Tipping Among Friends

By M.A. Porter


etiquette-of-tippingI floated a crackling, blue 20-peso tip onto the cuenta tray.

My friend Sheila (name changed to protect the super-nice) said, “Oh, doncha think it should be about fifteen?” Her eyes swept over my 20-peso note as if it were worrisome manna.

I asked, “Fifteen what?”

She said, “Fifteen pesos. For the propina.”               

I shrugged and intoned in my best elitist voice: Oh, sure, if you are planning to leave only 10 percent. Good food, service here, so authentic and fresh. Not many like this left around Lakeside…but who wants to live in Oaxaca? I mean, you can rent a dirt floor over there for $3000 pesos and pour your own concrete and lay in some high-fired ceramic, and still come out ahead. But, whoa!

Sheila didn’t hear any of my nauseous gas-bagging, except the only 10 percent.

“So you leave more than 10 percent for these little meals, do you?” she responded, her voice tip-toeing through her astonishment.

She’s from a big country north of the United States of America. I don’t really want to name it as that could be misconstrued here as not being very nice. My grandmother was from the eastern part of that country, which means that, by some standards, I have at least one drop of that blood in me and I can claim to be kin of its people. Which, I do, especially after I have been told that I am nice.

And doesn’t that big northern place have a proud history of conquering need and raising opportunity! In these modern times, such an effective ethos of social action flows from coast to coast, and those of us from the more pock-marked plains on the south side of the tracks often gaze enviously upon her morally enhanced bosom with… oh, for God’s sake! Enough of that.

Still, it’s all largely true, the details of which the people from up there will eagerly share, usually sans any hint of sanctimony, which is another positive trait; I’m tired of writing about them.

I dislike stereotyping people only because they share commonalities like bloodlines or boundaries, even though I do it all the time while in the throes of egalitarianism, reserving a special litany for my own American roots and their behavioral outcomes. Therefore, if I were to speak aloud what I think of the Sheilas of the world in the financially generous sense, then I should expect from her a counterpoint that all Americans are willfully stupid, irresponsible, addicted consumers of pleasure who are prone to frenzies of violence (though some may be well-ordered under military leaders), and all soon to be hatefully managed by drones.

Anyway, there I was, with Sheila, and the 20-peso note between us taunted like a gauntlet tossed down in a copacetic challenge. She picked it up and agreeably, but with certain purpose, said, “Here, I have some change.”

Within seconds, Sheila had the twenty tucked away, I had five pesos in my palm and there were 15 pesos in the cuenta tray for the lucky waiter Juan.

Because I was forced to play it her way, I went all in. I asked Sheila if I would now still owe her something, because the earlier agreed-upon accounting of ‘me leaving only the tip’ today had been because of that breakfast we’d had where she paid the whole bill, but then I’d overpaid her with that scarf she wanted but she didn’t have her purse, and then that latte the other day. (It could be said that the false accounting that goes on between women at the lunch table could entice Bernie Madoff to sin again.)

Sheila whispered kindly, “We don’t have to be so exact on things. We’re friends.”

Okay, then, I fretted, but tell me this. You went to all that trouble because you didn’t want Jose to receive another five pesos? It’s five pesos. You have, like, one million five-peso pieces invested in your house alone. Just the walls, even.

Silence hung.

Finally, she sputtered, “Well, alright! We can leave twenty!” She dug around in her coin purse and snapped five pesos into the cuenta tray with a ‘take that!’ flourish.

Atta girl, I chimed. But here, that’s not right. You already gave me five. Now I owe you ten.

Sheila’s head bobbed as she chirped her derision. “You doggoned Americans. Must be right! Must be right! Must get my way! Bully.”

Then she gave me a really nice hug.


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