DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband is serving as an ambassador after decades as a career diplomat, and we are posted to a lovely city that many people enjoy visiting. Therefore, we have many houseguests.

We have household staff who do double duty when the houseguests come. We feel they should get something extra during these times, but we’re not sure how to handle it — tip our staff ourselves, or nudge our guests into leaving a tip.

The latter seems pretty tacky to me, but we were actually instructed by more experienced ambassadors in a protocol seminar to leave a little sign in the guest bedroom gently suggesting leaving a tip for the staff.

I feel some people may be offended by this, but that others will be grateful to be reminded. If we’ve invited friends to come visit, should we, as hosts, just “eat the tip”? If we paid our staff these tips ourselves, it would probably come out to about $1,000 a year. When we have guests, we offer them three hot meals a day (we have a wonderful cook), and we often take them touring (gas is expensive in Europe, too).

These things I wouldn’t dream of asking payment for — they are part of being hospitable and are a joy, really. But the tipping point (pun intended) seems to be somewhere in its own little gray area.

GENTLE READER: Your guests probably also do not understand that they are your guests, not the U.S. government’s, and that you will be paying for their keep.

Miss Manners is not suggesting that you tell them that, which is why she is making this public announcement. But you can mention the tips incidentally, by saying how much the local custom is to give when you are explaining — as surely you must as a matter of interest — the customs of the country.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have had a chronic illness for almost 20 years, and most of the time I have been able to conceal it. However, the past few years it has gotten progressively worse, and this year I had to retire early.

Few people know the extent of the problems or know there is no cure. It’s very difficult for me to go out and be social because it’s so tiring. When I do go out socially, some people I know may ask me, “How are you?” and I have no idea how to reply.

If I smile and say I’m fine, it’s lying. I don’t want to say something negative or otherwise be a wet blanket to the social occasion. I’ve thought of just trying to change the subject to the weather, but is that appropriate?

GENTLE READER: If you simply smile and reply, “How are you?” Miss Manners doubts that anyone will protest, “No fair, I asked you first!”

This is because what appears to be a health question is not, when asked socially, a request for medical information, but a mere convention. The conventional response, “Fine, thank you,” or, if your conscience prefers, “As well as can be expected,” is not a lie, but can be understood to refer to your not being in distress at the moment, or you would not have attended a party.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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