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A Tipping Lesson Learned The Hard Way

Posted by Peter Post  December 11, 2012 07:00 AM

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Every now and then people ask if I ever make an etiquette mistake.

Well, I do, and I made one just yesterday. Actually, I made three.

I’m in Dubai.

I came here to teach business etiquette, partnering with the Human Relations Institute. While I’ve met with the clients and spent time acclimating to the nine-hour time change, that’s not what this blog is about.

It’s about tipping. Before I left the United States, I did some basic web research about Dubai. But I noticed as I surfed that I wasn’t reading anything about tipping. So I boarded my plane and arrived without a clear idea of to whom or what exactly I should tip. That was mistake number one.

Before venturing out on the first day, I stopped at the reception desk at my hotel and asked what was appropriate to tip the cab driver. The response was a quizzical look and then an unconvincing, “Well it could be a little or nothing.” And so I got into the cab with the still unresolved issue of what to tip. That was mistake number two.

When the cab arrived at our destination, the meter indicated 28.5 dirhams, so I chose to follow the advice from the reception desk and simply let him keep the change from the three ten-dirham notes I gave him. And off he drove. And that was mistake number three.

Later that day I did some more web browsing at my hotel, and found a website titled Expat Echo Dubai, and it had what seemed to be the best and most complete information on Dubai tipping.

That’s where I discovered that tipping in the range of 10-15% is the norm. I appreciated the additional piece of advice, which recommended not just figuring the exact tip but then rounding up to next nearest 5 dirhams. I quickly calculated that my cabbie’s tip should have been about four dirhams. Add that to the 28.5 dirhams for the fare would make 32.5 dirhams. Round up to the nearest five and I should have given him a total of 35 dirhams for the ride, not just the 30 dirhams I gave him.

So, mistake one was not coming prepared. Do your homework before you arrive about customs, expectations and etiquette for the country you are visiting.

Mistake number two was to venture out with poor information. I could have made more of an effort to seek the definitive answer I found later to my question.

Finally, mistake number three was not figuring a full 10-15% tip and then not rounding up. Basing my choice on weak information of “just a little” from a receptionist was the wrong decision.

Traveling abroad is fun and exciting. But it also carries responsibility to be prepared and to know customs and cultural norms before you arrive.

Yes, I make mistakes, and I did this time. And to that cabbie wherever he is, I apologize.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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