We piled out of our tour bus at the Medina in Marrakesh, Morocco. Waiting there with huge hats and bigger smiler were several brightly clothed men who offered to have our pictures taken with them. Why, sure! That would be fun to see when we get home. Snap. Snap.

We began to walk away when our tour guide said, “Um, you’re supposed to tip them.” We knew that, I guess, but the question is…how much? And how much do they make in a day smiling and getting pictures taken? Does it feed their family? Are there people all over the city doing the same thing? On the other hand, aren’t there lots of families who would like that “prime” spot where the tour buses unload? Is there a lottery or something? Do they take turns? What about the guys with the snakes? How do they get their spot? By the way, we don’t know what our guide tipped this nice man with the snake. She took care of it, which was perfect. And no, my husband did not get bitten. Nor was the snake poisonous in the first place. At least, we don’t THINK so!

What happens when it rains? What happens in the off-season? How much does the tip buy, and do we need to know if these people are legitimately “poor” or not? What a cynical question, you say. Of course they are. On the other hand, I think I heard that a panhandler in San Francisco could make $60,000 a year. This may not sound like a lot, but if they don’t pay taxes, it’s quite a bit more. And $60,000 for just standing and asking for money?

Let’s be nicer. Let’s assume that people in underdeveloped countries are relying on tips to feed their families. Tourism is an industry. People need income, and maybe standing with a hat is all they can do. I’m done for now. Let’s just say that if we have the money to travel with a tour group, then we have enough to help people who aren’t as lucky as we are in the U.S. I’ll also mention that going with a tour group, we are able to ask the group leader, “How much should we tip these people for this service?” A good guide will know exactly.

That’s why we like going with tour groups at our age. In my 20s, I hitchhiked through Europe. That was then. This is now. Times change. We change. It’s all good.

TIpping and traveling go hand in hand. Going forward, I’m going to pay more attention to the “rules” of tipping. For now, this is a good place to start: with Rick Steves, who knows a lot about traveling…and, in this case, tipping. Traveling helps us be better people because we learn about our world in new ways. Tipping helps the people who live in foreign countries, and that makes us better human beings.


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