Monday, July 12, 2010

Tipping in Venice

One of the most commonly asked questions is what is the tipping policy in Italy. The answer is that it is not expected or required to leave a tip. Period. If you are inclined to do so because the service was good, then only a few Euros. I almost never leave a tip.

In the U.S. it is customary to tip 15-20% because the servers are paid less than minimum wage, and they rely on tips to earn a living. This is part of American culture. But only Americans leave tips. In some places, such as Germany, you may leave the change, but not 15 or 20% of the bill. But generally, non-Americans do not tip.

Some restaurants in Venice are in business to grub money from tourists, not to serve good food, and should be avoided. The waiters know that Americans leave tips. They are constantly asked by Americans whether the tip is included. Only Americans ask this, because everyone else in the world knows that it is—the question makes no sense to people from other countries, and marks you as an American (as if they couldn’t already tell). For that reason, if the waiter in these places thinks you are American, they will tell you that the tip is not included. They will bring you a bill that shows a 12% service charge, and still tell you that the tip is not included. They will tell you that this is a tax, or that it not for them, it’s for the owner. These are both out-and-out lies, and amounts to fraud. A bona fide restaurant will never mention a tip. (Note, for example, that there is no place on the credit card receipt to add a tip)

How do you tell which to avoid? Here are some clues:

1) They stand outside and all but drag you in. A good restaurant would never do this. This seems to me little better than begging in the streets. These people only want to get your money. The first thing a good restaurant will often ask is whether you have a reservation.

2) There are 10,000 things on the menu. A decent restaurant will have only a handful of things in each category on the menu. That is, a few appetizers, four or five pasta courses, and four or five main courses. If the menu looks like Denny’s or the Double-T Diner, run.

3) There are photos of the food on the menu. Self explanatory.

4) They have a tourist menu. Again, self explanatory.

5) They are always open. Reputable restaurants in Venice close at about 2:30 (if they serve lunch) and do not open again until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m.

What to look for in a good restaurant: Generally, the good restaurants will be small, have only a handful of tables, and may have the menu taped to the window written on a place mat (a kind of mustard-colored paper).

There are exceptions to every rule. For example, Gianni’s on the Zattere (identified by its bright yellow chairs) violates most of these rules, but will never beg for a tip. The food is good and the service prompt and polite. It is also in a beautiful spot on a little pier over the Giudecca Canal. They serve a wide variety of food that should please most adults, and they will have something for the kids.

An exception in the other direction, i.e., a restaurant that is less obviously a money grubber because they do not do everything I mentioned above, but is one of the more egregious violators because they bill you a 12% service charge and then tell you tip is not included, and that the 12% is a tax (which, again, is a bold faced lie), is Ai Tosi near the Rialto Market at Sotoportego del Capeler. The food is okay, the service fairly quick and attentive, but the tip thing keeps from going there, and Americans who go there should just ignore the request for a tip.

A note on the “coperto:” This literally means “cover,” and is a standard charge in all restaurants in Italy, which they say covers the cost of the bread. It is usually 2-3 Euros per person, but can be more in fancy places. I don’t take exception to this because everyone does it, and everyone (even Italians) have to pay it—it does not single out Americans.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Visit to the Vet

Today I took my corgi Leopold to the vet to have some blood taken. He recently contracted a skin condition commonly known as “ringworm,” which is not a worm at all, but a fungus. This disease causes round lesions on the skin where the hair falls out. As a Corgi, Leopold is very, very furry. It ain't easy to see his skin, even if you are trying to see it. One day a few weeks ago I noticed a glob of fur sticking out. This is not unusual, as this breed of dog sheds like the dickens all the time, and blows its coat twice a year. (If you like a nice clean house free of dog hair, don't ever buy a Corgi.) I pulled at the protruding tuft of fur, and noticed that it had bits of dry skin on the end where it connects to the dog. I looked more closely at his skin, and saw a bald spot where the fur was coming loose, the flesh was pink, and there was a circular line of darker pink. I googled these symptoms, and diagnosed it as ringworm. I found a few other such lesions hidden under his coat.
I was horrified. Not so much as the notion of the dog having this condition, because I knew it was treatable, but rather at the possibility of this (shall I speak plainly) fat Corgi becoming bald, or worse, not becoming completely bald, but becoming bald in large patches. So, off to the vet.
Not long after arriving in Venice I found a vet in the area and took Leopold there to see if she could do anything about his legs. He had a condition for about two years prior to coming to Venice that caused him to chew on his legs and paws. He was getting worse, so I took him to the vet at that time.
The way it works here, even with the people doctor, is that there are office hours, and you just show up. They don't make appointments. This vet is open from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., except Saturdays, when she is open from 10:00 to 1:00 in the afternoon. During the summer she takes off most of the month of August.
We went into he office, she examined the dog, confirmed my diagnosis, and prescribed a shampoo. The shampoo costs about $30 for a 200 ml bottle, which is about the size of a cough syrup bottle in the U.S. I used the shampoo with some success, as most of the lesions on his back and side cleared up. Not so, however, with those under his belly and at the junction of his legs and body; his “underarms,” if you will. Here it became much worse, and even infected. I had to take him back to the vet yesterday, at which time the doctor decided to test his blood.
To that end, she made a special appointment with me for 10:00 a.m., because she likes to take the sample in the morning, rather than the evening, so she can send it off right away to the lab. Mr. Leo and I posted at the appointed hour, and she was there, almost ready to go.
I say “almost,” because as nice as she is, she is often a bit disorganized. At first it looked as though she were ready. She had a little table with the instruments those in her profession use to drain blood from little animals: a plastic hose to tie around the leg, a bottle of alcohol, cotton balls, and some very sharp looking implements. As it turned out, though, she did not have everything.
We put the dog on the table and I held him. Then she discovered that she was missing some key implement of blood removal. She searched around for a while, and came out of a storage room with a box of whatever it was she needed, and then we were ready. She decided to try and take blood from his neck, so she shaved a section, located a vein, and went about her morbid business.
Leo looks like a little dog when he is on the ground and you are standing above him. At his level he is not a small dog. These dogs were bred to herd cattle, and he weighs 40 pounds. He should not weigh 40 pounds, he should weigh maybe 30 or 35, but he likes to eat and I am a softie. He is also strong as an ox. This, I know, is a clich̩, and I try to avoid them, but it is the most accurate description of his strength. He is also part bucking bronco. Moreover, he does not like giving up his blood Рhe likes his blood, and holds it dear. Let's just say that we were having some fun.
Oh yeah, there are no veterinarian's assistants in this office.
The doctor wiped the shaved area with the alcohol, blew some stuff off the needle (you read it correctly) and went to work. The vein, however, was less cooperative than even its K-9 host, and would not yield a drop. After a few minutes the doctor could no longer find the vein. We tried again with no success. By this point I needed a drink and a nap, and the doctor looked like I felt.
She decided she needed the help of another doctor. She called, but there was no answer. A few minutes later she tried again, but was still not able to reach the other doctor. She suggested we go to the bar at the end of the street and wait until she could reach the doctor. (I love this country) In spite of the obvious merit of this idea, I was afraid it would be hours, so I opted to go home. I was home only a few minutes when she called to tell me that the other doctor would be at her office in ten minutes. Off we went again.
When we arrived at the vet's office the doctor was standing outside, and the other doctor was coming up the street. The new doctor was also a woman, somewhat older and more experienced than our regular vet, and materially wider of girth. She reminded me of my third-grade teacher, Miss Woodhead (I did not make that up) So, myself, the mutt, the vet and Dr. Woodhead went inside after all the usual niceties, and started to work. It was only a few minutes before Mr. Leo knew that he was not in Kansas anymore.
Dr. Woodhead began her examination with more vigor than Leo was used to. We had to muzzle him. Before that, she looked into his mouth, opening it so wide I thought she was gonna climb in, or that a parade of clowns would come marching out. When she was ready to extract the blood, she grabbed hold of his little leg with a rather large doughy hand, felt around with her finger, put the needle in and (with a little prodding) the blood began to flow into the vial, to my delight. Leo was whimpering like a little girl and trying to get the hell out of there, and I was holding on to him with all my strength. But our mission was accomplished as the deep red elixir filled the vial. I liked Dr. Woodhead. Dr. Woodhead got blood. Dr. Woodhead didn't even need to shave him. Bing, bang, and frikkin' boom – done.