Morecambe - “The American public treats the people in the service industry with respect and value whereas in England we don't. We treat them as some kind of menial, almost slave labor.”
So says Barry Lucas, a former concert promoter in Lancaster, now a primary school teacher in Morecambe. With his second wife, Mary Lucas, who spent a decade with a traveling German circus dancing atop the head of an elephant and now works for the community arts center, the couple talks about their positive experiences of American hospitality, including the care they received at their second wedding in San Francisco in 1993.
Barry describes “how nice, friendly and genuine” Americans are in their own country, how one always hears “have a nice day” and receives “help in the supermarket.” Mary chimes in, “Whereas in England you get a grunt and a reluctance” to serve, in America the wait staff really seems to care. And in turn, Americans treat their wait staff well.
“That might have something to do with the fact that they [Americans] work for their tips,” says Marry. “The tipping thing is automatic in America, it isn't in England. In fact the English…[have] got a reputation of being quite ‘tight’…not very generous.” The bartending beauty contestant from the previous post concurred.
But there’s a flip side to the friendly American at home, Barry said: “I’ve hated Americans in England because we seem to get the loudest and noisiest,” perhaps because they expect the same type of attention they receive in the U.S.
After leaving the couple, I ponder their explanations and think up a few more. Tips are indeed expected in America, they're essentially part of the price -- and base wages in the services industries are very low as any waiter can tell you.
Then I take a look at my own tipping habits. When I arrived, I paid the cabbies fifteen percent extra. I’ve stopped doing that now. The fares here are outrageously expensive anyway. Do most Americans stop tipping when they find out they aren't expected to overseas? The beauty contestant said her customers in Greece were still better than the rest. But it’s money after all.
Upon deeper reflection, I consider the culture of meritocracy and consumer choice that America has cultivated. Tipping produces better service, our capitalist whizzes realized, because it fluctuates compensation based on customer satisfaction.
And America is all about customer satisfaction. We’ve created the ultimate competitive market for it. I enjoy shopping and eating out; I enjoy the efficient service, the pleasant environment. I type this over coffee at the Sun Bar in Lancaster, watching my waitress with extra care. She's been quite nice so far.