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george hancock stefanAfter many years of traveling with my wife, I have become convinced that she should be declared the patron saint of proper tipping. I thought that I did well with being generous, until I compared my giving to hers and saw that I failed miserably in comparison. In addition to practicing this skill for all sorts of people, she makes sure that I follow her lead whenever I travel. I do my best, but sometimes I find that I do not have the correct amount and feel that I have to confess my shortcoming to her.

Traveling to Eastern Europe is much more complicated; in fact, I found myself in the opposite situation last year. I was used to tipping at the end of a job that was well done, or after staying at a great hotel. Imagine my shock when a relative and I waited for a job to be done and the workers came and did nothing. They came to the job site and waited for about half an hour on a job they could have started without us. My relative informed me that they expected a gift before they started, which would be divided between the workers and the boss in the office that sent them.

“Giving a gift” before a job is a nice way of talking about giving a bribe. It inflates the original price, it creates two accounting systems, and it forces even people who are against a corrupt system to become a part of it. One of the workers who came to that job explained that he was the only person in the area who could lay the pipe; everyone else had traveled west to bigger cities. In a sense, the gift was a retaining fee for him to do the job.

This led me to look into which countries are the most corrupt and which countries have ordinances and codes that are so complicated, it is almost impossible to start a business. Now I am aware that certain cultures deal with business ethics differently, but international business only works if we agree on business rules or ethics. One of the conditions for European countries to be accepted into the European Union is bringing their business code to a higher level. It is interesting to see many of the countries accepted within the last ten years still struggle to find meet those standards.

The business climate of Russia is dominated by oligarchs and tycoons who were there when state property was divided and acquired everything at the cheapest price. Now they have become the nouveau riche while the situation of their countrymen has not changed. There are as many poor people as there were under communism, there are just as many people without retirements benefits and, while there is better health care available, a tourist should not be become sick in a former communist country because open beds and medical care are sorely lacking. In Serbia, I visited a retirement center where 8 people were crowded in a room. I also visited a hospital room which held eight beds, with relatives mingling together with the sick and a single nurse providing medication. In these institutions, the way to get good care for your loved one is to practice regular gifting.

It seems that in Europe, one of the worst countries is the one that we Americans have created: the Republic of Kosovo. The United Nations and many western countries poured millions of dollars into this tiny sliver of a country and no one knows where the money has gone. The US and other countries stay involved because they fear worse things will happen if they leave and our friends will become our enemies like Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. When bribing becomes a part of the culture, it is going to bring results that are not pleasant for anyone. Instead, it brings evil to the people involved, their community, and the whole country.