Sunday, July 19, 2009

café life

I've been in Berlin for four years, and I still don't really get the tipping system. My friend Ingrid explained a while back that it is not based on a percentage; one rounds up. A teacher in a language school explained, though, that the size of an appropriate tip had changed with the introduction of the Euro; you can't leave a .30 tip. He always left 1 Euro for anything up to 10 Euros - i.e., even if he had only had a cappuccino for 2.10 he would still leave a Euro.

I thought I was on solid ground, so after this class I always followed the 1-Euro-minimum-tip rule, under the impression that I was doing the right thing.

Since moving out of my old apartment into an apartment with no internet access, I've been spending more time in cafes with, ahem, internet access. (This is not as illogical as it sounds; I have spent many, many hours in the new apartment cut off, working, which would probably have been frittered away online in my old apartment. Unfortunately when I don't check e-mails at all things go horribly wrong, so it is not possible to be a hermit. Yet.) The result being that my tipping skills have been sorely tested.

A couple of places I've been going to often are the Cafe Toronto and the Cafe Kleisther. Both are terrific, and the staff are unbelievably nice. At times I would find myself in long-drawn-out e-mail correspondences, tackling problems with noise and an unreported chimney explosion in the old apartment. I would then tear myself away and go home, paying, of course, first. And after a while, scarily, I would find staff declining to take the tip. (New Yorkers. Yes. It's a different world.)

The system here is that you ask to pay, are told what you owe, and announce the amount you want to pay (including the tip); they give you change on whatever you hand over. So I would declare something or other that incorporated the (as I thought) approved 1-Euro tip, and it was felt to be inappropriate; the waiter would simply give change which incorporated a tip considered to be more in line with the drink. Once (this was at the Toronto) the waitress flatly refused to take any tip at all. (I think, maybe, because I had been spending so much time there? The third tip of the day was a tip too far?)

Time goes by. I turn up at a cafe about half an hour before closing and order a glass of wine. I drink my glass of wine and make time-to-pay gestures. The waiter says: Ich lade Sie ein. (Roughly, our treat.) Feeling bad, I think, because making me feel rushed? (New Yorkers. Yes. It's a different world.)

It's both disarming and stressful. Thing is, I spend a lot of time wandering absentmindedly through the world while one book or another goes through my head; it's like having an audiobook running in my head. So I'm not good at negotiating socially nuanced situations; it's easier if there's some hard-and-fast rule to follow, such that I can be sure of not inadvertently giving offence. The nicer people are, of course, the more anxious I am not to put a foot wrong. The worry is, I think I may sometimes overreact in the other direction and meanly undertip people who have gone out of their way to be helpful. (Naturally, nobody is going to demand a larger tip. Naturally, I can't go back and apologise... It's Goffman territory.)

I am now in the Neues Ufer. A woman came in with a beagle. I say hello to the beagle, who comes over. The woman tells me his name is Floyd, after her favourite band (Pink Floyd). She thought of normal dog names - Max, Fritz - and she didn't want that. I say I'm a writer. She says she loved Harry Potter but couldn't finish the fifth book; she got lost among all these Zauberer, what's the word? Magicians. She tells her boyfriend I'm American, but I don't have an American accent because I lived in London. Floyd falls asleep at my feet.


Nathaniel said...

A couple of days ago I was talking with my mother about a family who once lived across the street from my parents. The family used to have two small dogs: one named Baby, one named Floyd. I couldn't for the life of me think of why they named their dog Floyd. Maybe it is as simple as the woman and her beagle.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of tips...

After a terrible winter, a friend said to me "The Dalai Lama believes that when everything seems to be going wrong all at once, something wonderful is attempting to come into being and is protecting itself by distracting us so that it can be born as perfectly as possible."

MY inner monologue said "And what doesn't kill you makes you stronger?" "Who translated that?" "So SO glad I'm not pregnant." ... The problem with D.L. proverbs is that, most of the time, they are beautiful thoughts, but sadly hopefull or hopefully sad because life HAS to be more random than that.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say was a question. What's the name of the author/book about the lost cities where the author, based on the writings of Marco Polo, summarizes city after city in short descriptions? I've googled but my keywords I have none but what I just wrote. Any tips? Italian author?



Mithridates said...


You're thinking of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities (Le citta invisibili)

Anonymous said...

Mithridates -

Thank you, thank you!! Oh course YOU would come through. What's going on with Night Hauling? I used to read that blog religiously then poof: nothing.

Anonymous said...

Turning left without a signal is worse. Plus dangerous.

Stephen said...

@Nat - Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd? Or is this too obvious?