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Always Tip Your Waitstaff

October 29, 2010

OK, quiz time:

Hands up those of you who have ever purchased a shirt or gotten a tattoo with mysterious characters in a foreign language because you were told that it meant something wise and Zen-like that would show the world just how cool you really are.

And how many of you avoided just that sort of purchase because you were secretly afraid that those mysterious foreign characters really said something like “The wearer of this garment/bearer of this tattoo is an incredible douche who not only rejects the precepts of our Dear Leader but also cavorts with donkeys”?

That’s what I thought.

Better safe than sorry, I say, because we Americans don’t have such a great relationship with other cultures that we can afford to piss them off any more than we already have. We’re loud, we’re rude, and we show an incredible amount of disrespect for anyone we perceive to be beneath us, like people who have jobs in the service industries. The phrase “gone postal” didn’t come from nowhere.

My point is, you never know when you’re going to run into a disgruntled serviceperson (are there many gruntled ones?)  Unless you have a fetish for having people spit in your food, there is very little downside to being nice to the person who returns your meal to the chef for the third time — facing imminent death by meat cleaver — because your peas are touching your meatloaf.

I say this because of a BBC piece I read about an “unidentified Western couple” who thought they were enjoying a meaningful renewal of their wedding vows in the colorful and mystical Maldivian tradition, but instead are led through a ceremony that clearly leads me to believe that the staff had major issues not only with Westerners, but with the resort management as well.

The video, which appeared on YouTube, looks innocent enough. The bride is beautifully dressed in white and carries a bouquet. Both she and the groom follow the celebrant, who shows them how to hold up their hands in the traditional Maldivian prayer position. On the table in front of the celebrant are two rings and what appear to be official marriage documents.

What actually happened is the marital equivalent of the t-shirt/tattoo. The celebrant turned out to be a waiter at the resort, instead of a priest. What the couple thought were marriage documents turned out to be the resort staff’s employment contracts, and as the poor couple smile blissfully at him, the celebrant lets loose with a barrage of abuse in his native tongue.  I won’t dignify him by printing his speech here, but let’s just say that he questions the validity of, among other things, the lineage of their children, their dietary habits, and the frequency with which the couple might or might not have been checked for STDs. After leading them to a clearing to plant coconut trees, he waxes eloquently about the bride’s breasts. The celebrant’s fellow staff members try to suppress their smirks, some not too successfully.

Eventually, these men were arrested, and the resort and government officials are said to be instituting strict guidelines for wedding ceremonies in the future. They are highly embarrassed, and hope that people will continue to come to the beautiful Maldives Islands not only for vow renewals, but also, except for a few bad apples, for their tradition of hospitality.

I would go. It looks like a beautiful place. And I would make sure to leave my waiter a very generous tip.

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