While I am not much of a traditionalist, there are some traditions I can get behind. One of those in Bangkok is the Thai bar boy refrain of, “Up to you.” Granted when it is given as a response to, “Where do you want to eat?” or “What do you want to do today?” it can get really old really quick. But when it concerns how much to tip a bar boy you’ve offed, it is the perfect answer. Because it is up to you. It’s a tip. And tip amounts are always up to you, the customer.
Americans are much more familiar with the custom of tipping. We tip for everything. And yes, even though it is up to you, how much that tip should be is always a given (within a range depending on the service provided). So a bar boy’s “up to you” doesn’t mean you can get away with slipping him 100 baht for spending the entire night with you. In Bangkok, you both know the proper tip – assuming everything goes right – for a long-time off is between 1,500 and 3,000 baht. Though if you hand over the lower amount in that range you can expect to be asked for another 500 baht for taxi money. Still, the concept remains – how much you tip is, as the customer, your decision to make.
Back in the States, at a decent restaurant the expected tip is 20%. Have you ever, prior to ordering, asked your waiter how much his tip should be? Probably not. So I have to wonder why so many guys visiting Bangkok think this is an appropriate discussion prior to offing a companion. Far too often I hear about bar boys who “quote’ an amount for their tip in advance. If they came up with that little gem on their own, I can guarantee you that is not a bar boy whose primary concern is the degree of happiness of your happy ending.
More often when a bar boy quotes his expected tip it is because the customer asked. The traditional answer is, “Up to you.” ‘Cuz you are supposed to know. And the guy, rather than come up with a set amount, hopes you will be more generous than the figure he might have quoted. I fear too many guys tipped low in the past when it was left up to them, and bar boys have learned it’s better to quote a specific figure than to allow a cheapskate to determine what his pay will be. And to pick a large number when they do.
Out of all the years I’ve spent visiting Bangkok’s gogo bars I have had a bar boy tell me how much he expects, on his own, only once. I did not off him. On the other hand, I have never asked a bar boy how much of a tip he expects either. And I have never had a bar boy unhappy with the amount I tipped him (but then I do tend to tip on the high end of the scale unless the guy totally fails to perform). I get, especially for a newbie concerned over what his fun will cost him, why some guys asks about the tip prior to agreeing to an off. But doing so just asks for an amount to be quoted that is higher than what you realistically should be paying.
There are those too who just love to barter. Just like buying a trinket at the night market, they ask how much and then start haggling over what they will eventually agree to pay. But you are not buying a fake Rolex. You are buying the companionship of another human being. And if it is an orgasm you think you are bartering for, trust me, the value you receive will be based strictly on the price you forced him to agree to. It may be more comfortable for you to establish the price in advance, but it is not the best way to ensure you have an enjoyable experience. Nor is it the best way to ensure you get the “best” price.
The ‘up to you’ attitude is part of Thai culture. And it is no different when concerning where to eat than it is in how much to tip a bar boy. There is the unspoken assumption that, while it is up to you, you will do the right thing. Yes, you get to decide which restaurant to eat at; you are not supposed to choose a place that only serves food that the Thai guy doesn’t like. And he’s hoping you pick a spot he really likes. Yes, you get to decide what the two of you will do for the day; you are not supposed to pick an activity that will bore him to tears. And he’s hoping you’ll pick something to do that is more about him than it is about you. It is always up to you because of your status. But that status comes with an obligation to properly take care of your friend’s needs in making your decision too.
When it comes to his tip, you are supposed to cough up an amount that falls within the expected standards. And he’s hoping you tip him hugely. Just like with the part of the transaction that is up to him where you’re hoping he’ll curl your toes and provide you with the first multiple orgasm you’ve had in thirty years. He may not get the 10,000 baht he was dreaming of, you may not get the three orgasms in an hour you were dreaming about, but chances are you will both be satisfied with what you did get out of the transaction. Without a word being spoken about those hopes in advance.
There are guys too who like to set the price they will pay in advance. They tell a bar boy, up front, how much they will pay. Some go as far as to set a scale with the amount of tip dependant upon either how long the guy stays or what specific acts he engages in. That too is undoubtedly more comfortable for the punter. And, in his world, it is a fair way to conduct the transaction. But you are not back home in the West. You’re in Thailand. And it doesn’t work like that. Or it does and you’ll get minimal performance ‘cuz you just established that your money is more important to you than your happiness is. It is no coincidence that the guys who operate this way are the same who so frequently complain that they landed a dud.
To the uninitiated, “How much?” seems like a legitimate question. Ask it of a mamasan and her eyes will begin to gleam. Ask it of a bar boy, and the one who answer, “Up to you,” is the one you’ll enjoy being with the most. Relying on the traditional Thai custom of interpersonal relationship where each party dos his duty in taking care of the other party is the best way to go. But then that’s up to you.
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