Why Do Americans Tip?

This is an excerpt regarding tipping from my book, “10 Things You Need to Know: A Practical Guide for Internationals Moving to the U.S.” I hope it helps!

“Tipping in the U.S. can be quite confusing, especially if you come from a country where tipping is discouraged or where a set service charge is normal. In the U.S., restaurants typically only have a set service charge if you have a party of 6 or more people. Additionally, tipping in our country extends far beyond restaurants. Many Americans tip hair stylists, taxi cab drivers, hotel staff, and even baristas! Although the appropriateness of tipping has been debated for centuries, it is an integral part of our economic system with over 3% of our workforce dependent on tips. One of the key reasons that people tip in the U.S. is because they understand that many service workers make less than minimum wage; their employers expect them to receive tips to counter the low wages they are given. As long as employers are legally allowed to do this, even though many consider it unethical, tipping will remain an expected part of certain services in the U.S.”

Here’s a video by Mari Johnson that explains tipping more fully:

Even if you don’t agree with tipping, be a good ambassador for your country and tip anyway! You’ll get better service and people will appreciate serving you.

Photo From “He Who Would Be Lost”

No invite inside

Why Didn’t She Invite Me Inside?

I once had an Indian friend tell me about a situation where she gave an American a ride home. When they arrived, the woman thanked her for the ride, got out of the car, and went inside her home. My friend was perplexed and somewhat offended. “Why didn’t she invite me inside?” she thought. Do you know where the communication broke down?

When I first heard this story, I had two thoughts. The first was, “Yes, that’s what I would normally do.” The second was, “Oh, no. The American probably didn’t understand my friend’s culture.”

My friend would never DREAM of someone coming to her house without asking them inside, even if they were just giving her a ride. Once the person was inside, food and drink would immediately be provided. Anything else would be considered extremely rude in Indian culture.

Thankfully, by the time my friend told me this story, she had lived in the U.S. long enough to know that the lack of an invite wasn’t meant as an insult. This type of casual interaction is common among Americans. We consider a ride home just a ride home; we don’t expect a ride to turn into a social occasion.

Although I was sad that my friend’s feelings had been hurt, her story reminded me of how important it is to understand people’s customs and traditions. It also highlighted how vital it is to give grace when you don’t know why someone acts the way they do. Obviously, understanding and grace are essential to all good relationships. However, these two factors can make or break a cross-cultural relationship, either personal or business.

Photo by Rachel Titiriga

Food and drink

Why Didn’t They Offer Me Food or Drink?

As an international visitor to the U.S., do you ever wonder, “Why didn’t my host offer me food or drink?” I think many Internationals find it astonishing (maybe even rude) when they visit an American home or business and aren’t offered food or drink. For these dear friends, let me say that many native-born Americans don’t grow up with your hospitality norms. I know that I grew up offering visitors a place to sit, but I wasn’t expected to offer a drink or snack.
I didn’t experience the “food and drink” type of hospitality until I met my first international friend. When I entered her home, I received a drink almost immediately and food quickly followed. I considered it a nice change, but not something that I expected.
After many years of walking alongside international students and families, I now know that serving food and drink to guests is the norm in many countries. In fact, some of my friends expect me to eat a complete meal while I’m at their house, with multiple servings. As an American, this takes some adjustment because our mealtimes aren’t always on the same schedule. If I eat lunch at home at 1 p.m., I may not be able to eat a whole meal again at 2 or 3 p.m.!
Nevertheless, I’ve grown to like my friends’ amazing hospitality, and I try to imitate them to the the best of my ability. Although I rarely cook a full meal when others come to my house, I offer a drink and snack. Of course, the snack may not be much if I’m unprepared, lol. Believer it or not, remembering to keep food around for guests isn’t an easy habit to develop if you didn’t grow up doing it.
Easy or not, hospitality centered around food and drink is fully biblical. Because of my international friends, I now understand my own Scriptures better. Stories like Abraham inviting the three strangers into his home (Genesis 18) and Martha’s frustration with Mary (Luke 10) are stories centered around hospitality. Even Jesus’ last time with the disciples before he died was centered around food and hospitality (John 13). I completely missed this aspect of the stories before becoming accustomed to abundant hospitality! 
Because of my background, I doubt that I’ll ever feel disrespected if someone forgets to offer me food or drink when I visit. However, I want those who visit our house to be glad they came and feel welcomed. For some, this means offering food and drink, and that’s terrific. It helps me practice my “abundant hospitality” skills.
Meet you at the door with a glass of water and some chips!
Photo by Vanderdecken, via Wikimedia Commons


Learning Through Cultural Comics

A few years ago, I was introduced to cultural comics, and I LOVED them! I couldn’t believe no one had told me that whole blogs are based on cultural cartoons. Now I get some cartoons sent to my inbox so that I can read more than serious articles about what’s going on in the world.

What I like about telling cultural stories through comics is…it’s fun! (That was kind of a given, I know.) However, cultural cartoons are more than just fun. They also help those of us who are visual learners to better grasp a concept. For instance, you might tell me about an experience you’ve had overseas, but if I see it on paper through a comic, I’ll better understand it. That’s because I learn better through seeing than hearing. Also, cultural comics allow those of us who HAVE experienced certain cultural situations to feel understood, maybe even vindicated. A good example is the “Google Translate” comic below. Anyone who has used an electronic translator to help them speak in a language that isn’t their native tongue has probably experienced what the picture shows. Translator failure!

All in all, I think cultural comics are a good way to experience, teach, and express culture. I’m really thankful for those, like Malachi Ray Rempen, who keep cultural communication fun and educational. Once you’ve read the ones below, check out his website. He has a ton of cultural comics to enjoy!

google translate comic

itchy feet comic

itchy feet comic on Finnish






Holi: In Legend and Pictures

Holi, also known as The Festival of Colors, is an ancient Hindu holiday that celebrates the victory of good over evil and the coming of Spring. It is marked by general merrymaking, especially the splashing of color all over anyone who comes close! One of the primary legends behind the holiday involves an evil king named Hiranyakashipu:

Hiranyakashyap considered himself ruler of the Universe, and higher than all the gods. Prahalad was the king’s son. His father hated him because Prahalad was a faithful devotee of the god Vishnu.

One day the king asked him “Who is the greatest, God or I?”

“God is,” said the son, “you are only a king.”

The king was furious and decided to murder his son. But the king’s attempts at murder didn’t work too well. Prahalad survived being thrown over a cliff, being trampled by elephants, bitten by snakes, and attacked by soldiers. So the king asked his sister, Holika, to kill the boy.

Holika seized Prahalad and sat in the middle of a fire with the boy on her lap. Holika had been given a magic power by the gods that made her immune to fire, so she thought this was a pretty good plan, and Prahalad would burn to death while she remained cool.

But it’s never wise to take gods’ gifts for granted! Because Holika was using her gift to do something evil, her power vanished and she was burned to ashes. Prahalad stayed true to his God, Vishnu, and sat praying in the lap of his demon aunt. Vishnu protected him, and Prahalad survived.

Shortly afterwards, Vishnu killed King Hiranyakashyap and Prahad ruled as a wise king in his father’s place.(1)

Another key story behind the Holi festivities involves Krishna, one of the incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu:

The story goes that as a child, Krishna was extremely jealous of Radha’s fair complexion since he himself was very dark.

One day, Krishna complained to his mother Yashoda about the injustice of nature which made Radha so fair and he so dark. To pacify the crying young Krishna, the doting mother asked him to go and colour Radha’s face in whichever colour he wanted.

In a mischievous mood, naughty Krishna heeded the advice of mother Yashoda and applied colour on her beloved Radha’s face; Making her one like himself. (2)

Because of these two stories, Holi is an extremely festive holiday with a large bonfire occurring the night before and the widespread use of colored powder and water throughout the day. As people dance, sing, and throw color, you’ll often see all distinctions of caste, gender, age, and class disappear. It is a holiday that celebrates life and is much loved by many. Check out the video below to see why!


Photo by Alessandro Baffa