Proust and Tipping

And at the other end we have the elevated snobisme of Marcel Proust, for whom the tip was a profound and complex form of social expression. ‘When he left,’ writes Proust’s biographer George Painter of one meal in the Paris Ritz, ‘his pockets were empty, and all but one of the staff had been fantastically tipped. “Would you be so kind as to lend me fifty francs,” he asked the doorman, who produced a wallet of banknotes with alacrity. “No, please keep it – it was for you”; and Proust repaid the debt with interest the next evening.’

[Proust] saw the tip as a perverse gift. At the conclusion of an excellently cooked but badly served meal at Boeuf sur le Toit, Proust (in Painter’s words) ignored the person who served him so badly and ‘Summoned a distant waiter and rewarded him regally. “But he didn’t do anything for us,” protested Brach and Proust replied, “Oh, but I saw such a sad look in his eyes when he thought he wasn’t going to get anything.”‘

—from “Tipping in America”, Alexander Cockburn, House and Garden, 1986


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