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Someone's Gonna Pay for This 

On first-date dinners, road-trip gas, interpreters, and massage therapists

Wednesday, Sep 28 2005
Dear Social Grace,

I'm a professional sign language interpreter, and I was recently asked by a friend to interpret at her cousin's wedding. My friend's sister is deaf and was not expected to attend, but she was invited and has decided to fly in.

The question is, who should pay for the interpreting services?

Some say that it would be good manners for the deaf person to save the family the expense and complication of providing the service, and should make all arrangements herself. Others say that having invited a deaf person to the event, the wedding hosts should provide the service.

This has apparently become a source of some minor contention, and I fear being caught in the middle of an uncomfortable family dynamic. Your opinion would be appreciated.

Signs of Confusion

Dear Confused Madam or Sir,

Simply put, the people who hire the interpreter should pay the interpreter. If the family makes the arrangements, they will pay. If your friend asks you to interpret, you would explain your fees with her and let her sort it out as she will. (I hesitate to suggest that a wedding guest dictate goings-on at the ceremony, but if the deaf woman did request the services of an interpreter, she should be prepared to share in making the arrangements.)

I hasten to add that a family ought not invite a relative to a wedding and then hand her a bill for services rendered. When you're planning a family wedding, sometimes you have to spend a bit extra on special arrangements for relatives -- a ramp for an aunt who uses a wheelchair or a flourless cake for a cousin with wheat allergies, for instance.

But while providing a sign language interpreter would be a very thoughtful thing to do, it is not a requirement if the family cannot afford it. It would be better to do without an interpreter than to inform the deaf woman that they've hired an interpreter for whom she will be footing the bill.

Dear Social Grace,

I'm having a party and have hired a massage therapist to come give massages to the guests. We negotiated a price that includes a per-person fee and an extra house call. My question is, am I expected to tip her, too?


Dear Brigid,

I would expect you to, yes -- unless she lets you know that she includes the gratuity in her fee for large groups such as yours. If you don't tip her, who will? You certainly wouldn't want to transfer that hosting cost to your guests.

Dear Social Grace,

Please help with a dilemma. I recently drove my vehicle on a road trip with two friends. Afterward, I asked them to pay for the gas, as I furnished all the driving, the navigation, and the vehicle. (I planned the whole trip, made the reservations, and took care of everything.) One of the friends wanted us to all split the money for the gas. I feel that she took advantage of our friendship as she did nothing else to help in this trip. Was I right in asking the two friends to split the gas?


Dear Marley,

It would have been wise to make this arrangement before you left on your trip -- perhaps saying something such as, "I'll furnish the driving, the navigation, and the vehicle, and I'll take care of reservations and all planning, if you two split the costs of the gas. Does that sound fair?" That would've given your friends and you a chance to negotiate a division of labor and resources that everyone thought was just.

There are at least two sides to every story like this. Maybe your friend thinks that one third of the fuel expenses is all she owes -- that she has already made important contributions by bringing her Neil Diamond CDs to listen to in the car, by buying everyone ice cream when you stopped in Reno, and by having matching commemorative T-shirts made for the three travelers.

Your error was in surprising your friend with the fact that she owes you money. Expecting to divide the road-trip gas expenses by the number of people in the car doesn't sound horribly unreasonable to me.

Dear Social Grace,

If a woman asks a man out to dinner, and it's a first date, does the woman pay?

Sadie Hawkins

Dear Ms. Hawkins,

Generally speaking, the person who asks someone to dinner should expect to pay for that dinner. So the fundamental answer to your question is yes.

But there are shades of maybe here: As you may know, there was a time, not so very long ago, when women didn't often ask men on dates. This is ancient history -- and thank goodness -- but because of this dating custom, some men, when on a date with a woman, will expect to buy dinner even if she did the asking. Therefore, a polite tussle over the check may ensue when the woman reaches for it (see my last column, "Three Strikes" [Sept. 14], for more on that). Also because of this historical practice, there are some women who, when on a first date, will always expect the man to pay.

And some people out there still prefer this "man always pays" arrangement. Luckily, these people tend, eventually, to find, and date, like-minded folks. But first dates often involve two people who don't know much about each other. So even if you invite a fellow to dine by saying, "I'd like to take you to dinner," he may offer to pay the bill, out of old-fashioned notions of gentlemanliness (or because he's not sure what your expectations are). What you do with that offer is up to you. Offering to split the check on a first date seems fair to me.

It has been a long time since I've been on a first date -- and, again, thank goodness -- so I asked some single straight gentlemen of my acquaintance what they'd do in this situation. Those notions of fairness were often mentioned: Interestingly, some would offer to split the check as a way of saying, "We will be going our separate ways forever after this meal, so I really should pay for my own risotto," while others would do so as a way of saying, "I'm already imagining a lifetime of shared meals with you, you enchanting creature -- please save your money."

To sum up, I'll say this: Don't have an expensive dinner together on your first date. What ever happened to meeting for a cup of coffee?

About The Author

Social Grace


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