Answer Lady: September 2009
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Answer Lady: September 2009

This month our wise and witty expert takes on tipping for counter service, cheating on your hairdresser, and the ground rules of carpooling.

Q. It seems as though every store I go into these days has a jar on the counter for tips. I find this irritating and wonder if I really have to tip people simply for doing their job?

A. A tip is traditionally given for personal service, and the situation you describe involves little of that. So it's understandable that many of us feel annoyed and pressured by these ubiquitous appeals for a handout. But realize that a tip under these circumstances truly is optional (it's not with table servers, taxi drivers, manicurists, or hotel staff). Most of the time I just ignore the jars unless I've received super-sweet service, or I'm a regular, or I'm having a good day, or I feel a surge of irrational warmth for the college-bound kids waiting on me. Then I'll drop in my change and maybe an extra buck. Feel free -- but by no means obligated -- to do the same.

Q. My neighbor and I take turns carpooling our third-graders to school. Yesterday it was her turn but because she was running late she let her 17-year-old daughter drive. I am not okay with this -- the girl is an inexperienced driver -- and want to say something. But what?

A. The key here is to be direct but not confrontational. Tell your neighbor that you don't mean to insult her or her daughter, but the responsibility of driving your child can't be transferred without consulting you. This rule holds for basically any childcare arrangement -- no surprises or unplanned substitutions allowed. Be clear about what you expect and discuss what to do in the future if such a conflict arises again. (Could she call you, for instance?) As every parent knows, children are precious cargo; when it comes to carpooling, you need to be able to know and trust the designated driver. That's why ground rules are essential in an arrangement like yours.

Q. When I called my hair salon for an appointment, my regular hairdresser was on vacation. I needed my hair cut and colored right away, so I saw one of her colleagues. Well, I loved what he did and want him to be my hairdresser. How do I switch without offending my old stylist?

A. Between the intimacy of the service and the intensity of the chitchat, a long-term relationship with a hairdresser can get pretty deep -- so much so that moving on can seem disloyal, like cheating on a boyfriend. Happily, it's not as serious as all that. Your stylist won't love losing a client, of course, but she also understands that everyone needs a change once in a while. I'd call or write a note to give her a heads-up, keeping the tone light and upbeat: "You've done some fabulous things with my hair over the years -- I'm sure I'll be back in your chair someday!" If you'd rather just walk in and wing it, use the same strategy: Smile, be positive, don't act like a criminal. It's not as if you're voting her off the island -- this kind of thing happens all the time. So relax. The awkwardness will pass.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, September 2009.

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