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If you take a local’s photo, do you owe them a tip? Short answer: usually. Long answer: read on.
There are certain contextual components you can use to decide whether someone’s participation in your photo warrants your coins or not.
The fact of the matter is, the answer is entirely situational and contingent upon several factors. But at the most basic, fundamental level, the chances are, someone performing or posing on the street, isn’t there just for
sh*ts and giggles fun. They’re trying to make an honest living.
MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO
Imagine you see a man that’s just been used for 10 people’s photos who all waltz off without throwing at least a coin into the bowl, that obviously isn’t there for decoration. The next tourist then sees this, and models their behavior after it.
This triggers a series of selfishness, where an hour can pass, dozens of people will have gotten their “exotic” photo with a local, meanwhile his bowl collects dust.
So often we as [extremely privileged] travelers, go to these countries and take, take, take. Whether it’s taking photos of people without their permission, or taking our sweet time walking on a sidewalk, holding up a local who’s on their daily commute that’s gotten slower thanks to the hoards of tourists in the way.We get so greedy with our needs to flaunt our experiences on social media, that we sacrifice our human decency along the way. Click To Tweet
YOUR CURRENCY VS. THEIRS
As a general rule, if I’m in a country where my currency is stronger than theirs, I will ALWAYS tip any aspect of their culture that I engage with, including photos of people I take [with their permission], servicemen who go out of their way, taxi drivers who don’t try to rip me off, and anything that adds value to my experience.
I wrote my thoughts before on why tipping, in general, is a sensitive topic for me as I’ve had multiple encounters abroad from people showing their pleasure and sometimes shock that Black people are often their best tippers. And I had a moment to ponder whether Black people tipped this way to negate the stereotype that we don’t tip at all, or if we always feel obligated to make up for the bad tipper behind or ahead of us.
One thing that’s for sure is that I will never tip my way into poverty.
God has blessed me with so much, even at my poorest. So in return, I have the privilege to bless others. And that’s how I choose to navigate this world.
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Another way to look at it is this. If someone made you stop, smile, or sing, then you should give something. No, they’re not forced to be there, and you don’t have to engage. But if you do, don’t be greedy and take their photo without giving some token of appreciation in return.
If you have a strong passport, strong currency, or the disposable income to be traveling in the first place, try to remember the privileges you were born into that others weren’t.
Your parents happened to have sex within these invisible borders that granted you your first world passport. You did nothing to earn or deserve it, so don’t act like traveling in countries where they have fewer opportunities than you is a reason to look down on people trying to earn a living from the thousands of tourists flocking their city daily.
I reminisce back to the months where I was living/traveling on $10/day. I didn’t have the luxury of disposable income starting out, so in these situations, I just never took photos of or with anyone. I knew that it would be selfish of me to think they were standing in the sun for several hours a day just for the fun of it.
It’s very possible to manage your budget without sacrificing compassion. Giving money and saving money aren’t mutually exclusive.
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BUSKERS VS. LOCALS
There are obvious nuances when it comes to the elderly man sitting on a corner playing an instrument, as opposed to the young street dancer who hypes up a crowd, draws a circle, then forces a hat in front of you if you stayed and watched the whole thing.
I’ve seen street performances where they would build up the hype for an entire 30 minutes before doing anything impressive, and then ask people to donate before even seeing anything. This situation does NOT apply, and I find that to be wrong and cowardly.
Of course I think the way I do because of my own lived experiences, circumstances, and internal privilege checks. But I invited people on social media to chime in with their own thoughts, and wanted to give you all some insight into some of their commentary as well.
“Performing in public is the performer’s choice. I am not obligated to pay for pics/vids”.
Absolutely, you have no obligation to. But if you’re traveling in a developing country where the amount you will spend on lunch could carry someone for a week, it’d be remiss to not use your privilege to give back and invest in the well being of those who aren’t as fortunate. Especially if you chose to engage/watch/capture their performance.
“I don’t get tipped when people take photos of me.”
As someone who is often on the receiving end of photos daily as well, I get their point. But the difference here is that I’m a guest in THEIR home country. I had the privilege of growing up in a diverse community. If I’m in a country where Black people are a rarity, yes, people will ask for photos, and I won’t ask them for money. I’m not there to make money. I’m there to spend it, learn, and engage with people of that country. I find this to be great invitation into conversation and other cultural exchanges.
At very least, I just hope to end up in their family WhatsApp group with someone bragging that they got to meet Serena Williams.
“See for me, I would feel guilty if I didn’t, however if the notion was forced, then no.”
I can whole-heartedly relate to this. Even for people who just want to stand and appreciate a performance for a few seconds, without pulling out their phone, shouldn’t be forced to tip. If you’re not capturing a photo or video to use for your social gain, then I don’t think you should be forced to give something.
“Many people believe taking their photo is taking a piece of their soul. If you’re going to take someone’s pic without permission, tip at least.”
The permission aspect came up a lot, and I think it’s important to mention that in most cases, these street performers encourage photos, for the simple fact that they expect a tip in return.
So the more people that are taking photos, the bigger crowd that comes (because of the #FOMO factor), and the more money they can potentially earn.
But if you’re wanting a portrait-style photo of someone, I think it’s incredibly important to consider the following:
1. Ask what their name is. This question humanizes them, and you can carry on including their name into every other sentence to make them feel special and seen.
“Abdullah, do you mind if I take your photo?”
“Your laugh is so fun, Abdullah!”
“Abdullah, are you from Marrakech?”
2. When asking to take their photo (add a simple gesture holding the camera to your cheek and mimicking a shutter click).
If you sense discomfort, don’t force it. And if you notice people around you, make it very obvious that you have put something in their basket beforehand.
3. Ask if it’s okay to share their image online if you know that’s where it’ll end up. You can throw in words like Facebook or Instagram, as most people are familiar with it. But I think it’s so important to let them know where their photo will go and/or what it will be used for.
There may be a language barrier here, but just do your best. And then actually show them the photo afterward so they can see their beautiful reflection. This is such a humane exchange that gives justice to their existence. In a crowded street, this conversation might be a little chaotic or rushed, but the sentiment is always appreciated.
Overall, my message is simple. Use your privilege for good, be respectful to those who you use to “exotify” your photo collection, and to invest into the people and places that you pass. Feel free to share this message and continue the conversation in the comments below!