A petty, but endless trouble of the traveler in Europe for the first time, is the matter of gratuities. You give a trifle all the time to everyone who does you the least service. Even for an apparently friendly word of information on the street, you are expected to pay in this way. In England it is “a tip,” in France, the “pour boire;” in Italy, “buono mann,” the good hand; in Germany it is “trinkgeld,” drink money. It is not much money in any one instance, but foots up pretty well after an active day’s work. The practical trouble, however, is to know what to give. The inhabitants and the servants themselves know exactly what they are entitled to, for it is a matter of right, just us much as any other charge, although the amount is never fixed or published in any written form for the information of strangers. They must learn it by experience. We, as a rule, to whom the European measures are new, give too much. Englishmen of rank and wealth complain that Americans raise the costs of travel wherever they go.
For the gratuity of cab drivers, waiters at restaurants, etc., the recognised European usage is in England one penny for every shilling spent in fare or at the table, and in France and Italy two sous for every franc spent. This rule disposes of a large portion of the cases. For porters, two pence in England and two sous on the Continent, for every piece of luggage handle, even if it is only to carry it out to a pavement. An umbrella or a shawl is a piece, as well as a trunk. The driver of an omnibus, cab or fiacre, as a point of etiquette and professional consideration for the porters, will refuse to touch a piece of luggage himself, even to lift it from three feet away into his vehicle.
Visiting at private houses of the upper classes in England the servants expect their tips in gold coin if your stay is over a day or two. The smallest English gold coin is a ten shilling piece — £2.50. You see the footman who attends your bedroom; the maid, if you have ladies, who serves their chambers, the butler, who has charge of the dining-room and force of waiters, the keepers if you hunt, the groom you use, if you ride, or the head of the stables if there are several, and generally any servant that you specially use. You will soon learn how to grade these fees according to the rank of the servant, and the length of your visit.
The expense of this gratuity business in ordinary travel is in general rather exaggerated. The sums given are very small and you get a great deal for them — a willing, perfect, kindly service which you do not get in our country at all. To the traveler the custom is an annoyance rather than a burden. The usage degrades and demoralizes and un-mans him who takes the vail, or gift, or tip, or bounty, or what ever you please to call it; yet a very great portion of the people of Great Britain and Europe do receive their wages in this way, look for it, and feel no humiliation in the transaction. You can hardly insult anybody across the water by offering them anything, no matter what appears to be his, or their, official position.
I have given a shilling in London to a uniformed policeman, and a franc in Paris to magnificent-looking hotel managers. A Philadelphia acquaintance in London had several hundred dollars brought to him from his banking-house, one of the largest there, by a clerk of the establishment, and the nattily dressed young gentleman asked for a shilling for his services. Imagine the consequences of offering ten cents to a conductor of the Pennsylvania Railway who had shown you to your seat in the car and given you information when to get out; yet this is done all over England every day, and the uniformed and respectable-looking guard hangs around stickily until he gets his sixpence. —Philadelphia Press, 1880
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia