Update on 2 Menaces to Society: Gmail Design Team, and Tipping Culture

'Tipping, to us, is an insult.'

1) The Evil of Gmail's UI/Design Team. I'm not going to waste any more time complaining about their constant fritterware "improvements" to the Gmail interface. You eventually get used to it -- and if you don't, there are options -- and after the adjustment you end up only a little bit dumber and less productive than before. As of this week, it's mandatory -- no opting back to the original look.

Instead, in the positive spirit that is my trademark, I refer you to this how-to story from PC World on undoing part of the damage wrought by the new Compose window. It's better than nothing.

2) The Evil of Tipping: An Aussie Speaks. Yesterday I quoted an American who thought tipping was great because handing a waiter or attendant some money, with a direct look and a "Thank you!" message, seemed to him a sincere form of appreciation. I said that I preferred the Aussie solution: very high minimum wage and service-sector pay, very little tipping culture.

Now an Aussie reader weighs in. Although the vast Pacific divides our homelands, not to mention the Equator, the views he expresses ring absolutely true to me.

I am an Aussie, and I am finally moved to email you (for the first time ever), over your "Australian solution" column, regarding tipping.  As one who has lived for decades in both countries, with an American wife and kids (dual citizens), and now recently retired as a permanent resident here in the US, I do actually feel I can comment on the tipping culture here in the US, and the lack of it in Australia.
 
We Aussies are an obstreperous lot.  We are noisy- not in the whingeing American way, but we do not like tipping for service.  Why this is, is not so clear, because the American habit of rewarding good or fine service, seems, at face value, an ideal solution  for rewarding the underclass for their excellent uncomplaining servitude, their paltry and unbearable wages, their abilities to suffer illness and financial destitution without health insurance, and their efforts to sustain their lives above the Plimsoll line.
 
In Australia, we have high wages, high rents, high cost of living, high housing prices, but a universal health care scheme (single payer, not-for-profit).  We do not have high levels of homeless people, nor beggars on street corners.  As one who has lived in both countries for 30 years, and who is now wilfully, and happily, a US resident, I am finally moved to comment on the strangeness of tipping in the US.    
 
We do not tip in Australia.  We find it demeaning to the tipper and the tippee.  We have a relatively egalitarian society (compared to the US), and social safety nets that preserve the dignity of the poor, the sick, the hapless and the downtrodden.  Yet we are an aggressive capitalistic society, like the US.  Why then, are there these differences?
 
Tipping, to us, is an insult.  It insults our egalitarian core.  It reminds us that we once were servants to undeserving masters.  We have abandoned this relationship, and I can assure your readers, that levels of service (eg in restaurants), in Australia, are not seriously diminished by the lack of tipping.   Perhaps they are spitting in our soups, but, I suspect, more of this is going on in the US, as retribution for the paltry wages. 

Here endeth for now both my GmailUI and my tipping discussions. Next up: the secret of urban revitalization in Holland, MI. 


Routine disclosure: I have many friends who work at Google, and one immediate family member. Strangely, I seem not to have any friends on the Gmail design team.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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