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When Tipping Was Considered Deeply Un-American

Tipping is a subject that everyone has something to say about. Some folks are disturbed about a weird employment system in which waiters seem to be independent contractors paid mostly by direct consumers instead of their nominal employer, with variable rates that are supposedly voluntary. At the same time, those waiters are beholden to their nominal employer (the restaurant) for the opportunity to work directly for the customer -plus having to share tips in many cases. Some diners are concerned about waiters making a decent living. And some are just cheap. But those controversies are nothing new -it’s been going on for over a hundred years.

When tipping began to spread in post-Civil War America, it was tarred as "a cancer in the breast of democracy," "flunkeyism" and "a gross and offensive caricature of mercy." But the most common insult hurled at it was "offensively un-American."

Loathed as a master-serf custom of the caste-bound Old World that went back to the Middle Ages, tipping was blamed for encouraging servility and degrading America's democratic, puritanical, and anti-aristocratic ethic. European immigrants surging into the U.S. were charged with bringing this deplorable custom with them. But in fact, it was also American tourists, like the characters in Henry James' novels, who picked up the restaurant conventions of the Continent, and imported them back to America.

Famous people of the 19th and early 20th centuries had plenty to say about the practice of tipping, which you can read about at NPR. -via the Presurfer


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