Gringo

In London, you are supposed to tip at restaurants but not at bars. But what about bars that serve food? The guidebooks said nothing about this. Unable to figure this out and feeling too sheepish to ask the staff, I sought the guidance of a fellow patron in the men’s room.

I approached the man washing his hands and started with, “I have an unusual question.” This is not really the best way to begin conversation with a stranger in the bathroom of a pub in a foreign country. But it was too late now – I charged forward with my actual query about tipping etiquette and soon came to realize his bewildered silence and intense expression were not due to his fear of unprovoked solicitation, but because he didn’t know the English language. This was suddenly all too clear. Now what?

After an awkward pause, he made a hand gesture such that I should follow him. He led me to the only fluent english speaker in his family – his 10 year old nephew. They exchanged some words first before turning attention to me. I surmised they were from Mexico. I chatted with this kid while his extended family observed with fascination.

Of course the young boy knew little about tipping in general, so this was all a fruitless exercise. Turns out the boy’s father did have a few english words in his lexicon. As I tried to excuse myself he blurted, “Where you from?” I answered New York.

His reaction was a smile and the word: “Gringo.” Fair enough! I could only respond with my own smile and a single word: “Sí.”

About Matt Lebofsky

Musician wearing many hats. Played in a bunch of bands, toured in hundreds of cities around the planet. Also a general geek who works on several of the world's biggest scientific projects searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. Grew up in suburban NYC. Now lives in Oakland, CA.
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