NEW YORK — Because of several successive business trips plus my holiday in the United States, I have been living from one hotel to another for more than two weeks. Obviously I’m also obliged to dine out. What this means in terms of personal finances is that even before paying the hotel or restaurant bills, I must face a continued lineup of people expecting tips: waiters, room service, doormen — not to forget taxi drivers unless you like to haul your heavy luggage out of the trunk yourself.
I have a colleague from Hong Kong, a place where tipping is also a custom, though not as far-reaching or high percentages as in the United States. She, nonetheless, tried to pretend that she didn't know how things work in the United States. The result: dirty towels left unchanged.
A friend who happens to be looking for a flat tried hard to avoid renting anywhere with a concierge, because “If I carry something whenever I get home, the concierge will always come and open the door and expect to be tipped. But when do I come home without a bag or something in my hand?! Imagine how much extra cost that is every month?”
Chinese people always talk about how expensive it is to live in America. And while I have studies all kinds of figures of fixed expenses of American households, none of them takes tipping into account!
Tipping point? — Photo: Scott Sanchez
Indeed, bills in America often give people the wrong impression that it’s cheap, simply because the tax and the tips are rarely included. Sales tax rates can vary widely between different states, by as much as 10%. When I tried to pay a 10% tip on top of my bill in a Washington D.C. restaurant, I was immediately warned to add 15-20% by my friend “unless you want them to chase after you to recover it!”
I suppose I will learn how to live with all this tipping if I stay in the United States long enough. Still, on an economic level, I am convinced that the system is part of what makes hiring workers so costly. Though it is a bit of a luxury to go and dine in a restaurant or take a taxi in America, the restaurateur or the cab company doesn’t seem to earn that much money. I once interviewed a high executive of a famous hotel chain who told me that he started off his career as a doorman, and that it was still some of the best money he'd ever earned.
The tipping custom exposes a particular feature: If one expects to get a better tip, one has to offer a better sales proposition. This includes the appearance and the figure, smartness or likability of the attendant — in other words it means individual employees making themselves marketable.
When I went to cover the Miami International Art Fair, on the way to the venue I had a taxi driver who spoke only Spanish, and made no effort to use even a single word of English with me. On the way back to the airport, instead, the cabbie was eager to tell me all the artists he likes and complimented me on how Asian women look younger than their age. Though I was obliged to tip them both, guess who I tipped more heartily?
Recently, more and more Americans have called for the end of the tipping system, saying waiters enjoy high wages and lower taxes — not to mention making customers feel obliged to pay additional rates for their meals. I am not optimistic. All I can hope for is the person serving me next time is smart and pleasant and can't guess my age.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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