Tipping in Kuwait

Muna Al-Fuzai

Last week I wrote an article about a recent decision by the municipality to deport any street cleaner who is caught begging. After the story was published, I got some questions related to a topic related to begging – tipping. David, a Kuwait Times reader, sent me this letter: “Dear Muna – I have a question related to your article about street cleaners begging for money. I routinely see people giving “tips” to street cleaners performing their cleaning duties as they pass by in their cars. I have done this too. Since begging is prohibited by Kuwait law, am I in danger of being arrested if a law enforcement officer sees me ‘tipping’ these laborers?”

Well, here is what I think. In my earlier column, I spoke about those who decide to give money, clothing or food to such cleaners as charity and an act of kindness. I don’t see any harm in such fine behavior. I agree that many people do so every day and I don’t think they will stop for any reason.

But, there is a difference between begging and tipping. With the latter, you decide whether to give money or not to whomever you want to due to their satisfactory services. So, if you decide to give money as a tip, or old clothes or food, then such an act has nothing to do with the decision of the municipality.

I believe that begging is an insult to the state and the reputation of the country. It is good to prevent and fight such an ugly phenomenon because it is based on paying money, whether the beggar is honest or a crook. The spread of begging in any country opens the way for robberies and gangs to exploit women and children to make it a career that threatens the whole nation, especially tourists. But tipping is a matter of debate between supporters and opponents, and both have a point of view that deserves attention.

In Kuwait, it seems the issue of tipping depends on the service you receive and personal satisfaction. The tip is never mentioned in black and white on a cafe or restaurant menu. There is no policy that forces anyone to tip. It depends entirely on the customer’s satisfaction, but does not exceed a dinar or two. I think sometimes it seems unreasonable to pay an additional amount after you have received the required service. Many local companies do not impose tipping guidelines, as in some cases it’s a source of infighting among employees.

I am personally against tipping, and here is why. It is one of the worst habits that has spread in our Arab countries, to the extent that it has become like a bribe. So only if you pay the bribe, others will carry out their duties. The ministry of commerce in Kuwait has made a good decision to prevent all restaurants and shops from charging fees for the services they provide to customers by imposing a minimum value of orders, or what is known as a mini charge.

There are some attempts to get rid of this habit. Iceland is a good example of this, and the practice of tipping in this country is declining. If you visit Iceland, you should know that tipping in a restaurant is viewed as an insult. So how can we prevent the habit of tipping becoming common and acceptable behavior? It is simple – don’t pay more for something or to someone when you don’t have to. Giving money to a worker in a restaurant because of good service and encouragement is different from giving money to a cleaner on the street. The latter is charity, while the former is encouragement, and both are optional. You have the choice.

By Muna Al-Fuzai
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