Gerry’s News Digest 179: Tipping, anti-social hours, medals and refugee photos (20th November, 2015)

Hi, this is Gerry. And welcome to my News Digest for Friday 20th November 2015. First of all let me remind you of the new feature on the PodClub app – the vocabulary trainer. It’s designed to help you learn the words that I explain in the footnotes to the written text that you find on the website.

Now, on today’s show, two bigger topics: tipping [1] in restaurants and new contracts for junior doctors; and two smaller ones: a Rugby World Cup story and a photographic exhibition in Belgium.

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UK culture often lies somewhere between America and the continent of Europe. Tipping is a case in point [2]. There are two very different approaches – a continental European approach and an American one – and Britain seems stuck in the middle [3]. As you know, I lived in Switzerland for nearly 25 years, and I got very used to the Swiss way of tipping. I learnt that the normal thing to do is to round up [4] whatever the bill [5] is to a convenient number, such as from Fr.4.80 to Fr.5, or from Fr.46 to Fr.50. On the other side of the Atlantic I’ve learnt, from going out to eat with my brother-in-law who works in the restaurant business there, that I should always tip 20-25% on the bill, because American wait staff [6] are mainly paid through their tips. However, now I’m back in Britain, and I’m no longer sure how the tipping system works here. Before I left, a 10% tip in restaurants was the norm, and it wasn’t customary to tip in pubs. But now? A couple of news items have made me wonder.

The first item was about some scandals in the UK about what happens to the money that people leave in tips. These days most people pay by card and it’s common to add a tip to the card payment. In some restaurant chains, however, the management take all the tips. In others they take a percentage to cover [7] administrative costs and things like breakages [8], or people walking out without paying. In other chains again, including Jamie Oliver’s chain of Italian restaurants, the tips are shared out between all the staff including the kitchen staff, the washers-up and so on. It’s worth remembering that money paid on a card through the restaurant till is legally the restaurant’s. They can do what they like with it, and it’s also taxable. For this reason, I prefer to tip cash.

The other news item came from the States where a leading New York restauranteur has decided to ban tipping in his restaurants. He’s raised his prices and increased his waiters’ salaries. This is a big change, because American tips are so high. The story even provoked a leader in the Financial Times. The paper described tipping as demeaning [9] and outdated [10] – a traditionally aristocratic way of giving a little something to your servant. The Financial Times thinks that any arguments in favour of tipping are clearly outweighed [11] by the arguments against. The main argument in favour is that it gives customers an important means of influencing the quality of service they receive, but does it really? I suppose that if you go to the same restaurant every week, with the same waiters, it might get you better service, but otherwise? Against tipping we can say that it’s humiliating [12], that it encourages tax avoidance, and that it’s ritualised [13] so that it doesn’t really reward good work. The good waiter gets more or less the same tip as the bad one.

Since I was personally uncertain about what our local conventions governing tipping are, I asked a couple of people. First, I asked Lucy, the co-owner of a local restaurant. She told me that she tips 15% when she eats out, but she only tips when there’s been one person responsible for serving at her table. And she gives cash. As she said, she used to be a waiter herself and she knows the importance of tips. Later that evening I was in the pub and I asked some friends about tipping. They weren’t as generous as Lucy. They said things like: “It depends if we’re going to go back to that restaurant. If we’re not, I usually just round up like they do in France or Germany, so that’s maybe 4 or 5%.” Somebody else said that they thought young people don’t tip so much. My conclusion therefore? The rules and customs are far from clear, and we’d be better off [14], I think, with no tipping.

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What do you consider “anti-social” hours these days? Switzerland hasn’t gone as far as the UK yet in dropping the old idea that the working week lasts from Monday morning till Friday afternoon, but even in Switzerland there are more and more people working in the evening or at the weekend. If they do so, do they or should they be paid extra? In the UK, our shops are open seven days a week, online business seems to work 24/7, as we now say, and employment contracts are less and less likely to specify the traditional working week as basic with hours outside of this being paid at a different rate.

The latest case where this has become an issue is the health service. As you know, we have a publicly funded National Health Service, so the government are the bosses and they want a seven-days-a-week health service. There are studies that claim to show that if you fall ill at a weekend you’re much more likely to die than if you fall ill on a weekday. Hospitals run an emergency service at the weekend but not a full service. In order to change this situation, the government has proposed changing the contracts for junior doctors. At present, weekend working is paid at a higher rate than weekday working. The government wants to change the definition of “anti-social” hours, so that day-time working on Saturdays and Sundays is no longer considered anti-social, and they want to compensate junior doctors by increasing their basic pay. You might think that this sounds quite reasonable but the medical profession seems set against [15] it and as I prepare this we’re waiting to hear the result of a ballot [16] by the junior doctors to decide whether to go on strike in protest.

The doctors’ arguments against the new contract include the following points. Firstly, they dispute [17] the claim that death rates at the weekend are as high as the government is saying. They also say that the demand for normal medical services at the weekend is not very high. Senior doctors say that an overtime rate for anti-social hours is an important incentive [18] to encourage young doctors to go into otherwise unpopular branches such as emergency medicine. And, finally, I think a lot of junior doctors don’t trust the government when it says that they will not be worse off [19] under the new scheme.

Junior doctors have always had to work incredibly long hours. These days there are supposed to be restrictions on how many hours they work. If they do go on strike it’ll be interesting to see how much public sympathy they have. Will people ask why doctors get their anti-social hours compensated while others don’t. Traditionally, governments have found it difficult to win fights against the doctors. I wonder if things are changing.

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To finish with today, two short topics: a sports story and a word about a photographic exhibition I saw recently. I’ll keep the sports story short because I know that not many, perhaps none of you, are interested in rugby, but England has just hosted [20] the Rugby World Cup, with full stadiums for all the games and an international television audience, so I think you might like know a little bit about it. The new world champions are New Zealand, the All Blacks, so called because of their black jerseys and shorts. It’s the second time in a row that they’ve won the competition, and that’s a record. They’re very good, and they do a fantastic Maori chant and dance before each game which is well worth looking at on YouTube. It’s called the haka [21]. My story is about one of their star players, Sonny Bill Williams – half Samoan, half Kiwi [22]. After the final game, the Kiwis were walking round the field waving to the fans and all wearing their winners’ medals. Suddenly a 14-year-old boy tried to break through the security cordon [23] and run onto the pitch [24]. He was promptly tackled in proper rugby fashion by one of the stewards. In other words, he was knocked to the floor quite violently. Sonny Bill, who’s also a professional heavyweight boxer by the way, saw this happen and went over to the boy to see if he was OK. He picked him up, had a word with him and took him back to where his parents were sitting. Then, as he handed the boy back, he took his medal off and gave it to him. Well, as you can imagine this was a big story, and Sonny Bill is a new sporting hero. However, as somebody quickly pointed out, has this act of enormous generosity set a precedent [25]? Will all the other players feel obliged to give away their medals, too? In this case the World Rugby organisation replaced Sonny Bill’s medal the next day, so everybody was happy, but they can’t do it for every player, can they? But rugby is such a nice game. No arguing with the referees. A great spirit of fair play. It’s just the physical violence of it all that might put you off!

And finally, a quick word about something I saw on my recent visit to Antwerp. There was a photographic exhibition there about the First World War and, specifically, about the Belgian refugee [26] crisis. I knew that there had been Belgian refugees at that time because our little town in North Wales took in a group of 63, and they built a promenade for us. What I hadn’t known was just how big a refugee crisis it was. About a million Belgians lost their homes or were forced to flee after the German invasion. The photographs of hundreds of people in family groups carrying what they could in endless lines, walking towards what they hoped was safety, or waiting to be dealt by the authorities were just like the ones we’re seeing today. It reminded me that the current refugee crisis in Syria is nothing new. A quarter of a million Belgians came to Britain.

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Don’t forget the new vocabulary learning app. And remember if you’ve got anything to say about any of the topics, write to me via the website: www.podclub.ch. Or use Twitter: my Twitter address is @Gerrypod. Thanks for listening and take care!


[1] to tip: to give some extra money for good service (in a restaurant, for example)
[2] a case in point: an example
[3] stuck in the middle: unable to move to one side/end or the other
[4] to round (something) up: here: to increase a number so that it becomes a whole or simple number, for example to increase from 1.9 to 2
[5] bill: (British English) the amount of money you have to pay (American English = check)
[6] wait staff: people who serve food and drink in a restaurant
[7] to cover (something): here: to pay for
[8] breakage: when something like a glass or a plate gets broken
[9] to demean: to cause (somebody) to be less respected
[10] outdated: old-fashioned
[11] to outweigh: to be heavier or more important (than something)
[12] to humiliate: to make (somebody) feel ashamed or not respected
[13] to ritualise: to make (something) into an action that is just a custom without any real meaning any longer
[14] we’d be better off: here: our lives or this situation would be improved
[15] to be set against: to be (strongly) opposed to
[16] ballot: (a) vote
[17] to dispute: to question (if something is right), to disagree with (something)
[18] incentive: something that motivates or is intended to motivate (somebody to do something)
[19] to be worse off: to have less money
[20] to host: to be the place or the organisation that provides the infrastructure for an event, for example the Olympic Games
[21] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTwbKryrhks The haka performed before this year’s World Cup final against Australia
[22] Kiwi: a New Zealander (colloquial expression)
[23] security cordon: a barrier to keep people or things safe
[24] pitch: the field where football, rugby or hockey is played
[25] precedent: something which sets an example of how a similar situation in future will be dealt with
[26] refugee: a person who is running away from a dangerous situation in their own country and who is looking for safety (asylum) in another country