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Baby Talk 

Friendly obfuscations, tipping obligations, and jerks who calls themselves "friend"

Wednesday, Jul 9 2003
Dear Social Grace:

What is the polite response to inquiries about my husband's and my baby-making plans? With folks we don't know well, it's easy enough to deflect the question with a smile and a joke; with intimate friends and family, I'm happy to tell them at least some part of the truth. But it's to that group in the middle -- people I do love but with whom I just wouldn't discuss something so private -- that I'm not sure what to say. Obfuscation doesn't seem to be working. Thank you.

Via the Internet

Dear Obfuscating Madam,

In last week's column, I shared some statements I've found useful in deflecting indecorous inquiries -- from "That's not something I want to talk about, if you don't mind" to "I'm afraid that's really none of your business" ("Presumed Healthy," June 25). But I'll acknowledge that such statements are not always easy to hear. Your friends want to be involved in your life, and you may fear seeming to shut them out completely. So after you've said to a friend, "Lazlo and I aren't ready to discuss our baby plans with people yet," you can add with a rueful smile, "but you wouldn't believe the way some people have been prying! Thank goodness most of my friends are blessed with good tact." If you feel like interjecting a joke, toss in something like this: "I have enough trouble dealing with our parents' grandchild inquiries!" You'll have confided in your friend and paid her a compliment that she will almost certainly want to live up to.

Dear Social Grace,

Please help me with a question regarding tipping practice. I have noticed the ubiquitous tip jar at delis, coffee shops, takeout restaurants, etc. As a former waitress, I understand the reliance on tips for income. However, as a waitress, I was responsible for atmosphere as well as good service and a meal. In addition, taxes on my income were assessed from a percentage of my sales. In this instance it seems that tipping has been made mandatory.

However, I do not feel that tipping is required at the local coffeehouse if the service does not warrant. What is your opinion on the matter? My friends have made comments about me not leaving the change from the purchase.

Thank you,

Dear Julie,

The coffee-counter tip jar is a relatively new cultural phenomenon, and therefore we can't rely on the established traditions and expectations that restaurant service provides us. A broadly stated rule is this: When you purchase a "luxury" personal service, a gratuity is more likely in order. (For example, we tip a food server but not a grocery-store cashier, a manicurist but not a nurse, a shoeshiner but not a shoe salesperson.) When we apply this standard to your situation, it would seem that a small tip -- say, between 30 and 50 cents for a $3 latte -- is in order for coffee-bar service (more for especially special service).

You also acknowledge another important point: Many employers are taking advantage of our generous instincts (and our growing acceptance of the tip jar) by paying employees a substandard wage and then asking them to beg customers for money. Shame on them, yes -- but the employees are not at fault (and how strangers handle their taxes is between them and the IRS). It hardly seems fair to punish the employee for an employer's actions.

All that said, you are not required to make use of that ubiquitous jar. At takeout counters and the like, gratuities are at the customer's discretion. I am not likely to tip someone simply for ringing up my order and making change, but if I've asked him to prepare an extra-hot triple-shot half-decaf soy vanilla latte with light foam -- and he does so without rolling his eyes -- well, 15 percent does seem about right.

Dear Social Grace,

I have a problem with a friend of mine, namely, that she's always making fun of my weight, which isn't that high, but she's very thin. Just today, she said, "What would I do without my chubby girlfriend to make me look all the skinnier?" But the problem is that her statements are all in fun, and if I say something, she accuses me of being too sensitive about it. What would be a good way to handle her constant remarks about my weight?

Dieting to Please a Friend

Dear Dieting Madam,

If you ask me -- and, by gosh, you did -- you should first consider spending a lot less time with this nominal "friend." I can't imagine that time spent with such a ... person is all that enjoyable. If she prefers companions who make her look slim by comparison, I might direct her toward the rhino enclosures at the zoo.

Even so, she may have redeeming qualities not evident in your description. If you want to continue spending time with her, you could try to develop a thicker skin. Ideally, a friend is someone to whom you can say, "Mimi, I know it's all in fun, but when you tease me about my weight, my feelings are hurt." A true friend is someone who'd respond to such a statement with horrified regret and rococo apologies. Instead, you were accused of being "sensitive" (as if that were pejorative). To be diplomatic, you might allow that the subject is, indeed, a tender one for you -- and ask again for the comments to cease, nonetheless.

If none of that works -- then, Madam, I have no further advice for you. If your friend knowingly and willfully hurts your feelings (or otherwise makes herself extremely unpleasant to be around), you're foolish to waste time or consideration on her.

About The Author

Social Grace


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