To tip or not to tip?

You’ve just had a five-star meal in Tokyo, but how do you express your appreciation for the service you received? Well, you definitely don’t leave a tip!To tip or not to tip? There’s no tipping culture in Japan – and leaving one may even be seen as an insult.

Different countries, different cultures

The Wall Street Journal’s recent Expat blog entry provides some top tipping advice for five expat locations: Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, Paris and Frankfurt. Not only does the blog post provide some great tips, it is a really good example of the impact all those seemingly minor details, such as the tipping culture, have on expats and repatriates alike.

Tipping in Tokyo

If you are delighted with the food or drink at a sushi bar or drinking establishment in Tokyo consider buying a sake (a Japanese rice wine) or beer for the chef to show your appreciation. Having lived and worked in Japan for four years, Crown’s Global Intercultural and Language Services Curriculum Manager, Alyssa Bantle, adds: "There are other great ways to show appreciation. The Japanese are eager to provide a great service – especially to foreigners. Arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much) and a sincere compliment goes a long way in any service situation."

Cultural awareness

Alyssa says: "The point is not that tipping practices are overtly stressful, but that tipping and countless other day-to-day activities in an unfamiliar location create a lot of hidden stress for both long and short-term assignees. It is important to know the do’s and don’ts, and have some practical tools to manage the stress of an assignment.”

However, it is not usually the day-to-day practices that cause an assignment to fail. The true cause is bigger issues around values, assumptions and minimizing the role of culture on an assignment. "Assignments usually fail because a manager assumes that they can communicate with the assignee in the same way they did before, or because a spouse thought the assignment would be a nice break from busy life back home. Without cultural training and the awareness it brings, the manager, with a now resistant team and isolated spouse, realizes that these initial ideas don’t work once it is too late," says Alyssa.

Creating a positive experience

"Learning to avoid assumptions, observe and interact, and, quite simply, be curious is great advice not just for assignees – but for anyone interacting with other cultures," adds Alyssa. "The confidence gained from learning how to communicate, and the satisfaction of integrating into the local culture, ensure a positive foreign experience and better performance. And if you know whether to tip or not, you may just save yourself some money … and some embarrassment!"

Read the Wall Street Journal’s "A Dilemma for Expats and Repatriates Alike: How to Tip."