Why is it an insult to tip waiters in Iceland?

I bumped across a tweet by Chris Voss on the subject and it intrigued me quite a bit. This is highly unusual considering the fact that in Saudi Arabia at Applebees there is a note on the bill that reminds you to please tip the server despite the service charge! It made me want to dig a little deeper on this subject and I discovered some fascinating contrasts between Saudi and Icelandic society. I also got some insight as to why waiters in Iceland would take offense if they were tipped.

For one Icelanders are a very homogenous society unlike Saudi Arabia which is a mix of Arabs from all over the Middle East to Asians from Pakistan all the way up to the Philippines. Most Icelanders are descendants of Norwegian and Celtic people who settled in the 9th and 10th centuries. Their language has essentially been the same over the centuries. For the common Icelander reading their old medieval sagas from the 1200s is relatively easy for the same reason. This gives them alot of pride in tracing their ancestral roots. They are also homogenous when it comes to religion – 87% belong to the state church. They are egalitarian and highly literate. They have a great love of literature. They publish more books than any country in the world, while there are hardly any libraries in Saudi Arabia. Doing well and finishing one’s education are widely held societal priorities unlike Saudi Arabia where it is only beginning to become a top priority

Icelanders are also known to be very independent and individualistic, while Saudi society is extremely interdependent and collectivist. Icelanders have a strong work ethic. The country’s work week is the longest in Europe. While in Saudi people have not developed the same sense about work. This explains why there are so many expats in the workforce.

In Iceland before the mid-70s working as a server was considered a demeaning job. Tipping was therefore considered an insult as it further emphasized the server’s position as a servant. Therefore there is no tradition to tip in Iceland. Before the 70s going out was also not popular and there were not many restaurants either. However, that has changed since then, but the tradition of no tipping has continued. While in Saudi Arabia, people eat out very often. Most servers are expatriates and they are only here to make money. Therefore they feel no shame in being tipped. Rather they would be very grateful for the gesture! Interesting contrast don’t you think?

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