Etiquette

Do You Owe a Present to a Bride Who Owes You Money?

In today’s Carolyn Hax advice column at the Washington Post, someone wants to know whether they need to get a wedding gift for a deadbeat bride who happens to also be a relative. As in all good advice-column questions, you can feel the heat of the writer’s anger rising in waves off the screen:

Dear Carolyn:

Do I buy the bride-to-be a wedding gift, even though she owes me money she borrowed and never paid back? I’m not the only person to whom she owes money, by the way. It’s like we’re paying for her wedding because she’s kept the money and it rankles to have to fork out more cash to buy a gift. It complicates matters that she’s a family member. Is there a polite way to say your wedding gift is that you don’t have to pay me back?

J.

I love this question because the letter writer “J.” clearly believes the answer should be “No, Of Course You Shouldn’t Have To Get This Dumbquat A Present; How Dare She Get Married When She Owes You Money? She Should Be Glad You’re Even Going To Her Farce of a Ceremony.” J. is writing because J.–who I will assign the gender ze/zir for clarity’s sake–wants zir righteous indignation confirmed. I love righteous indignation. I love how enraged entitled people get when faced with other people’s entitlement. 

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Jane Hu’s First Jobs: Newsie; Hawker of Fish & Chips

Your first job: Paper girl, age 9 — because what else can you trust a 9-year-old to do?

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Runaway Shaming, Hair Chopping: Using Instagram For Evil

We tend to react badly when we’re denied something we’re owed. It brings out the angry toddler in us. For some enlightened Buddhist types, maybe, the tantrum takes place internally and lasts only from one breath to another. But not for most of us. If we’re lucky, no one sees the tantrum, or only a few select loving, forgiving individuals. If we’re unlucky and we can’t resist the pull of our iPhones, our tantrums make the rounds and get recorded for posterity.

Two recent news stories about people who felt cheated — and who posted their attempts to correct the injustice on Instagram – underline the way that social media can exacerbate and publicize our worst tendencies, especially when it comes to money. In one case, a hair stylist cut out a little girl’s braids after the girl’s mother gave the stylist the runaround, and then posted pictures of her handiwork, the little girl’s ravaged head. The action attracted widespread scorn because she took her anger out on the child, who wasn’t at fault, and because she put the evidence on the Internet. The stylist defended herself:

I cut the braids out and went on about my business. At the end of the day, I spent 9 hours away from my kids for nothing. Y’all wasn’t in my shoes or in my position. I have to take care of my three babies and I will do what I have to do to let it be known that I don’t play when it comes to my job or supporting my family.

Well, she has made her point: no one could mistake her for someone who messes around! In a similar vein, hopefully somehow people will also learn to avoid these employers, the Kuwaiti women who are using Instagram to track down, or at least stigmatize, their “runaway maids.”

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WWYD: Prudie & The Ethicist Edition

Wouldn’t Prudie and the Ethicist be a good name for a band? Anyway. Someone wrote a letter to Slate’s Dear Prudence with a question that they should have pointed our way:

My good friend has found her mate after several failed relationships and is desperate to be married and start her family (tick tock). I am thrilled that she is engaged, and she has asked me to be in the wedding. I would normally be pleased to do so, except for one issue. She has debt of approximately $250,000 in credit cards and student loans, and she has not told her fiancé about this. I feel strongly that she is morally and ethically required to tell him before they are married, but she refuses. I can’t help but feel like an accomplice to her dishonesty by standing up in the wedding. What is the right thing to do? —Silent Accomplice

Prudie tells SA that she’s right to be squicked out: her “good” friend is perpetrating a fraud.

debt like this is something that simply must be revealed before two people wed. Keeping from your intended painful news, like a diagnosis of major illness, a previous incarceration, or the fact that you are dead broke (and not Hillary Clinton dead broke), means starting a life together based on an implicit lie.

Startlingly, Prudie does not suggest that SA write the clueless fiance an anonymous letter suggesting he follow the money. I wish we knew whether the bride were hiding financial truths from the groom or straight out lying. Either way, marriages have been based on deceit since the beginning of time. Years shaved off of ages, ex-wives forgotten, goats gone unaccounted for, paternity fudged. This can be seen as just another strike against the Wedding Industrial Complex, the societal idiocy that drives us to get married at all costs, often literally. Audits and prenups for all! Or don’t get married. That’s cool too.

Meanwhile, at the Ethicist’s lair …

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Waitress Given $1K; What’s the Most You’ve Ever Tipped?

Waffle House waitress Shaina Brown got a $1,000 tip from a customer — and immediately had to surrender it:

During a night shift on Mother’s Day in North Carolina, the Waffle House waitress received an extraordinary tip from a humble benefactor. The man, who has not been named, wanted to leave $1,000 for Brown, and an additional $500 he wanted her to share with another customer in the Raleigh restaurant, local outlet The News & Observer reports. So the benevolent patron wrote $1,500 on the tip line on his receipt before leaving. Brown was overjoyed to receive the gift, until she learned that it was not in Waffle House’s policy to let her keep such a generous tip.

The chain’s policy is to refund any tip that extravagant left via credit card. It makes sense in a way — presumably they don’t want to take seriously what could be a joke, or a simple typo, and have to deal with an irate customer challenging the charges. But the poor waitress! Luckily the patron, in this case, assured the restaurant that the gift was intentional and he wrote Brown a check for the full amount.

Once I tolerated a lonely man flirting with me in bad French when I was tending bar, helping out at a friend’s fundraiser. It was only an hour of handing out glasses of wine, and I had $40 in tips at the end of it, half of which came from that one guy. I guess he was $20 worth of grateful to have something to do instead of circulate awkwardly. What’s the best tip you’ve ever gotten, or — like famously extravagant tippers Frank Sinatra and Johnny Depp — given?

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What Cake Are You Wearing?

Wedding cakes are BACK, y’all, and better than ever, by which we mean, of course, fancier and more expensive.

Indeed, about 90 percent of couples offer cake, in some form, at America’s two million weddings a year. That’s a yearly expenditure of $2 billion, according to Mr. Markel, so cakes are still a vibrant segment of the $86 billion bridal industry.

After the 2008 recession, supermarket cakes for under $200 gained in popularity. But nationally, the average cost of wedding cakes has doubled over the last decade, and now “the average price per slice is about $7,” Mr. Markel said, citing a low of $2.50 a slice in smaller areas to $15 and more in San Francisco and New York. “A few years ago, it was just, well, you get a wedding cake,” said Mary Giuliani, a high-end caterer in Manhattan. “These days, it’s like, what cake are you wearing? It’s so much more stylish, tied in with couture.”

$7 a slice! Who knew wedding cake was the most expensive cake you could buy? Okay, fine, maybe you did, but it’s still shocking, isn’t it? So how does the Wedding Industrial Complex manipulate its victims into paying such an exorbitant price? How else? TRADITION.

Laura Pietropinto, a Broadway assistant director who is to marry her fiancé, Justin Restivo, next month at the Metropolitan Club, said her five-tier cake (being made by Mr. Ben-Israel) will incorporate their white-and-pink wedding colors. Each tier will display textures from her gown. “It’s the symbol of your union and your future together,” she said. “We never considered not having a cake,” she added, talking about their $3,000 cake. “It was about tradition.”

The article goes on to detail more than you ever wanted to know about bare cakes; ombré cakes; rustic cakes; cakes that are taller than the average Billfold writer; and gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan and organic cakes, which, um, why bother? Serve a block of cold tofu on a cake plate instead and save yourself a thousand dollars. But the best detail of all the piece saves for last.

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How To: Barter! Featuring Chickens

Remember that Nevada Republican running for Senate who suggested we pay doctors with chickens? She was great. Or at least great for the headlines, and for her opponent Harry Reid, who went on to get reelected:

Phoebe Sweet, communications director for the Nevada State Democratic Party, and a few of her barnyard friends who shall remain nameless stopped by Lowden’s campaign headquarters. “I tried to trade this goat for some health care, and my doctor looked at me like I’m crazy,” Sweet told a receptionist as she carried the 25-pound goat into the headquarters with a local TV crew tracking her. “So I was just curious if you had any information on her barter plan.” “No, thank you,” the unidentified receptionist said politely.

Well, Chicken Lady Sue Lowden (R) may have gone away, but, as Esther Schindler details in this article, the idea of incorporating some bartering into our economy is still with us:

An accountant might do the tax-filing for a company that can redesign its website. Farmers can (and do) exchange tractors for cattle. A landscaping business can work out a maintenance services agreement with the lawyer who’ll do its incorporation papers.

What a fantastic plan! I’ll write you a limerick if you change my lightbulbs. Except, as Schindler goes on to note, assigning value to disparate tasks can present some challenges. Is an hour of legal advice equivalent to an hour of house painting? What if I need my lightbulbs changed immediately but you’re happy to wait a week for a perfect limerick? Who is the ultimate arbiter of what’s fair and what is worth what? I don’t want you dragging me into small claims court because you hate my rhymes and demand a do-over. You know Judge Judy would ultimately take my side, anyway.

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Can Men and Women Ever Be Friends If One Steals The Other’s Credit Card?

Amy Poehler and Seth Myers have a delightful rapport, and we only like them better now that we know, courtesy of Vulture, that they are a) friends, and b) the deadliest of enemies, because Poehler has stolen Myers’s credit card and is taking it on sprees. Watch Myers explain how a simple misunderstanding has turned into something more.

We can’t blame her because feminism, and sisterhood, and also she can do no wrong. Besides, the possibilities are so exciting! What would you do with Seth Myers’s credit card?

Watch the clips of Seth Myers realizing he indeed does not have the upper hand here.

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Tipping by State

Quartz looked at tens of millions of food transactions using data by Square, a mobile payments company, to see the tipping habits of diners of each state in the U.S. Of course, not every dining establishment accepts Square, but the coffee shop and food truck data is particularly interesting:

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Buying a Gift For Someone Who Did You a Financial Favor

Recently he suggested I take a ‘rent holiday’ for a few months because I’ve got some other big bills to pay, which is a relief! However, it’s also his birthday in a month and I had been thinking about getting him a Kindle — which now won’t be that difficult to afford given the ‘no rent’ thing. What is the etiquette on how much to spend on a present for someone when they’ve just done you a financial favor?

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When You’re the Know-it-all at Work

What do you do if you’re afraid that you’re coming off as a condescending know-it-all at work? Should you try to act “dumber”? Karla Miller who runs @Work Advice at The Washington Post says know-it-alls shouldn’t act dumber—they should be “strategically generous”:

They ask questions instead of spitting out answers: What do you think? Does anyone have a different idea? What if we tried this instead?

They recognize that everyone has a contribution: Great point, and I’d like to build on that by adding … Let me defer to Eloise on that topic.

They dissent politely: I see where you’re coming from, but I think …

They acknowledge vulnerabilities: I sometimes struggle with expressing myself tactfully.

They apologize as needed: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be brusque.

They laugh at themselves: Whoops, I had a Sheldon Cooper moment there. Bazinga!

At a previous job, someone who built a reputation for being a know-it-all and interrupting colleagues at work was simply told, “Stop interrupting people while they’re in the middle of talking—it’s rude.” He apologized, and consciously made an effort to stop himself from correcting people while they were talking. It’s the thought that counts.

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Simon Doonan Says We Should Just Ask People What They Paid for Things

Simon Doonan, a writer, fashion commentator, and Barney’s window-dresser, notes in Slate that he has noticed more people picking their noses in public and wonders if “the topsy-turvy whirligig of contemporary life has clearly begun to erode modern manners.” He wonders if we should update our etiquette books with some amendments including, asking people about their money.

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