Friday, 20 August 2010

Australian Tipping

As a friend of mine is about to cross the world in order to pay us a visit in Australia, I thought I’d write this guide to the Australian visitor telling them what to expect upon landing.
Australia is the only country I know where the security checks at the airport are much tighter when you disembark rather than when you’re about to take off. It’s comes down to a simple truth: there is not that much fear of terrorism, but there is a fear of having foreign biological material invade our fair continent. I don’t know how justified that fear is; there is evidence to it being more than just a means for protecting local industries, although it is obvious there is some protectionism to it, too. It is also obvious this quarantine regime is used to bolster Aussies’ sense of belonging (as per Channel 7’s redneck TV reality shows on airport quarantine).
As it is, upon landing in Australia you’d be asked to fill a form saying whether you’ve brought nasty stuff with you. The local definition of nasty stuff includes anything living or anything that had once lived (e.g., wooden furniture, seeds and fruits), as well as drugs and porn. Yes, porn: quarantine staff has the authority to search your laptop to ensure you’re not bringing naked photos of yourself into the country; I don’t know of cases where that has been enforced, but it goes to show that stupidity has a long arm.
My advice is simple. Given the ambiguity of the request for disclosure of suspicious items, and given the efficient handling of voluntary disclosure of such material, I suggest you avoid deliberating whether your cold pills count as drugs or not and just declare them. Declare just for the sake of declaring; chances are you won’t be delayed any longer than when declaring a clean passage. That said, don't bring food with you unless it's packed and sealed, so as to allow it being imported into Australia for sale. Also avoid bringing things made of plant material, such as beanie bags filled with seeds or decorations made of wood (to name but two items sent to us in the post that were confiscated by quarantine).
For the record, I was allowed to bring roasted sunflower seeds through Australian quarantine on several occasions. So if you're coming to pay me a visit, feel free to bring a few kilos of Afula ones with you, because you can't get them here.

Talking about travel tips to Australia, here is a tip concerning tipping. As far as I know, Australia is unique in the fact that tipping is not expected by default. The vast majority of the time you just don't tip. This is a fact that is often not disclosed: some tourist guides mention it briefly (as per this example), but the majority of tourist resources talk about tipping in Australia as if it’s the same as in Europe or even the USA.
That is not the case, though. The terror you get in countries like the USA where you have to leave your hotel room cleaner some cash or goodness knows what they’ll do to your toiletries doesn’t exist, nor do you need to have cash with you to leave behind every time you want to eat out.
It’s not like you can’t tip; at restaurants you can even tip through your credit card. It’s just that it’s not expected, and in most cases there is not much point to it as the tips would reach the owner of the establishment rather than the person actually providing you with the service.
I like this Aussie approach to tipping, and not just because I’m a tight ass. I like it because it implies you will get good service regardless of your personal ability to pay an extra, and it also implies everyone gets the same quality of service. That’s the way it should be and that's what Australia says it's all about: giving people a fair go.

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