Why you should tip Chinese taxi drivers

When I visited my beloved friend Shanghai Slim in his now-home city of Shanghai (duh), I was rather surprised when he told me he always tips taxi drivers. He told me they have a hard life and are toward the bottom of the totem pole. That should be obvious, but I had never given it any thought up until then; it was just common knowledge that you aren’t supposed to leave them tips. After that, I started telling the drivers to keep the change. Reading this, I think it’s the right thing to do.

The Discussion: 7 Comments

Hey, Richard – I wish I could lay claim to such generosity, but I’m afraid you mis-remembered our conversation. To be honest, I do not usually tip cab drivers. Rather, my practice is to never ask for the “after 11pm discount”.

However, I’d love to take this chance to add a few notes about the life of Chinese cabbies that the Danwei article didn’t mention …

In Shanghia, most cabbies work two to a cab, alternating days behind the wheel. On their working day, most drivers spend 16 – 20 hours on the streets. Imagine spending that much time in stressful Shanghai traffic! Typically they have to drive about eight or ten hours just to reach the break-even point, where they cover the taxi rental fee and gasoline.

On days off, most of them spend the bulk of their day sleeping (no surprise), so some complain of not seeing much of their families.

Another problem is the difficulty drivers have in finding opportunities for grabbing a bite to eat or taking a restroom break.

Here in Shanghai, most cab drivers seem to know their way around, most even recognize the name of the tiny street I live on. In my 5+ years here, I can only recall three times a cab driver tried to cheat me. On the other hand, there have probably been twice as many instances in which a driver voluntarily gave me a discount for a mistake he made, or rounded off the fare when making change was inconvenient.

Cab driving is a hard job in any big city, even more so in chaotic, noisy Chinese traffic. Hmm, Richard, maybe I should follow your lead and start tipping them, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

July 2, 2006 @ 3:13 am | Comment

Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’ll tell my friends.

July 2, 2006 @ 11:00 am | Comment

How wonderful that you can use the taxi driver to flaunt your economic and class superiority with noblesse oblige. Do you also pat the driver on the head as you leave the taxi?

July 3, 2006 @ 8:41 am | Comment

How wonderful that you can use the taxi driver to flaunt your economic and class superiority with noblesse oblige. Do you also pat the driver on the head as you leave the taxi?

Not much economic or class superiority to flaunt, I’m afraid – I’m just a teacher, a teacher who once had a job driving a bus (so I know what his job is like).

July 3, 2006 @ 10:08 am | Comment

A colleague at work uses boo’s argument as reason to keep his fists firmly tight, and argues that there’s already a ‘foreigner tax’ making us pay more than locals on fake Gucci. But if you have it, why not share it and spread it around? That’s called socialism. Tipping is part of Western culture; when my parents visited me in Greece they kept asking me how much they should tip, as if they’d be denounced for being too stingy. Hell, in some places they actually automatically put the tip in the bill regardless of level of service.
Even when we foreigners give money selflessly to show appreciation here in China we’re denounced…

July 3, 2006 @ 8:36 pm | Comment

Slim, sorry if I misunderstood you.

Keir, we can’t win.

July 3, 2006 @ 9:09 pm | Comment

hey, the tipping is a nice gesture, and i believe you people would have done it given the same circumstance, be it in new york or shanghai, right? so let’s try not to interprete it as anything foreigner versus chinese… that would put things more in perspective, maybe?

July 4, 2006 @ 5:24 pm | Comment

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