An aristocratic gentleman of Miss Manners' acquaintance is in the habit of showing his contempt for surly or inept service people by throwing money at them.
On a typical taxicab ride, he is rudely grilled by the driver to determine whether his destination is acceptable, he is then forced to listen to loud music from a speaker behind his right ear, he is addressed with bigoted remarks in which he is nudged to concur, and he is then let off a block from his destination because it would be too much trouble for the driver to maneuver closer.
The gentleman's response is to thrust money scornfully at the driver and then stalk off haughtily, without waiting for change, confident that he has taught the fellow a lesson and left him withering with shame.
Miss Manners offers this strange story not only to illustrate the bizarre nature of her acquaintance, but to make the point that tipping, as a means of commentary on the quality of service, is open to misinterpretation.
In theory, one can reward or insult a person by giving a tip, withholding it, giving more than is expected, or giving less than is expected. However, there is a missing ingredient in this formula, and that is the figure for What Is Expected.
Nobody really knows any general rules about this, however authoritative he or she may sound. It seems simple to remember that 15 percent of food bills at restaurants is a standard tip, but suppose you are having a 20-cent cup of coffee at the drugstore counter? Or suppose you eat at the world's most chic restaurant but, being chic yourself, never order more than one white asparagus spear?
Restaurants, mind you, are comparatively simple. How much, if anything, do you tip the shampoo girl at your dog's beauty salon if she did a bad job on the poodle but ran out and put change in your parking meter for you, and owns 17 percent of the stock in the shop?
If you tip her at all, are you insulting her? Ifyou do not, are you depriving her of part of her expected income which, her employer has said, is the way in which the customer contributes to her salary? If you should give her too much, are you encouraging her to perform sloppy shampoos? If you give too little, will she take it out on your dog next time? Was the parking meter trip an extra service deserving of an extra tip? Does it matter that she put in in the wrong meter an d you got a ticket?
Miss Manners dearly hopes that the day will come when the price of running such an establishment as a hotel, restaurant or topless go-go palace with be figured with the full salaries of all the employees, and the cutomers will not be left to guess how much of it they must make up out of their pockets after they have paid the bills. This does not mean an extra "service charge," as is often added abroad, but a clearly stated all-inclusive price, as overhead and salaries of clerks are included in the prices charged by shops.
There will then be those who ask Miss Manners how they may deliver critiques of the performance of service people.
With smiles, letters to employers and the pressure with which you slam the taxicab door.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: I promise you, I didn't start wearing white shoes until Memorial Day, which you said was the first possible time to do so, regardless of the weather. My question is, when do I start wearing dark things? I wouldn't dream of changing from summer clothes until you tell me to, but I would appreciate you letting me know in advance, as we get a lot of snow here and I'd hate to be left standing here in my white shoes and sundress, waiting for your answer.
A: Labor Day is the first day for wearing fall clothes, but the only people who do so then are the candidates for the Miss America title, and do they ever look silly, running around on the boardwalk in their wool suits in all that heat. White shoes may not be worn after Labor Day. And for full fall regalia, please wait for the first cool day or the first snowfall, whichever comes first.
Q: In depleting some old personal files, I ran across the attached: "Former Postmaster General J. Edward Day revealed in his book an ingenious way to stop long-winded telephone callers long after they have fulfilled the purpose of their calls. The painless technique does not insult the caller, for Mr. Day suggests you hang up while you are talking. The other party thinks you were accidentally cut off, because no one would hang up on his own voice."
A: Hanging up on oneself is, in terms of etiquette, what suicide is under the law. It is wrong, but impossible to punish. Both are perfect, if drastic, solutions; but, then, both are apt to be responses to drastic problems.
Q: Admittedly, it sounds silly to have to ask how to eat an ice cream cone. But I always end up with a mess dripping all over myself. Can it be that there is a right and a wrong way to eat ice cream cones?
A: Much more than that, it is an art. Many parents mistakenly think that there is a natural instinct for the eating of ice cream cones, and then they make a dreadful fuss about the upholstery.
The problem is a seemingly insoluble one, namely that the cone is served empty with the scoop or scoops of ice cream on top of its fragile rim, but the eater is expected to place the frozen substance inside during the course of his eating. It may be done, but it requires the ability to plan, manual dexterity, and a knowledge of physics and geometry.
First lick the ice cream, in a clockwise motion (counterclockwise for lefthanded people), until the scoop is not wider than the rim of the cone. No overhand is permitted. Then, placing the tip of the tongue in the center of the remaining scoop, push gently downward. This requires much skill, because if you apply too much pressure the cone will burst in your hand like a balloon. After each push, additional edge-licking will be needed as the pressure forced the scoop outward. With careful planning, you should be able to fill the cone at the same time that you are filling you stomach. The cone, once full, is nibbled clockwise to the tip, which is put whole into the mouth.
This sounds like a great deal of work, but once mastered, the ability will serve you well in other more sophisticated ares of life, such as yogurt cones.
Q: My mother and my sister and I were playing Monopoly. My sister was going broke, and I offered to trade her $100 and the Water Works for Ventnor Avenue, which I needed to get a set, so I could start building. The rest of the property was bought up, so that nobody else had a set, except Mediterranean and Baltic, which don't charge much. Anyway, my sister was about to trade when my mother said to her, "Don't do it, he'll murder us both." Was that fair?
A: As you play Monopoly, it should be unnecessary for Miss Manners to tell you that life is not fair. Is it fair for a person to bankrupt his dear mother and siter, just because they happen to find themselves staying in a hotel they can't afford? Wyou will find however, that it is in the selfish interest of the rich to keep the poor marginally alive, in order to have customers for their marketplace. Therefore, Miss Manners finds it advantageous to you, as well as fair, that your sister be taught basic survival.
Q: When I read the newspaper at the breakfast table, my wife, who has another section of the paper in front of her, starts reading the back of the section I am holding up. So do my children who ordinarily wouldn't read anything. And it's not just a family problem, either. People do it when I'm reading on the bus.
I find it annoying to have people lurking behind me while I'm trying to read, shifting about if I happen to drop the paper down slightly to hold my coffee cup or whatever. If I then offer my section to my wife, she always says, "Oh, no, I don't want it - I was just looking at that one little thing that caught my eye." Do you consider it legitimate for people to read the backs of others people's papers?
A: Within reason, yes. Miss Manners believes it is one's duty to contribute to an informed public. However, when they start asking you to turn the page, reason and duty end.