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Manners: Tourism 101 

Loukas Crowther pens an open letter to thrill-seeking, food-seeking visitors.

Dear Tourists,

Here's how it works: We've got the cultural and historic sites, the cute little tugboat and, of course, the lighthouse. That's why you're here.

And you've got the dough. That's why we welcome you.

We're going to get that dough by pulling you into Halifax's restaurants, "the premier culinary source for food and drink in Atlantic Canada" (according to It's simply the way it is, so pull up a chair, close your eyes and think of Barack Obama. You'll love us for it later, I promise. Sure, you'll leave here, visit other towns and see other sights, but no matter how many others you experience, you'll never find another lighthouse quite like ours.

With thousands of you visiting over the next few weeks, we need to set a few guidelines in your interactions with us in our eateries, the ground zero for this relationship. So I sit down with two downtown servers, "Buddy" and "Mac" (their real names are disguised to ensure future employment opportunities), and discuss the top annoyance issues they have with tourists.

Currency: "People pay with American money and ask for American change," says Buddy. "They get upset when you tell them it's illegal to provide such a service."

Jeez Louise, you folks are in a foreign country, what do you expect? Are you going to accept a five dollar bill with picture of hockey players on it at your sub-prime mortgage house? I didn't think so.

We're big on the history, but when it comes to dealing in cash, we're as up-to-date as our New York City service industry counterparts assisting a discrete governor---any restaurant in town will accept credit cards.

Conversation: "Sometimes there's an expectation that I know where everything in the province is, and people get disappointed that I have only been here for a few years while I've been going back and forth with school," says Mac. "I thought the Valley was in the eastern part of Nova Scotia for a while. One time, I may have told a customer that Wolfville was a three-hour drive away."

Turns out you tourists aren't the only transient population sharing our city. Halifax is home to nine post-secondary institutions, with a student body population in the tens of thousands---many who have "come from away" (that's Nova Scotian for "untrustworthy, possibly criminal, outsiders"), from such exotic locales as Guelph, Ontario.

These CFA students make up a large percentage of our serving staffs. So, keep the conversation light---avoid politics and, especially, the harbour smell. (What? You don't know?!) Instead, talk about how awesome your food is, how nice and polite we all are, how our money looks funny and ignore us if we snicker behind your back that you don't know where your cruise ship takes you. It helps us feel better sometimes.

Gratuities: "I've noticed people from out west tend to tip better," says Buddy, recalling his glory days slinging hash in Calgary.

What do we look like---some sort of cultural backwater willing to whore ourselves for pennies on the loonie? Well, maybe, but still: Around these parts, a 15 percent gratuity is expected.

Does it hurt to add extra anyway? Hell no. Is math as scary for you as it is for me? Don't have a handy way to calculate a tip? Here's how you get 'er done. See the "HST/sales tax" line on your bill? That's a 13 percent sales tax. Slap a little extra on---say, $20---and presto-blammo you have a happy server. If you have a penchant for rounder numbers, here's my cheat sheet: 15 percent of $25 is $3.75 (just make it $6); of $50 is $7.50 (round up to $10) and so on.

The ultimate annoyance: "Don't clap, snap or shout to get my attention," says Buddy. "That's really rude."

Leave that sort of behaviour to locals, eh?

Oh, and enjoy your stay!

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