In the US, tipping is optional and gifting is selective.
It’s discretionary even.
It’s the law.
At Christmastime, all Mexican employees receive an aguinaldo or Christmas bonus. In fact, every employee is legally entitled to a bonus of at least two weeks salary for each year of service.
Most expect one full month.
That is not a typo. One. Full. Month.
Now granted, people here work hard and do not earn a comparable US wage, but there are actually commercials on the radio here that remind workers that by December 20th they are owed their Christmas bonus or else their employers can be punished. Failure to pay can lead the authorities to impose fines of 3 to 315 times the Legal Daily Minimum Wage.
In our house, where we rarely fight and usually agree, there’s been a lot of tension over the aguinaldo. We need to prorate the bonus, but we also need to be careful at the message the bonus sends: the work has been uneven at best. Too little bonus means our maid will quit, too much will demonstrate that we are not careful with money. It’s tricky.
The Mexican Federal Labor Law dictates that the aguinaldo must be paid in cash “and not with vouchers, tokens or other alternative instruments.”
The only way that you as an employer can pay less than the minimum is if salary advances are made, damage or theft to your property has occurred.
In addition to our maid, we need to tip the many security guards of our building, the maintenance man and our part time driver. The man who brings us water must be tipped. The garbage men must be tipped. And of course, the postman, who just received a tip last month for Postman’s Day must also receive a Christmas tip. Of course, BC does not have a line item for all of the propinas we have to pay out to all of these service providers—it’s up to us to pay the fees and work with other expat families to muddle though and figure out a fair wage that’s both culturally acceptable but doesn’t break our budget.
Coming from a culture where tips are given as a reward for excellent work, excellent service or exceptional commitment it’s challenging to participate in a propina system that is mandated not by performance, but by law. It will be interesting to see how our first aguinaldo goes.
I’m hopeful that the people we depend on to make our family’s expat experience a positive adventure know that we appreciate everything they do for us. Fingers crossed that our cultural interpretation of their tipping practices conveys that!