I Was 'Cheap-Shamed' When My Husband Undertipped The Bellhop

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I Was Cheap Shamed When My Husband Undertipped

Did we REALLY deserve this?

My husband and I take the train now. Last year, I decided that my claustrophobia, anxiety and wide hips made every flight an ordeal that I just couldn't subject myself to anymore. It would be first class or train travel from now on.

It's ridiculously expensive to fly to my husband's ancestral airport in Kansas City, so a compartment on a sleeper car didn't cost much more than the economy tickets I refused to buy. But I found the whole idea so relaxing that I forget to use my powers of anxiety to think through every step of the trip and what could go wrong as we navigated new experiences.

We got to NYC's Penn Station in plenty of time to catch our train but I was still worried that we'd discover a new and exciting way of missing the train. I asked a red cap for help boarding the train since my heavy backpack was doing things to my neck that it was going to take forever to fix. Plus, a red cap would totally make sure we found the train before it left without us.

The friendly, helpful guy I spoke to told me to sit in a designated area until boarding time, when someone would take care of us. And then everyone in a red baseball cap and shirt disappeared to help other people until well after our train had started to board.

I finally found a red cap for help, and he flagged down a woman in a completely different uniform — a ticket agent or something. She helpfully threw my backpack over her shoulder and started leading us out of the waiting lounge. But first she had to stop and ask, "You know how this works, right? You tip us and we put you on the train." Twice. Because the first time I thought she was complaining that Tim was supposed to put us on the train.

But yeah, of course we knew we were supposed to tip. While waiting, we'd checked our wallets for singles and figured we should tip $1 a bag like at the airport. My husband was all set to tip her when the time came.

In our division of labor, I have to confront noisy neighbors and he has to awkwardly hand people cash tips when appropriate. The not red cap carried two bags for a few hundred feet and helped us locate the right sleeper car. My husband thanked her and handed her some folded up bills with all the smoothness and sophistication he could muster. Which wasn't a lot, but he got the job done.

We started to arrange ourselves and our stuff in the tiny room, but our friend came back in less than a minute.

"Two dollars?" she said, shoving the money into my hand. "Honey, you need it more than I do."

Which, um... OK, I guess. Mortified, I pulled out my phone and did some quick Googling to find out what we'd done wrong. Because this was all on me, for some reason.

I was so viscerally embarrassed. My mother was the oldest of six kids, so money was an issue for her growing up. From her I inherited a horror of being thought cheap or broke. My little brother and I weren't allowed to have a lemonade stand because the neighbors might think we actually needed the cash. (The anxiety is strong in my family.)

And now a complete stranger had called me poor. Loudly. Who else had she complained to? Would we spend the next 20 hours as the misers no one would be nice to because we didn't tip appropriately? I'm not emotionally equipped to cope with that much shame.

My online research taught me that Amtrak doesn't have a suggested tip for red caps, but different sites suggest anything from $2 to $20 a bag. And Amtrak doesn't allow red caps to solicit tips like she had. They're probably not allowed to yell at people for spousal undertipping, either. Because that's not a thing.

I was so anxious about future missteps that I looked up suggested tips for dining car waiters (15-20 percent) and sleeper car attendants (at least $10 a night) before we'd even pulled out of the station.

Only then did it hit me: I got yelled at for something my husband did. By another woman. And somehow I accepted this as normal. Because society.

I understand why a woman would hesitate to stand up to a man. They can be shouty and violent people. But not my mild-mannered Midwesterner. He's a kitten. He's so afraid of confrontation that he can't even ask the neighbors to turn it down when I have a migraine and every overloud note is like a knife in my head.

Meanwhile, I don't hesitate to get snippy with people who cross the line. I find it soothing since my marriage doesn't allow me many opportunities to yell. I once cursed out an off-duty cop for waving his badge at me and saying that he could do whatever he wanted. And then I spent two weeks wondering if he was going to come back. But it never would've occurred to me in the moment to let his bad behavior slide.

But yell at me for something my husband did, and apparently I roll with it. We're a team, but taking his lumps for him wasn't in our wedding vows. I didn't sign up for it, yet that's just how we treat married women.

We take a break from being outraged at Bill Cosby to get mad at Camille Cosby. Bill Clinton's infidelities are somehow Hillary's fault. Behind every disgraced politician is a wife who we condemn for showing up to the big, confessional press conference.

A married man screws up and we start blaming his wife as if they weren't two completely separate people. Meanwhile, my husband is so laid back that he shrugged it all off and was glad to have $2 more than he expected to.

Luckily, we weren't shunned for the rest of the ride. The sleeper car attendant was so helpful and friendly that we ended up tipping her twice the recommended minimum.

If nothing else, I'm starting to feel justified in my gentle nagging and nudging. After all, I'm the one on the hook for every last one of his faux pas.


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