I’ve probably told you the story of the young woman at the best school of public health who was angry at housekeeping staff for blocking the bathroom while it was being cleaned. The young woman was angry that she had to walk to another part of the building to use another bathroom. She complained as much to the woman cleaning the bathroom, who looked at the young lady with a smile and apologized.
Growing up, a lot of my friends and relatives worked in the service industry. They would leave home early in the morning and come back late in the evening. In all that time, their children were either at school or home alone. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many of us whose parents were working that much turned out okay, I think. The thing that always struck me as being weird was that these were people who were working to take care of others, but they had to work those long hours so that their own children could live in a clean home and eat well, but thy could’t, you know, take care of their own children.
I never really traveled a lot until I was an adult. Before that, the longest trip I had taken was down to my ancestral hometown and back to El Paso. It was a four-hour trip, and we certainly never stayed overnight anywhere while on that trip. (There was a trip out to the beach and out to California, but I hardly remember those.) My first “big” trip was to Mexico City. I got really homesick while I was there, but the people who worked in the service industry — and most people in Mexico in general — made me feel welcomed. They talked to me, fed me, cleaned up after me, etc.
Now that I’ve been working in Public health, I’ve been traveling a whole lot more. That, and my wife and I have taken some sweet vacations abroad to the Caribbean and Europe. All those times, we have been mindful of tipping well. We know that service jobs don’t pay particularly well, though they should. So we pitch in a little extra here and there as a way of thanking the people whose work allows us to work and vacation in comfort.
The one exception was Korea. As my brother and I embarrassingly found out, the culture doesn’t accept tipping. If anything, some people took it as an insult. For some of them, it was as if we had said that they couldn’t work on anything that would pay better… I guess. (I hear this is the case in other parts of Asia, so I’ll have to be mindful of that.) Still, when we learned that we sholdn’t tip, we made sure that we showed our appreciation for the housekeeping staff at the hotel, the drivers who took us places, and the servers at the places where we ate.
Think about all the people whose job it is to keep you comfortable. What would happen if you couldn’t stay at a clean hotel or eat a good meal in comfort? Would the quality of your work suffer? Of course it would.
When I was in Puerto Rico last year, a group of housekeepers cleaned my room every couple of days. (I didn’t need it cleaned every day.) After long hours at the emergency operations center, I knew I had a clean and comfortable hotel room to go to. I didn’t need to worry about clean sheets on the bed or soap and shampoo. There were always clean towels when I needed them. The carpets were clean. So I made an effort to tip them as much as I could.
The rest of the time, I made sure that I spent as much of my per diem allowance as possible around Puerto Rico. Their economy has taken a huge hit since the recession, with no signs of improving. So I tipped a little bit here and a little bit there, enough to spend that per diem and make sure the money was helping others who were helping me.
At the end of the day, none of us is going to the afterlife with any wealth or a credit report. Yeah, we need to leave behind something for our descendants to build upon. If it happens to be money, great. If it is respect for others and appreciation of the work that goes into keeping us comfortable so that we can work, even better.
So tip well and tip often. If you can’t tip, be grateful and show it. Trust me when I tell you it’s the right thing to do, and you’ll feel better.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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