Wednesday, November 14, 2012

India # 32 Can't Get No Satisfaction: Tipping in India

 This is one of three lighter, post-ashram posts.

Tipping is—what?—half obligation, a quarter reward  for good service and  a quarter satisfaction for the person doing the tipping?  It is a satisfaction denied me in India.

It was only late in my time here that I learned the customary tip is five percent.  I guessed as much but was tipping three times that for small bills and two or more for large ones. 

After I got sick I hired a car for a few days at a rate of 100 rupees ($2) an hour plus mileage, pretty cheap, so I tipped on the high end.  But then rickshaw taxi drivers wanted the same rate and when I would pay it they would look forlorn and ask for more.  I tried adding l00 rupees, then another 100 in a pathetic attempt to be liked, which they could probably smell.  It never brought a smile, which I missed.

Same with guides, as in Ft. Cochin, Kerala.  You may remember Babu.   He had offered his services for 33 rupees an hour early in the morning.  When I paid him 1,000 at the end of the day he seemed crestfallen.  He had children and a widow at home, I was to understand. 
When I asked an Indian about this he said the answer is obvious:  you are an American.  Look at your skin.

I will say that the folks at Under the Mango Tree—a restaurant three blocks away which did, indeed, have a giant mango tree growing through its roof—seemed glad to see me coming back. Eating out every night as I did for about $10 I was thinking, how continental, even if I did bring my e-reader or computer. Eating at home even one night via the microwave seemed lonely.

 A couple of times I invited myself to eat with someone else:  a surgeon from Carmel checking out an Indian technology to keep preemie’s and surgery patients warm inexpensively; three Saudi women therapists on a lark of freedom and shopping; an ayurvedic doc from Boulder.   

I also couldn’t be sure beggars were happy with me, which probably goes with begging.  I did throw an old woman in my neighborhood off balance when I gave her more than she expected.  It made her disappointed the next time.   Before leaving India I gave to my driver new, quality shoes I knew would be seldom used by me back home.  I asked If he's like them and he said, put them in the trunk.  That was it. 

Preparing for India, I built a little mental budget of money to give away, thinking how grand and satisfied it would be.    However there were few opportunities to do so.  Except for what may  been professional beggars on a major commercial street, there were few beggars in Bangalore.   I ended up agreeing to support a single kid for three years at Each One Teach One.   Better to light one candle, I suppose.    
Beggars are also few in Jaipur, at least where I have been.  This little family seemed to be living in the open right behind where the picture is taken and deserved support.  More typical are these guys taking a break in the tiny tire shop who waved me over for chat over chai, in Hindi.
What does it cost to live here?  The government gives some of the most needy something like 75 rupees or $l.50, I am told.  Workers typically make less than 200 rupees a day, the minimum wage.  Starbucks just opened its first three shops in India and was criticized for paying 70 cents an hour or 37 rupees when a cup of coffee cost $l.50.  Starbucks said, "But we pay benefits which brings us above the minimum wage of 5,000 rupees a month." 


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