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So what is a newyorksubalien...

I’m a New York subalien. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly legal – it’s just my loving other half, official alien that he is, comes with a so-called “supermodel” visa that apparently denotes him as one possessing extraordinary abilities (falling asleep within 5 minutes of sitting down in front of the TV, remembering only 2 of the 3 items on a mental shopping list and not knowing where the dishwasher tablets live after 2 years in our apartment are just some of his many talents).

The same visa leaves me extraordinarily unable to possess that most American of entities - a “social” i.e. a Social Security Number. Calling it a “social” makes it sound like the password to some party-filled, fun-packed lifestyle. That’s not far wrong as without these all-important 9 numbers, you pretty much can’t have a lifestyle at all - no bank account, no credit card, not even a driver’s license.

So what does a subalien do? Well, like over sub life forms waiting for evolution to give them a leg up on the ladder of existence, I have plenty of time to observe and these, dear reader, are my observations…..

Friday, January 7, 2011

The facts of life on tipping in New York, from French kissing to the big one

You know when you’ve reached a new level of friendship with a New Yorker when they hesitate a moment, then lean across the table and asked in a hushed voice “So how much did you tip your doorman this year?”

We went through agonies our first Christmas trying to find out what was the right amount to give but no one was able – or prepared - to give us any precise guidelines. Only this Christmas, our third, have I been granted access to that most intimate of exchange of confidences amongst New York girlfriends – forget what goes on in the bedroom, this is way more personal!

Tipping is a fact of life in New York but unfortunately I haven’t yet been able to find a “facts of life” guidebook with pretty pictures and pointed arrows telling us aliens how to go forth and multiply percentages correctly in our new homeland.

At the just started-out kissing stage, you have the relatively easy hurdle of how to negotiate your first restaurant bill, French or otherwise. One rule of thumb we eventually discovered is to double the sales tax itemized in your bill and round up, giving a tip of around 18%. But then there are all the little niceties that we didn’t find out about until several months at the kissing stage, such as if you have a drink at the bar while waiting for your table – or at any bar come to think of it – you’re expected to leave a $1 tip for each drink.

Given the number of restaurants and bars in this island planet, thankfully there was little need for us to return to those establishments where we made our first faltering steps into the grown-up world of tipping and face the wrath of those we did wrong by. But it wasn’t long before we started wanting to progress to having casual relationships, seeing the same person more than once and wanting to be good enough at it that they would want to see us again too. Before you get too hot under the collar here, I’m talking about our beloved delivery guys from the same four or five restaurants that we depend upon on those days when Mamasuba, superhuman as I am, can’t cook/won’t cook.

It’s been a trial and error process on that score and general consensus on the recommended amount seems to vary on whether it is raining, snowing, and whether there is an “r” in the month. But given we’re getting our eel, salmon, rice crispie and oreo cookie combination sushi rolls delivered with 15 minutes of putting the phone down, I think we may have it sussed.

So that leaves the big one. The serious full-on relationship. The one where you see them every day and they know everything about your life, your laundry habits and whether you wear slippers or not - your doorman, your supervisor, your handyman. As I said at the beginning, I remember our first time very well – we felt so alone, no one seemed to understand how important it was to us, no one wanted to talk about it afterwards. That first relationship was a short-lived one as we moved apartments after nine months but we still talk to each other so we must have done something right.

We’ve been practising hard over the past two years and this Christmas we tentatively entered into a new adult relationship with our building's super. He rang the next morning to say “thank-you”. We feel so grown-up!
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