount of alcohol, he knows, would result in the minimum tip, and is therefore avoided.

But it’s not just another exchange, a little more alcohol for a little more money. It creates a certain mood, an ambiance. A tipped bartender is more inclined to talk with customers, listen to their stories and commiserate with them, if for no other reason than to secure future tips. Inevitably, a congenial atmosphere is cultivated. Drinking makes people want to talk, and talking makes people want to drink. A wonderful, social cycle is initiated around the bartender, a benevolent fulcrum balancing conversation and drinking both. And of course this deserves a tip, even as tipping allows it to occur.

“Wait,” the cynic might say, “is not honest disregard superior to feigned sympathy? Is it not better to be alone than to pay for company? Is the bartender, not, in some ways a prostitute, and you his John?”

“Shut up and/or fuck off,” I might reply, because at some point fiction becomes fact. Tipping, conversation, human interaction, no matter their impetus, are always real. It’s why people go to bars, why they pay that 500% mark-up rather than drink alone (getting laid has also been known to factor into it). In moments of loneliness and boredom, we seek out company and alcohol, and tipping is a part of that. It brings us together.

So fuck the local custom. That’s worth a tip.