Let me clarify before you think I've turned into a typing cliché: I'm no Mr Pink. It is not the act of tipping itself or the monies required that I have trouble with. It is, as far as I'm concerned, a non-optional social convention, and that's a-ok with me. The whole shebang may be in stark opposition to the UK system (where leaving a tip of any amount is really only brought about by great-to-exceptional service), but as the BBC iPlayer keeps forlornly reminding me when I try to watch The Apprentice, I am not in the UK.
The easy one is a sit-down, waitered meal, which poses no problem apart from mental arithmetic. I'm perfectly aware that unless my server has literally punched me in the face, a tip of 15%-20% is pretty much mandatory. It's the scenarios outside of this template that get me in a sweat, and the hierarchies that dictate when and where I tip - especially when 'the rules' ask me to do away with percentages altogether and merely rely on some telepathic notion of what's called for. So, the taxi driver needs 15%-ish, but it's a dollar a drink for the bartender? The chap who delivers the pizza needs a minimum of $3, regardless of the cost of the order, but a tip jar on a café counter means that I can forgo any tip without fear of actually getting that punch to the face?
It's enough to make one run to the computer to consult the CNN Tipping Guide when the doorbell sounds (ahem). But when even the locals disagree on 'the rules', what's a Brit to do? Online wisdom informed me that I should tip $5-$10 minimum each to the two guys who delivered our IKEA cabinet. Being a good immigrant, I wincingly handed it over, only to discover that a) according to the man who runs the shop next door, a tip was not definitely not required in this situation, and b) they'd broken it in the van. Thanks, America!
I'll leave you with my most pressing tipping conundrum, for your comment. My local sit-in burrito emporium - not fine dining, but more upmarket than most - requires that I order and pay at the counter, where there is a tip jar. But unless we're ordering to-go, a server will actually bring the food to my table - a level of service which usually necessitates a tip. So, gameplayers: does I tip a dollar or two in the jar while paying in anticipation of service? Do I leave a 15% tip on the table for the table service? Or is tipping entirely optional in this case? Whatever you think, please hurry up and let me know - because I really want a burrito.