Yet success is not guaranteed, even at that. One season, this concierge suddenly failed me, and not just at Le Voltaire but also at Benoît and even at the homey little Right Bank place where I have often dined. What went wrong, I wondered?Had I forgotten to factor a COLA increase into his envelope?Where had the smile gone, the warmly phony bonhomie?In their place was that expression of resignation the French delight in assuming when resorting to the most enduring of Gallic defaults: "So sorry,'' he told me. "It is impossible.''
I no longer stay at that hotel. A deal, however iffy or rigged, is a deal. Likewise, a cup of coffee is just that. "Next time you get your tall triple-shot almond latte with whipped cream at 8 A.M., remember that the person who made it was probably at work three hours before you hit the snooze button,'' a blog-ger recently ranted on a tipping Web site. How much of that barista's tip-cup cream, one wondered, was skimmed off for the Kenyan coffee pickers who would probably consider a dawn wake-up call the greatest of life's luxuries?
This is not just a rhetorical question. The least venal part of the tipping transaction is the one that concedes the existence of others, the chain of interdependence linking all of us along the chain of supply.
Whether in wealthy countries like France (where waiters are paid properly), or in what used to be called the Third World (where calculating tips in local currency and according to prevailing economies becomes both a nagging dilemma and a kind of joke), it seems important to be generous, dispensing largesse while keeping in mind that life is not a Jerry Lewis telethon. Tip badly, irrationally, all wrong, is my policy now. Then let go of the issue. Whatever I don't palm to a doorman, I tithe in a monthly envelope sent to charity.
Guy Trebay is a reporter for The New York Times.