Tip Like an American

USA, Ukraine, expat, expat living, living in the usa

Tipping culture is something I have been trying to figure out ever since I first came to the United States. Granted, I was 16 and living with my host family. My meals were provided but on those rare occasions when I would go out with my friends or by myself I was very nervous about how big should my tip be. That led me to spending a lot - a luxury I couldn't afford since I was only getting $125 a month. This stipend was alright for someone living in a small North Dakota town but maybe not for a kid placed in a town next to Disney World (although the perks were pretty great). Placement aside I was also aware of the stereotype: foreigners don't tip and if they do - they are a very very bad tippers. Sixteen year old me was obviously trying to break common misconceptions... at my own expense. Literally.

I am not 16 any more (oh, let us shed a tear together). The one thing that didn't change is my fear of not tipping enough. And yes, it might be slightly affected by the insecurity of being judged but also by my desire to understand the system and be an asset rather than a nuance. That is why I turned to you my friends, and here are the results of my poll. Thank all of you for taking the time to fill it out.

Back in Ukraine I would follow protocol and tip based on the service provided. That meant that if my check was 47 and my waiter was mediocre - the tip of 3 will be given to him or her. No hurt feelings: tips aren't expected anyway. The tipping culture is slowly changing in Ukraine but only in the bigger cities: every time I go back to my small town and tip a cab driver or a server - people around me say "Don't spoil them! Now they are going to expect that from us and we have to live here." I understand and respect their wishes. Afterall - that is a foreign territory to me now. 

Tipping takes it out of me - I find myself thinking and over-analyzing every service I accept. Do I tip this girl who helped me bag my groceries? Do I have to tip this guy who helped me carry my bags up the stairs even though he is my neighbor? I think I got tipping food industry people down - 20% at a restaurant, a couple bucks on the take out, tip if I want to stay at the coffee shop and work.. but what about all those other areas of life I have to remember? Hairdressers, masseurs, coat checkers, and bus drivers... there is just too much for a one little foreigner to remember. That is why we have to talk America and this one is going to be real short: pay your people better. This land of opportunities shouldn't feel like everyone is nice because I am paying them for their smiles.

Please? Would help me out a lot. Thanks. 

If you and I are out somewhere and you see me omitting the tip - tell me. It comes down to the fact that I just don't know who to tip. But when I do - I try to do it generously. The key is not to convert the amount given into Ukrainian currency - helps my sanity.


  1. I like this line- "That is why we have to talk America and this one is going to be real short: pay your people better." - so much! You're not alone on the tipping confusion, I've lived here all my life and like you, I only have the food industry tipping down. I'm still not sure who to tip for what or how much to tip anywhere else. If they act like they are expecting something and I have a few bucks on me I hand it over, otherwise, it's "sorry, I didn't know."

    1. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for telling me this. Honestly, I feel like I have gotten the transition to American life down - but tipping is just to much for my Ukrainian brain hah. I am so happy to know that I am not alone <3 And, as always, thank you for reading.


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