OK, this is the last item from that New York trip…
While there, I met up with a dear friend who has lived in NYC for about three years in a tower block apartment on the east side, mid-town. In late November, early December every year she gets a Christmas card from the superintendent of her block with a list of all the people who work there who will require the traditional Christmas tip. There are generally 22. They all expect about $50 each. When you add up the number of apartments, it means each guy is getting around $8,000. Most doormen earn about $35,000, so that’s a fair bonus. Nice. It’s not bad when you consider that they get tips every day of the year for doing their jobs, like hailing cabs, or masterfully pressing a button on the wall to summon a lift. To tip them $1 these days is an insult. $2 or $3 is minimum. From November onwards, I am reliably informed, these normally surly, huffing ‘n’ puffing oiks in trenchcoats and peaked hats at the block suddenly become alarmingly – no, expensively – friendly.
And this is not all. In New York at Christmas, my friend has to tip her nanny at least a week’s wage, her cleaner, the newspaper boy, the grocery delivery man and many more. She even has to tip ALL her two kids’ teachers – that’s the dance and swimming coaches, as well as all the academic ones. Teachers in the States don’t like soppy little cheery gifts like chocolates, or scented creams. Oh no, they like hard currency, greenback-style or gift vouchers. As my friend says: “Everybody has got their hand out in New York at Christmas”. You can just imagine Christmas morning over there: “Sorry, kids, no pressies this year. We gave all our money to the doormen.”
OK, one more point to close. My cab driver back to the airport was very friendly. Originally from New Delhi, he is very happy to have his Green Card and be driving his cab. He tells me he takes home about $9,000 a month, plus $2,500 for renting the cab out to a night driver. So, he’s on about about $138,000 a year. He also owns the “Medallion” of the cab after buying it outright for $175,000 over a period of years. I’m not sure of the detail of the Medallion, but it’s a big deal to own this in New York. It is now worth $400,000. He rattled off these figures cheerily and told me how he had certain tactics in place to avoid tax. I was slightly aghast at the brilliance of this man’s financial structure. And, me, a humble writer. I told him plainly: “It’s great that you are doing so well. The only downside is you’ve just blown your tip for this fare. You clearly don’t need it!” And you know what, he looked deeply and genuinely pissed off. Huh!