Living in New York is different than living anywhere else in the U.S.  I don’t mean on a cultural level, of course there is that, but in an everyday sense.  Everyone living stacked on top of each other and an extensive public transit system makes owning a car pointless, most of the time.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing.  You save money on car payments and insurance (though, like everything else, it’s probably made up for in the cost of rent), you don’t have to worry about sobering up for the drive home from the bar, and you have a smug sense of self-satisfaction for being “eco-friendly.”  But sometimes, it really sucks.  You can’t jump in to your car and cruise over to a Wall-Mart or Target to pick a few things up.  You have to plan out what you want to buy, go to the different stores, and carry all that back to your apartment—and, if you’re like me (living in a walkup), up four flights of stairs.

So whenever they can, New Yorkers try to make things easier on themselves.  The city’s Chinese restaurants and pizza places employ an army of deliverymen that bring takeout to your door; any business that sells merchandise that can’t be easily carried out offer a complimentary delivery service; and one of the most popular grocery stores in the city is just a Web site.  If you’ve never heard of Fresh Direct, the concept is simple: order your groceries through their site and they bring them to your apartment. Yesterday, my roommate off handedly mentioned that it was how he would get his groceries from now on.  I had used the service years ago, but don’t anymore.  “What’s a good amount to tip the delivery guy?” He asked me.  “Do you think $5 is enough?”  I paused for moment to consider the question.  “Actually, I don’t think I think I ever tipped them,” I said. My roommate was shocked.  “Dude,” he said, “you have to tip.”

For the rest of the day, all I could think about was the act of tipping.  I kept replaying Steve Buscemi’s rant in Reservoir Dogs about throwing in a gratuity for your dinner.  In the film, Buscemi’s character, “Mr. Pink,” regales a table of career criminals just after breakfast on the morning of a heist on the inequality of tipping guidelines.  He points out that it’s good manners to tip a waitress, yet no one gives anything to someone working the register at McDonald’s. “I don’t tip because society says I have to,” he explains. “All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I’ll give them something a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doing their job.”

Okay, I don’t know what it’s like to be Fresh Direct driver.  Maybe it sucks.  Maybe they pay next to nothing and you need tips to get by.  But in all honesty: the job doesn’t seem all that different from Fed-Ex or UPS and we don’t tip them.  Is it because they’re delivering food?   What if you’re a diabetic and UPS guy brings you a package with your insulin that keeps you alive in it, do you tip him then?

A friend once told me that you tip to ensure good service for NEXT TIME.  And I get that for certain situations—try tipping a dollar or too more the next time you order from your favorite pizza place and you soon get a reputation among the delivery guys and they’ll get your order to you way quicker….and probably won’t spit in your food. But it still bugs me that there is this odd dichotomy about tipping, like slipping your barber five buck but leaving the dental hygienist hanging.  The only remedy I can think of is to not tip anyone (people will think you’re a cheapskate) or tip everyone (they’ll think you’re an obnoxious big shot).  In closing: tipping is weird.

[Pic via]