Monthly Archives: July 2020

Tipping in Restaurants

Tipping is changing around the world. When I first started traveling internationally, I luckily went to a country that is culturally different from the United States regarding tipping, so I learned fast. At that time it was considered rude not to directly hand your waitperson the tip. Now it seems like that practice is no longer practiced. Now Hungarian restaurants usually include a 12.5% service charge on your bill, so if you hand a waiter or waitress an additional amount they will either think themselves exceptional servers or that you are an outsider who didn’t learn the customs. As a general rule today, it’s wise to check the customs at your destinations on the internet before leaving home. Even then you will probably get it wrong.

When Ruth & I first went regularly to Canada, a 10% tip was customary in restaurants. Now 15% is expected and 20% is routine for exceptional service, which is always difficult to gauge. Now it’s always a good idea to check to see if a service charge was added to your bill. If it has been, no additional tip other than a couple of coins is usually deemed acceptable. This is generally true in Brazil and Greece. In some places like Germany and Sweden, 10% tips are still customary. In Spain, tip one or two Euros for a casual meal, and it is still customary there to hand the tip directly to your server. In some places leaving a tip on the table is a sign that you are done and leaving even if you were expecting change from a large bill. Be careful!

Tipping becomes frustrating in places like Africa where tips are economically important because people tend to be poor. Because a server might be depending on tips as part of his salary I have been told, tipping can easily become similar to begging. Some say it discourages young people from getting an education, but that assumes that your server would be in school if it were not for people like you giving them tips.

Then there are no tip countries like Russia, where there is no expectation for a tip. In Japan there is no tipping. In fact, you can insult a server by insisting on tipping, and your tip might be actively refused. Tipping is not customary in Thailand, South Korea, and India. Tipping is not yet a cultural practice in most of Asia.

In Australia, servers are well-paid, so an additional 10% is considered the norm. Our good Australian friend Robert used to bristle with anger when it came time to tip anywhere. He was very anti-tipping.

Then there are tips at spas and for taxis, tours, and hotel services. It all gets very confusing, and I have come to the conclusion that whatever I do is probably wrong even if I have checked for the current practices in advance of travel.


Living Abroad

Ruth & I have become enamored of some foreign destinations and have decided it would be fun to stay longer than, say, 2 weeks. Wouldn’t it be delightful to live in London or Melbourne or Singapore for a 3 month season to see what it’s like to have constant exposure to another culture for a longer period of time and, perhaps, feel more like a native and culturally comfortable? But is that legally desirable and feasible? I recall talking to a snowbird couple from Canada in Quartzsite, AZ. They had come for the mild desert weather and shopping but had to go to Mexico for 2 weeks to legally qualify for their US residence and avoid paying taxes to 2 countries.

The Canadian couple we met returned to the US each year for part of the winter but had to be very careful to avoid overstaying and thus being considered residents responsible to pay US taxes as permanent residents. Under the Substantial Presence Test, the US’s IRS considers Canadians residents of the US for tax purposes if they are in the US for 31 days in the current calendar year and 183 days total in a 3 year period including this year and the 2 previous ones. This sounds very generous but amounts to 61 days per year. If your total over the 3-year-period is 182 days or fewer, you will not be considered US residents for tax purposes under current laws. This must be carefully watched and considered by Canadians while planning a US stay as a snowbird, and how do a global pandemic and closed borders legally affect you? That will surely have to be determined, and it could get more complicated.

How long can a citizen of a foreign country normally stay in the USA? If you enter the US on a visa waiver from a foreign country, your maximum stay is 90 days. With a B-2 tourist visa, you can be allowed to stay for up to 6 months and an extension can be applied for. The big concerns of US Customs and Border Protection officials are that you might be a terrorist or a criminal, could be a threat to public health and safety, or might possibly seek a job and work illegally. These concerns are probably being monitored like never before and rightly so, and how do officials who are charged with following the rules administer them? It does get very complicated.

Knowing the rules to live in a foreign culture for an extended period of time is essential.


Why Portland?

Ruth and I have lived across the Columbia River from Portland, OR since 2003. It’s a quirky city in a natural setting of unsurpassed beauty. I have been mystified by the protests that have gone on there for more than 60 days. Like other outsiders, Ruth & I have avoided going to Portland during that time. Only once have we driven through it, and I admit to shock at the number of burned out cars and other signs of destruction I saw far from the scenes of major protest downtown. I did not understand why Portland erupted until I got a partial answer by reading an article in last Sunday’s New York Times called Who Gets to Be a ‘Naked Athena’? by Mitchell S. Jackson of the University of Chicago.

Jackson explains that “Oregon was intended as a white man’s Zion.” I didn’t know that “Oregon Country’s provisional government passed a law excluding Blacks from the territory” and that Oregon once boasted the largest KKK chapter west of the Mississippi….” I did know that Portland has done a good job of marketing itself as “a bastion of lefty quirkiness” because I’m familiar with Portlandia. Jackson, a native son, points out that Oregon is 86.7 percent white, and 2.2 percent black” and that Portland is “77.1 percent white and 5.8 percent Black.” Jackson understands why his birth city has become “…the voice, between ardent allyship and white saviorship…” and I get it now too. Jackson talks about the mostly white faces in a protest gathering on the Burnside Bridge after George Floyd was killed and the welcomed toppling of a Thomas Jefferson statue at his alma mater, Thomas Jefferson High School. The reader suspects but does not find out until the last paragraph that Mitchell S. Jackson is Black after he says that the Rose City “has never been my utopia” and is a place “where whiteness hovers over us Black folk”.

So who is the Naked Athena? She is the woman so named after she confronted authorities in a Portland street during the protests while wearing only a mask and a skullcap. Her real name has not been revealed but a friend described her as “…a light-skinned person of color and outspoken feminist.” I was not surprised to learn that Portland’s Naked Bike Ride that reportedly attracted 10,000 participants in 2019 occurred in the year of the virus. It happened on May 6, 2020, in the City of Roses.


Geysir or Geyser?

Today I decided to write about geysers. Half an hour later I wished I hadn’t selected this topic. Geysers are too unreliable. They can stop erupting at any time, and that’s why Yellowstone’s Old Faithful is such a miracle. It has been reliably throwing boiling hot water into the air every 60 to 90 minutes up to 200 feet for many years. It is not, however, the highest geyser in Yellowstone National Park. What I concluded is that geysers are usually accompanied by thermal pools and have waterfalls nearby.

Old Faithful is the first geyser I ever saw. The second was far more anemic and in Iceland. The first time I went to Iceland I took a tour to Gullfoss, which was at that time a series of frozen waterfalls. Then we went on to see a thermal field with an erupting geysir. It was a huge disappointment. The guide told us in all seriousness that geysers were found in only 3 places in the world. That may have been true at that time, but today 5 countries are said to have active geysers. By the way, I spelled geyser as geysir for a reason. This is the original Icelandic word for this phenomenon. Geysir is one of the few Icelandic words to find its way into the English language.

So…what is a geyser? it’s a vent in the Earth’s surface that ejects hot water or steam. Steamboat is Yellowstone’s highest geyser. It has been known to erupt 400 feet into the air. This is the world’s tallest currently active geyser. The largest geyser in recorded history, however, is Waimangu. It was near Rotorua, New Zealand. Between 1900 and 1904 it sent steaming hot water 1,500 feet into the air before becoming extinct. See what I mean? I’ve been to Rotorua, where I interviewed a hotel manager. She told me that her biggest problem is Asian guests who check into her hotel in mid-afternoon because the first thing they do is fill the bathtub.

There are currently 23 geysers in Yellowstone National Park, but Yellowstone has 10,000 hydrothermal features. As recently as 2016 a man left a Yellowstone boardwalk and slipped into a hot spring. He died. Not alone, he was one of at least 22 people who have experienced a similar fate. A good source of information about the world’s 1,000 geysers is

Geysers are mainly in 5 countries–The USA, Russia, Chile, New Zealand, and Iceland. There are 2 in Alaska, 4 in California, and 2 in Nevada. One of the ones in Yellowstone has been experiencing recent periods of dormancy. I didn’t know until today that there is such a thing as a cold-water geyser.

There are 20 to 29 active geysirs in Iceland. On our last trip there, we saw none of them, but we saw lots of steam pots and waterfalls. If you want to tie yourself in little knots, try to determine the closest geysir to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, where there are geothermal vents in town. Currently, Strokkur is the most active geysir in Iceland. It steadily erupts every 4 to 10 minutes. For now.


Italy Is Hurting

Tourism is 13% of Italy’s GDP and employs 4 million Italians. I learned this on When tourists can’t or don’t come, Italy really suffers. Like now. First it had a reputation as a coronavirus hotspot. Then international travel became impossible. Italy is a feast for tourists. Below are some highly recommended places that should be on your to do list when travel becomes possible again

Jobs in travel go beyond hotels. Hotels in Italy, especially in Rome, can be expensive One time our friend Tom put us up in a convent to keep costs down. We were there for a week and it got pretty funny. Breakfast was the same every morning, bread and coffee. Our room was dark and unadorned. We had to be back by 10 pm or we were locked out. The funniest incident came at the end of the week. None of the nuns spoke English, and Ruth became convinced that we were not being charged enough. She almost got into a bare knuckle fight with a nun!

Ravenna was an early Christian center and became a capital of the Roman Empire. It exploded culturally in the Byzantine years and some of the architecture of that era remains. Ravenna is known for its mosaics, which are especially vibrant in the Basilica de San Vitale. Some mosaics date from the 5th and 6th centuries. It’s no wonder that 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sights are here. Being in Ravenna is a little like being in Istanbul.

Perugia is similar in population to Ravenna and is perhaps Italy’s best preserved hill town. It’s a steep and dark but fun climb from Perugia’s train station up to its Old Town with lots of ancient attractions that take a couple of days to see as your reward. Most people take the bus up to it, and a lot of them stay in the hotels in the modern city that surrounds the hilltop.

Upon arriving in Siena’s remarkable Piazza del Campo, a dapper Italian gentleman, ignoring me, took Ruth’s arm and escorted her across the piazza chatting away in Italian the whole time. Ruth said nothing so I assume he never realized she could not understand a word he said. He was so charmingly Italian that I couldn’t get upset. Later that day, I became temporarily deaf, but that’s a story for another time. Sienna is a must-see town of about 60,000.

Ruth and I have largely ignored Southern Italy except for the Gargano Peninsula. That’s why we were planning a trip to Sicily and perhaps Trieste in Northern Italy near Venice when the virus forced us to change our plans.