In fact, Italy has a long history of sharing something that may surprise you. There’s a practice called caffè sospeso (or “pending coffee”) that originated in the cafés of Naples after the war, where people pay for two coffees and drink one, leaving the other available for people who are under such financial hardship that they can’t afford a cup of espresso to come in and get one for free in the cafeteria area. It’s a wonderful thing to purchase a gift for someone you know, but in this coffee-sharing system, the giver and the receiver don’t know each other and never will—since they’re not at the coffee shop at the same time. Even Italians are moved by the fact that the espresso is particularly delicious in Naples, the town that originated this poetic form of sharing.
I guess you could say that it’s only natural for a country that came up with this sharing mentality to get on board with modern sharing programs. In one of the projects I was recently involved in, when concertgoers tipped handsomely or otherwise paid a lot of money, the performers would say “thank you, we’ll use it for a concert-style “caffè sospeso”, saving it up so that families who wanted to see a live performance but couldn’t afford it could come to the show.
Isn’t that wonderful?
I’m sure there are quite a few Japanese who come to Italy and struggle because they don’t know how much they should tip. I think the old guidebooks, for example, carried information about the percentage you should tip a cab driver or on a restaurant check. I’m awful at math, so I have memories of struggling to do the calculations in my head to figure out the right tip amount…
What I realized once I started living here, though, is that there’s no need to be so uptight about tipping. In fact, the Italian practice of tipping has been fading somewhat recently.
It’s the way of the Italians to be flexible about all kinds of things, so the way they banter back and forth when doing things serves an important purpose—and ultimately, a tip comes out of it. For everyday things, you might hear them hand over a tip and say something like “here, grab a coffee with this,” or “go have a beer,” or on a hot day, “get yourself a gelato” as a way of saying thank you.
Maybe that helps you understand tipping a little better…?