Overseas visitors to India always ask me for advice on tipping. There is such a bewildering variety of people to tip!
Drivers, porters, doormen, car attendants, elephant handlers, tour guides and waiters at restaurants, they're all part of The Great Tipping Challenge.
But never fear - they all fall into a neat pecking order when it comes to tips. All you need is this - Deepa's Official Guide to Tipping.
Arm yourself with this Guide, and you can waltz in and out of India with a song on your lips, secure in the comfort that you're not over-paying or being downright stingy.
Let's start with the lowest guy in the tipping spectrum, the doorman. The doorman comes in two varieties. Let's call Type 1 the Moustachioed Turbaned Doorman. You'll see Type 1 Doormen at the Taj Hotel, or the Sheraton, or any of the grander sorts of hotels. They usually open car doors, both when you arrive at the hotel, and when you're leaving. They also open the main door to the hotel.
Type 1 Doormen have perfected several arts:
1 - The Art of Opening Door with a Bow and a Flourish
2 - The Art of the Broad Unctuous Smile
3 - The Art of Greeting Foreigners in English
4 - The Art of Looking As If They Should Be Tipped
These guys are a Grade 1 Challenge. In the first place, they look, um, intimidating. They're tall, broad-shouldered, colourful, and of course, that moustache is nothing to scoff at. What do you tip such guys? They look as if they'd scorn a ten-rupee note. But surely fifty is too much? And when do you tip these guys? Surely not when you arrive tired from the airport at some odd hour of the night?
Deepa's Official Guide to Tipping recommends a 20 rupee note, judiciously kept ready, handed over subtly when you leave the hotel in the morning for work or sightseeing. It will earn you an Extra-Flourish when you come back to the hotel in the evening. If you are staying at a super-posh hotel, make that a 50 rupee note.
And if you want to do that very touristy thing - ask the Type 1 Doorman to pose for a photo - then please be ready to pay a crisp 100-rupee note. Anything less than that is, er, shoddy. Payment is logically made after the photo is clicked, with a pleasant thank you. Women can get away with Payment By Giggle, but honestly? Doorman Type 1 prefers cash.
And what of the Type 2 Doorman? The Type 2 Doorman, like Aesop's fable of the Town and the Country Mouse, is the poor cousin of Type 1. Found at less plush hotels, Type 2 still rush about opening and closing doors, but alas, they lack both the moustache and the turban. The Type 2 Doorman, horror of horrors, is the Doorman with the Faded Uniform And The Whistle.
Type Two has perfected the Art of The Whistle as Weapon. Unerringly and shrilly, the Whistle summons cars, stops incoming traffic, and lets you exit the hotel in a grand if noisy style.
The Tipping Guide recommends 20 rupees, handed over before you get into the car. Your reward? Frenetic whistling and much rushing about to block traffic in person, so that your car can sail forth undisputed like the Queen Mary.
....(to be continued)