What tip jars really say

    Tipping can be weird.

    There are thousands of coffeehouses, sandwich shops and other takeout places in Philadelphia, and I’ll bet 99-and-44/100ths percent of them have a tip jar on the counter.

    One person’s gratuity can be another person’s angst.

    An incident at Philadelphia International reminded me of that fact early one morning recently when I arrived to find a long line of passengers waiting to check their bags.

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    First, I sighed. Then I noticed a lone skycap standing with his hands in his pockets and leaning against the glass of the terminal building.

    So I approached him and asked if all those folks were in line for curbside check-in for my airline. He said no and called them people too cheap to tip.

    Disbelieving, I asked if he was sure they knew he was there to assist them. He chuckled and gestured for one of his buddies to come over.

    “Who are those people?” he asked, nodding in their direction. “Cheapskates who don’t wanna tip,” his colleague replied.

    At least 50 people were waiting in the cold, the continuation of a line of several hundred passengers that snaked inside the terminal. I considered asking my fellow travelers if they really didn’t want to pay $2 per bag to get to their gate faster, but decided to leave it alone.

    To be fair, some did seem to be groups and/or families with lots of luggage.

    “I see it everyday,” said the first skycap as he looked at my ID. “They don’t get that we survive out here off of tips.”

    Whenever Congress debates raising the minimum wage, it’s a startling reminder that people who make the current $7.25 an hour, or less in some cases, are not just teenagers looking to earn a little spending money.

    Much is written about proper tipping etiquette, most of which I adhere to pretty religiously. Yet there’s something maddening about blatantly displayed tip jars.

    They are usually glass or ceramic, but even plastic cups produce a sound that announces you contributed the change from your purchase — or not.

    On the other hand, stuffing dollar bills doesn’t guarantee the person you’re tipping knows it, which defeats one of the reasons for tipping. Who amongst us wants their generosity to go unnoticed?

    Clever messages such as “It’s good karma to tip” or “This is for my 401K” only serve to decrease any uneasiness I may have about not forking over something extra.

    Hard-hearted, I know, in the face of what tip jars really say: My boss doesn’t pay enough for me to support myself and “I’ve come to rely on the kindness of strangers.”

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