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November 12, 2013

Tipping at a Wedding

My brother once got married in Toronto. His bride was Chinese and her family was a big part of the community up there.

He invited me to be the 'best man' (who could be better) and bring my family. Unfortunately, Avi, still an infant, and my wife were sick. I took the two older kids, Moishe (about 11) and Hosanna (about 9), packed them into our beaten-up blue Ford Escort, and drove from Boston to Toronto.

I vaguely remember taking the kids to the top of the CN tower, and also remember marveling at the cleanliness of the city. I don't remember all that much about the ceremony, or my contributions to it (if any). I do, however, vividly remember the reception, both for its size and for a kindness done for me.

The reception was held in a huge banquet hall in Chinatown. I was part of the greeting line to welcome the guests near the table where the red envelopes were being collected (red for luck, envelopes to enclose the gifts of cash). As people arrived it was obvious that the only people at the reception who were not Chinese were my brother, our parents, me, and my kids. Most conversations were being held in Chinese, of which I understood nothing.

We were eventually seated at the head table along with the bride's immediate family. My brother was busy with groom stuff. My father was pretending that his broad gestures and occasional Yiddish curses would pass for a sincere attempt at communication and my mother was occupied by alternately fussing over the bride and being embarrassed by my father's antics. So there was no-one for me to talk to other than my kids. We talked about how big the room was and the number of big round tables ( about 25) and how they were all full.

At one point during this affair, I was ambushed by a tradition that my brother had forgotten to mention. (I hasten to add that I'm pretty sure that he didn't know about it either.) Suddenly a waiter put two bottles of whiskey and a glass in front of me. I must have looked confused. The waiter explained that I was supposed to take the whiskey bottle from table to table and drink a toast to the bride and groom at each. I asked if the bottle was to fill everyone's glasses. No, the waiter assured me. These bottles are just for you. When you run low on the first one, I'll bring you the other.

I'm sure my expression must have changed from confused to horrified. There were a number of problems with the scenario: I had my kids with me and no-one else that I trusted with the responsibility, I had driven to the reception from a hotel across town, and I had seldom, if ever, had anything more potent than wine or beer. I logically assumed that downing two bottles of Four Roses in about eight minutes would render me three sheets to the wind with zero driving ability and almost certainly freak out my kids.

The waiter interpreted my expression correctly and quietly asked me if I didn't drink. I said no. He smiled and said he'd take care of it. He took the bottles away and came back with two identical ones. Now my expression must have been puzzled.

I hope that I made an impression on the other guests there that night, as a dignified, bearded, fat man who could hold his liquor as well as anyone alive. I finished my rounds making all the toasts and even multiple toasts and never stumbled, or slurred my words.

When I got back to the head table, I asked the waiter if he got to keep what wasn't used. He gave me a little smile and nodded. So I tipped him more than I've ever tipped anyone, asked him to tip a glass and raise a toast to me tonight, then I tipped the last of the cold tea out of the Four Roses bottle into my glass.