tipping quandary

A friend of mine who has been working overseas for two years came back to visit last week, so we went out for dinner and caught up and all the usual stuff. On one of the nights, we went to Malt, which is potentially my most favourite Brisbane restaurant (or at least one of them). This post is actually not about Malt (I could probably write an entire other post about why I like Malt) but about tipping.

In Australia, it’s not a big deal if you leave a tip at restaurants and cafes and wherever, because apparently the staff get paid enough, or everyone’s just too stingy so people don’t expect it. I know it’s required/expected in the US, and the custom sort of varies between different countries. My friend’s boyfriend said that, in Singapore, they don’t tip because the money goes to the owner/manager, rather than being apportioned to the staff who actually served the customers.

I don’t have a problem with the tipping system here – I think it’s great that if you do a good job and provide excellent service, you could earn a bit of extra money (even if it is coinage). What I actually wanted to write this post about was why it’s only customary/acceptable/whatever to tip certain types of people/businesses in the service industry.

This might just be me (potentially because I live in Australia, or because of my limited life experience) but the only places that I remember ever leaving tips for people are all food-related – cafes, bistros, restaurants, etc. I don’t always leave a tip, but I will if the service was friendly and the food was good. (I don’t think I’ve ever tipped just because the food was good – it’s more about the service, right?)

Well, I work in a pharmacy, so I thought, “Why is it not acceptable to tip pharmacists or pharmacy assistants?” Not to boast about it, but we provide some important services to the community, and we give out a lot of free health advice. I could spend ten minutes talking to someone about their blood pressure (and measuring it for free), or talking to someone about what to do for a rash (before they tell me that they have that product at home, and walk away without buying anything). But no one would ever think of tipping their pharmacist for these things, would they?

Of course, I’m over-simplifying, but you get the point, right?

As a health professional, I’d actually kind of feel uncomfortable accepting tips from customers. Maybe if it was already common practice, I wouldn’t think twice about it? It’s hard to say. I suppose I’m doing this to help others, not for the money. Well, it kind of is for the money, but the primary concern is the patient (gee, all those placements during uni really drilled that part of the Code of Conduct into me). But maybe the people who work at cafes just really love coffee, or just really want to be in the industry. They still happily receive (and encourage) tips anyway.

Imagine if GPs accepted tips. Imagine if GPs actually needed tips to supplement whatever they’re getting rebated from the government. No offence to waiters, but having a bowl or something for patients to deposit tips in a GP waiting room kind of seems undignified.

And what about people at clothing stores? Sometimes they provide pretty good service, helping find sizes and whatnot. I don’t spend a lot of time in shoe stores or department stores, but when I do, I might notice an assistant spending a lot of time with one customer – finding the right kind of shoe, showing them different styles, ensuring the fit is right, etc – and then they may decide not to buy anything, or they’ll just buy one pair (and it might just be a pair of shoes for their kid). Does that shop assistant then deserve a tip if the customer leaves happy?

Should we give tips to check-out operators at supermarkets, especially if you have a trolley full of 50 different things, half of which is fresh produce that must be looked up and weighed? Where do we draw the line?

But I don’t think people would ever consider tipping their car dealer or real estate agent (no offence to car dealers or real estate agents), since they get a commission from what they just sold to you anyway. Maybe people give gifts or some other token of appreciation if they got a good deal or had a smooth sale, but who could afford a 10% tip on a car, let alone a house?

And surely there are no countries where it’s commonplace to tip bankers (again, no offence to people who work in banks). These people already have most of your money, so why would you give them the loose change from your wallet as well? I’ve been fortunate to get some really good service at banks, though. You’ve got to have good people skills to do well in the service industry.

I think I’ve heard of people giving tips to taxi drivers or limo drivers (I personally haven’t been in enough taxis to really know), and I suppose that’s fine – if someone drives me to my destination safely and in a timely manner, I’d want to show my appreciation. But, thinking along those same lines, why not give a tip to the bus driver? I generally thank the driver as I get off the bus, but they’d probably be quite baffled if I tried to give them a tip.

This post actually turned out to be a lot longer than I expected… Better head off to bed… Another day of work awaits me tomorrow!

extemporaneous baking

Usually when new students or scientists start at the pharmacy, and we have to train them to do compounding, we explain it in terms of cooking or, more specifically, baking: “Compounding is like baking a cake – you just need to measure out the ingredients and mix them together in the right order”. I suppose the only difference is that we never have to put our compounded products in an oven.

Other than the process itself, there are other similarities. For example, it helps to be familiar with what your final product should look like, and what sort of consistency it should be. Accurate measurements are also important, and you should know which ingredients will and won’t mix with each other. Working cleanly is also good, but mess is inevitable. And the list continues…

I’m perfectly aware of these similarities, but for some reason unknown to me, I cannot bake nearly as well as I compound. When I compound, I have no trouble with measurements or mixing or any of that; I will follow each step exactly. When it comes to baking, however, no matter how much I mentally reinforce the importance of following the recipe in front of me, I always, without fail, end up adjusting one thing or another. Usually it’s because I want to make a slightly larger or slightly smaller quantity, but just cannot be bothered to accurately recalculate the measurements (“ain’t nobody got time for that,” as certain colleagues would say…)

Perhaps I can blame an aversion to maths… No, I can’t really do that – don’t dislike math enough.

Chocolate cookies - half with glace cherries, half with pecans

Chocolate cookies – half with glace cherries, half with pecans

I suppose I also like adding other things that aren’t in the recipe. The other week, I made cookies, and decided I would add cocoa powder to the recipe so that they’d be chocolate. I was kind of combining two different recipes, and “guestimating” the quantities – kind of like taking an average of the two recipes. Fortunately for me, I tend to have weird luck with baking, and it still turned out fine. I reckon they were a bit “cakey” (I prefer my cookies a bit crunchier) but everyone at work liked them (about 35 cookies finished in one day between only about 10 people).

This last week, I made a rich chocolate cake (again, adjusting the quantities in a previous recipe so that it’d be more chocolatey) and it miraculously worked out too. I was worried it wasn’t going to cook through properly (too much butter, according to Mum) but when the recipient cut it open, it looked fine. It was pretty frickin’ rich, though – I took a bite and could almost feel my heart slowing down (too much butter and chocolate, I suppose – if there is such a thing).

Chocolate cake (sorry, the lighting wasn't great when I eventually remembered to take a photo...)

Chocolate hazelnut cake (sorry, the lighting wasn’t great when I eventually remembered to take a photo…)

Another theory I have for why I can’t follow a recipe, is that I’ve never seen my mum following a recipe when she bakes or cooks. Well, I suppose it’s all in her head, with a foundation of many years of experience, so it’s probably not true that she doesn’t follow a recipe – it’s just that it’s not written down in plain sight, so there’s the illusion of just adding ingredients instinctively. How good would it be to get to that stage…

Well, I actually feel like maybe my luck is eventually going to run out on this. Perhaps I should quit while I’m ahead? Honestly, though, I do feel kind of fatigued from all of this recent baking. It’s really rewarding to see people enjoying the final product, but it takes time and energy, and for some reason I tend to sleep rather restlessly after a night of baking (probably subconsciously worrying about whether people will like what I made).

Of course, there’s no doubt that I’ll bake again one day (in the near-ish future) but I’m going to take a break for a bit. Don’t want this to become a case of “too much of a good thing becoming a bad thing”.

nice to meet you (?)

Ever since I changed my “About” page to an “About the blog” page (because I realised that it doesn’t really tell you anything about me specifically – just about my blog), I have been toying with the idea of adding an “About the blogger” page. The only problem is that I don’t really know what I’d put on there. If you’ve seen my Gravatar profile thing, you’ll have an idea of what I mean.

Well, I suppose I could probably write quite a lot, but where would I start? The first thing I think of, of course, is by introducing my profession: I’m a pharmacist. I love my job (mostly) and the people I work with (mostly – nah, I kid, they’re really awesome), so surely this is an important thing to mention? But part of me doesn’t like this notion of “being defined by my profession”. Most people will have preconceptions about pharmacists, but, like any profession, I’m sure we’re quite varied and don’t all fit the stereotypes.

I’ve pondered this previously because if you watch TV shows – whether it be reality TV or game shows or something else that involves people who aren’t famous – everyone is introduced by their name, age and profession. Even in the newspaper, in that section where they have a street poll of randoms, they print the person’s occupation alongside their name and suburb of residence. Is their occupation meant to affect my opinion of their opinion? I suppose it does, particularly if they’re answering a poll about something political or economic or whatever that affects people’s jobs.

On a side note, just wanted to say that, despite the seemingly large number of pharmacists out there in the world, I think I’ve only ever seen one actual pharmacist on a game/reality show before. Maybe we’re just not really the type to go for that sort of stuff…

Anyway, I suppose it’s pretty obvious from browsing my blog that I’m a pharmacist, or at least that I work at a pharmacy. I mean, I write about it enough, don’t I? Sometimes I worry that I talk about work too much to other people, and maybe people would find it boring… I don’t think anyone I work with actually reads my blog, so theoretically I could just ramble on about work here, and spare people from real-life rambling conversations about Pharmacy-related stuff. This is kind of touching on another topic that I was thinking of writing about: the fact that hardly anyone I know in real-life actually reads blogs. I know people on Instagram and Twitter, and everyone (almost everyone) has Facebook, but no one that I know in real-life still regularly maintains a blog, or regularly reads blogs (well, not that I know of, anyway).

I feel like this is becoming a very tangent-y sort of post…

I was also going to say that age – or even just an age range – would be something people might put on an “About the blogger/writer” page, but then I also suppose it’s not that hard to work out that I’m in my 20s, considering I graduated high school less than ten years ago… Although, I guess if all of this stuff was on an “About” page, it’d save visitors the effort of investigating and trying to piece the puzzle together themselves. But then where’s the fun?

Well, I suppose I don’t want people to have some sort of bias for/against what I write because I’m a pharmacist, or because I’m in my 20s. I suppose I also want to preserve some notion of anonymity, so I do not want to disclose my exact age or my location (pretty sure I’ve mentioned Brisbane in enough posts for it to be kind of obvious, though…)

Imagine if the TV world defined everyone by their hobbies or their favourite songs or their pets. What if, when some guy goes on a reality TV show, instead of giving him a little caption that reads “John, 31, journalist”, it reads “John, plays guitar, owns two cats”? He could be all of these things, but the two different captions portray him differently.

A colleague of mine is from Brazil, and he pointed out once that in Australia when you meet someone new, you ask each other about what you do for work. However, in Brazil, they’d ask each other about what they do for fun. I’m sure people work hard in Brazil as well, but, gee, they seem to have their priorities right on this one.

thought of the week

Those who know me in “real life” likely also know that I like my work. Mostly, I like the people I work with; we have an awesome team. I’ve always said (as people were coming and going) that I probably wouldn’t even think about leaving as long as I like the people that I work with.

I could elaborate, but that’s essentially all I wanted to say – mostly that second sentence, actually.

keep passing the open windows

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind week – or, as I’ve been known to say, it’s been an “interesting” week. Well, an interesting two weeks, to be fair. My department manager has been on holidays this last fortnight, so I’ve kind of been filling in for her. Nothing terrible has happened, but it’s just … it’s been interesting. And I’ve done my share of over-time. The 7am starts didn’t turn out as bad as I was expecting (I’ve only had one coffee this whole time, and that was more as a treat than for any alertness benefit).

For some reason, this last week has just taken a lot out of me. I had to work yesterday (Saturday) as well (and it was crazy-busy, as far as Saturday mornings go). Yesterday I felt a bit destructive, felt a bit like I was edging closer to a breakdown of some sort (probably being a bit melodramatic there, and possibly hormonal, but I won’t go into that). But, you know what, apart from the wonderful people I work with, something that helped pull me through was reading John Irving’s “The Hotel New Hampshire”. (Also spent some time playing “Pokemon” last night while listening to Sia’s “Elastic Heart”, but let’s not get into that.)

THNH is a novel that is, ultimately, very endearing. It’s about the Berry family (Winslow (“Win”) Berry and Mary Bates, and their five children: Frank, Franny, John (the novel’s narrator), Lilly and Egg) and their life living in different hotels. The story starts out normally enough, with the parents recounting how they met, but it gets very random very quickly. However, after reading “The World According to Garp”, I felt like nothing in THNH could really surprise me. And that’s not a bad thing. I thoroughly enjoyed reading THNH, and there were certainly still a lot of things that made me smile. Irving does have a good sense of humour – an interesting sense of humour.

Despite that random-ness, there’s something very human about THNH, as if they could all be real people. (If you’re wondering just how random THNH was, let me just tell you that the edition I read had a picture of a bear riding a motorcycle on the cover.) I sympathised with their struggles, and did not begrudge them for their successes (spoiler alert – they return to America and make loads of money from Lilly’s novel and related ventures).

Actually, there are several similarities between THNH and “Garp”. Both John Berry and Garp are running enthusiasts. Both novels also feature a fair bit of writing about writing – Garp and Lilly both become authors. And Susie’s rape help centre based in the third Hotel New Hampshire (by the sea) is reminiscent of the Jenny Fields Foundation based in the Field’s family mansion (also by the sea). The Berry children attend the Dairy School at which their Grandfather Bob coached football, and their father taught English (he had also attended the Dairy School as a student). Similarly, Garp grew up in the school where his mother was the resident nurse.

But, you know, I don’t mind all of these similarities between the two novels. It kind of gives a sense of familiarity that’s as good as being surprised and astounded. THNH is still an amazing book. I’ll probably end up reading most, if not all of John Irving’s novels – one day.

“Keep passing the open windows” is a phrase the children say to each other throughout the book, and basically means “don’t jump out of any open windows” i.e. don’t commit suicide i.e. persevere. Just keep passing the open windows – that was the kind of encouragement I needed yesterday.

“Get obsessed and stay obsessed” is another great pearl of wisdom from THNH, and is spoken by Win’s father Bob AKA Iowa Bob AKA Coach Bob, who is obsessed with fitness, particularly lifting weights. I don’t really like the idea of being obsessed with something or someone, but maybe people need to get obsessed with something from time to time. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

A big chunk of the book is set in Vienna, so I kind of learnt some random German words as well, such as schwanger (pregnant), schraubenschlussel (wrench) and schlagobers (whipped cream, but a German workmate informs me that this is not really German, but more of an Austrian thing to say). Not necessarily useful words to know, but it adds to the interest in the novel.

The edition I read was published over 30 years ago. The manager who has been on holidays for two weeks was the one who lent it to me. She lent it to me after I told her that I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Garp”. And, yes, the book is old and kind of falling apart (split right down the spine – twice); and the pages are yellowed and stained; and it altogether has such a beautifully musty smell like it’s been well-read and well-travelled (to the minds of various readers), but has long ago retired to a corner of her bookshelf.

And I think this is important to mention because, in the same way that foodies like to tell us that “we eat with our eyes”, I think that format and context and other factors not directly related to the actual words of a book can enhance how a book is received by a reader. Don’t get me wrong – I love the look and feel and smell of a brand new book as much as the next book-worm, but there’s something wonderfully sentimental and, yes, endearing about a novel that’s a bit worn out and well past its physical prime.

“Sorrow floats; love, too”

interesting character names

Working in a pharmacy, I come across a lot of different patients. Sometimes, these patients have interesting names, and if you can dissociate them from the actual person – or, better yet, if you’ve never seen the person before – then it can be kind of fun to imagine what they’d be like as a person.

For example, a colleague of mine pointed out that one of our regular patients has a name that sounds like it could be a celebrity name, or it sounds like she could have been a celebrity (back in the day) and is now comfortably retired. Being the book-lover that I am, I tend to point out the ones that sound like fictional characters. I’ve never come across a patient with the same full name as a character that I know, but now and then I’ll find a name that reminds me of a character or novel, or that sounds like it could be written into a story.

Clearly, I can’t disclose any actual names due to patient confidentiality laws, but hopefully you sort of get the idea of it.

There is one patient whose name reminds me of Violet Baudelaire from “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, even though her name does not include “Violet” or “Baudelaire”, and nor does either her first or last name start with “V” or “B”. But there’s just something about the character of her name that makes me think of Violet Baudelaire. There’s another patient name that reminds me of Philip Pirrip (AKA Pip) from “Great Expectations”.

Thinking about this, one tangent after another, I started thinking about memorable character names, particularly of characters in novels. They don’t have to be names of the hero or protagonist of the story, or even the name of the villain; sometimes side characters have memorable names too.

I reckon Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire have memorable names. Well, they must be if I still remember them so many years after I finished reading the series. There’s something kind of grand or noble about their names. Alternatively, they might just be memorable because the series has thirteen books, so I read their names over and over for thirteen books… Going back to “Great Expectations”, I like the name Philip Pirrip because it sounds kind of dignified and comical at the same time. And it just has a nice ring to it.

Pondering about awesome character names, it didn’t take long for my mind to get to “100 Years of Solitude” – that book was just full of cool names. 100YOS even redeemed the name Ursula (I’m sorry to anyone called Ursula who’s reading this, but “The Little Mermaid” did kind of ruin that name for me). Practically every character in 100YOS had a cool name, but I particularly liked “Colonel Aureliano Buendia” and “Pietro Crespi”. Even “Santa Sofia de la Piedad” is a name I won’t be forgetting in a hurry, even though I did complain about the seemingly excessive length of it.

And, of course, I can’t go past Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird”. What an absolutely awesome name! Anyone who has read the book certainly would never forget his name.

The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is also a good source of memorable character names, such as Aragorn and Gandalf (in my opinion anyway). But I kind of wonder if I would still like these names if I didn’t know the actual characters – I mean, surely the personality of the character, and the things that they did in the story influenced my perceptions of their names (?) But then I think of how some letters of the alphabet seem to be either more masculine or feminine, so I suppose it’s just as valid for a name to convey strength, wisdom or cunning without needing context and background…