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Social Grace 

Thanks But No Thanks

Wednesday, Feb 28 2001
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Dear Social Grace,
If you're given an expensive gift certificate ($300) for a spa package, how much are you supposed to tip? If you go with 15 percent, for example, that would be $45 you'd need to pay out for a gift -- something you might never have chosen to do otherwise. I often don't know how much to tip for services like a hairdresser or spa anyway, but I was wondering if the fact that you're paying with a gift certificate makes a difference.

Thank you,
Nicole

Dear Nicole,
Indeed, a gift that one must pay for oneself is not much of a gift. (Keep that in mind, dear sirs and madams, the next time you purchase such a gift certificate for someone: You might make it clear that you'd like your gift to include an appropriate gratuity -- and then make sure that the inclusion is noted on the certificate.)

A tip of 15 percent to 20 percent is standard for spa-type services (as well as for restaurants and the like) -- whether they are paid for with a gift certificate, coupon, credit card, or cash. A tip should be based on the actual value of the goods and services one has received, not on the money one has laid out. People who receive tips are often paid very low wages -- tips are taken for granted when their salaries are calculated. Withholding a tip because one is enjoying a bargain or a gift is stingier than I can bear to think about.

Dear Social Grace,
As flattered as I may be, is there a polite way to inform a gay man who's hitting on me that I'm straight and have a fiancee?

Via the Internet

Dear Sir,
You are not the first man to ask me this exact question, and I honestly can't imagine how the tactics involved could be too terribly different from those a gentleman would use when stopping a woman from flirting with him. Let's hope you're not singling out men because their flirtatious advances are less welcome than those of women.

First, be certain that you're really dealing with flirting. (Imagine how embarrassed you'd feel if you mistook someone's simple friendliness for romantic interest.) A man who smiles at you is not necessarily flirting, for example, and if a smile makes you uncomfortable the problem is yours, not his.

Once that's settled, you should deal with inappropriate romantic overtures -- no matter their source -- as their intensity requires:

With a casual, lighthearted flirtatious remark -- of the type that might not even be flirting -- you're wise to continue with your conversation as if it hasn't happened. This alone is often enough to make disinterest clear (willful, smiling incomprehension speaks volumes and lets both parties save face), and it's a safer approach if you did, in fact, misunderstand the remark.

An obvious come-on should be dealt with more directly. The polite way to dissuade a flirt is clearly and quickly. If the flirt is a co-worker or someone else with whom you have a relationship, you could try saying what you've said in your letter: "How flattering. It's too bad I'm engaged to be married [or straight, or a priest, or whatever]." You haven't necessarily told him to stop, though, so he may continue "flattering" you. More to the point would be, "I'm sorry; I don't think this conversation is appropriate to our relationship." Then immediately move on to another topic, to show that there are no hard feelings.

Dear Social Grace,
Is it proper etiquette to send thank you cards for a Valentine's Day gift? For that matter, are you supposed to send thank you notes for birthday, Christmas, or Hanukkah gifts? I always thought that if it was a gift received on an annual holiday, you didn't have to.

Thank you,
Judy

Dear Judy,
First, I want to try to change the way you -- and many other people -- think about saying "thank you." Expressing gratitude should not be an onerous chore, a tedious duty that one does only because one is supposed to. Writing a thank you note -- from opening the card to applying the stamp -- takes less time than the average TV commercial break. As the average American spends nearly four hours per day watching television, he should have plenty of time to write all the thank you notes he needs to; people who have given up television should have even more time to devote to gratitude.

Writing a thank you note is a privilege. The fact that you have to write a thank you note means that you -- lucky you! -- were on the receiving end of a gift or other kindness. You have an opportunity to express, in a time-tested and easily recognizable way, your thanks on paper. You have a chance to give back to the gift giver, to make him feel good -- something that his biographers may someday pore over with intense fascination.

Are you reaching for your stationery yet? Are you all aquiver with a desire to put your gratitude down on paper? I hope so. To answer your question more specifically: Thank you notes are appropriate for gifts received on annual holidays. As we've learned, though, intimate relationships sometimes evolve to a point where thank you notes can be eliminated (indeed, a Valentine's Day gift is probably coming from an intimate source whom you might choose to thank another way). If you're not sure whether a thank you note is appropriate, send one. To do so is rarely inappropriate, but not to do so often is.

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Social Grace

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