There are a lot of things to worry about when traveling to America. Did I pack everything? What will the exchange rate fall to? Can my body survive a whole day of economy class? Will TSA find any bad jokes on my social media accounts and send me off home on arrival? But my worst fear was tipping...
Tipping is a nightmare. You walk a fine line constantly between a social faux pas, or worse! Paying more than full price for something. But in my first twenty-four hours in the USA - despite the jetlag - I seemed to be getting tipping right. I tipped with credit card at a restaurant. I carried my own bag to my room. I tipped a friendly bartender. I didn't tip housekeeping because I left a Do Not Disturb sign up for a whole day. I didn't have to work out if I should tip the barber because I got my hair cut short before we left Australia.
At a quarter to eleven on my first night, when my body had just reached REM state for the first time in two days, I was jerked from sleep by a sound that my brain took a while to process: the fire alarm. Rushing to dress, we joined the rest of the hotel on the fire escape and gathered on the sidewalk (footpath) to wait for rescue. Fire trucks soon arrived and, thankfully, it was a false alarm. Though it was good for one thing. A succinct reminder of how close to danger we always are, and how trivial such concerns can be in the face of a real threat. One second you're warm and dreaming, the next firemen are running through the lobby with axes looking for smoke, and you're counting yourself lucky just to have your loved ones safe and the shirt on your back.
As the alarm finally silenced and the firemen filed out and back to their truck my fear finally receded. Until I realised, wait... I have no idea how much I'm supposed to tip them.