Zadie Smith On Tipping Your Delivery Person

Zadie Smith has a charming little essay in the New Yorker — sorry/not sorry — about ordering delivery in London vs. New York. Of course, the focus is on tipping, a topic that just may never get old. As far as I am concerned Zadie Smith can write charming little essays about whatever she wants and I will read them. “Take It Or Leave It” is no exception:

Every New Yorker has heard a newly arrived British person grumble about tipping. The high-minded Brits add a lecture: food-industry workers shouldn’t need to scrabble for the scraps thrown from high table—they should be paid a decent wage (although the idea that the delivery boys of Britain are paid a decent wage is generally an untested assumption). Now when I’m in London I find myself tipping all kinds of people, most of whom express a sort of unfeigned amazement, even if the tip is tiny. What they never, ever do, however, is tell me to have a nice day. “Have a good one”—intoned with a slightly melancholy air, as if warding off the far greater likelihood of an evil “one”—is the most you tend to hear.

But I’m not going to complain about Britain’s “lack of a service culture”—it’s one of the things I cherish about the place. I don’t think any nation should elevate service to the status of culture. At best, it’s a practicality, to be enacted politely and decently by both parties, but no one should be asked to pretend that the intimate satisfaction of her existence is servicing you, the “guest,” with a shrimp sandwich wrapped in plastic. If the choice is between the antic all-singing, all-dancing employees in New York’s Astor Place Pret-A-Manger and the stony-faced contempt of just about everybody behind a food counter in London (including all the Prets), I wholeheartedly opt for the latter. We are subject to enough delusions in this life without adding to them the belief that the girl with the name tag is secretly in love with us.

I think the key bit of this might be, “that the delivery boys (ed: boys?!) of Britain are paid a decent wage is generally an untested assumption.” Though I do hope someone over there has tested this assumption.

Also I would like to take this opportunity to point out that the tip that Seamless auto-fills when you check out for delivery is never enough.

Photo: Mark Turnaukas

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