Answer Lady: November 2009
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Answer Lady: November 2009

This month our wise and witty expert takes on a dad who tips poorly, litterbugs on buses, and a Thanksgiving cook with control issues.

Q. Every year I work like a dog to host Thanksgiving dinner for our extended family. I tell everyone not to bring anything, but invariably my gourmet-cook sister-in-law makes some complicated dish that gets all the oohs and aahs. Am I right to be peeved?

A. Hey, lighten up! First of all, I'd be willing to bet that your meal gets plenty of praise. You're just not noticing because you're obsessing about your sister-in-law. But, more to the point, why don't you loosen your grip on the meal and open it up to everyone? This is Thanksgiving, after all; the spirit of the holiday practically demands a communal effort. That way, the oohings and aahings will spread themselves around -- maybe even landing on a niece who baked her first batch of biscuits or a brother who sprang for that bottle of pricey champagne. Thanksgiving dinner should be neither a competitive event nor a one-woman show -- and you'll have more fun if you don't work so hard. So this year pass the stuffing and hold the resentment.

Q. Today, on my morning commute, the well-dressed woman sitting next to me dropped her empty coffee cup and ticket stub on the floor of the bus. I was really tempted to tell her to pick up her trash, but I didn't want to make a scene. Should I have said something?

A. The goal in a delicate situation like this is to get the point across without sounding self-righteous or accusatory (or as if you're lecturing one of your kids -- nothing will put a complete stranger on the defensive faster than that). You could have picked up the items and politely handed them to the woman, saying "Excuse me, I think you dropped these." If you deliver the correction with a smile and in a tone that suggests "I'm sure this was unintentional," there's a better chance it will be well received. But even if the litterbug shoots you a dirty look in response, saying something does more good in the long run than staying mute and picking up the trash yourself. At least she might think twice before littering again.

Q. My 70-year-old dad is a notoriously lousy tipper. When he treats our family to dinner, I don't see how much tip he leaves but I'm sure it's insultingly small. Usually I put extra cash on the table, but my husband thinks I'm throwing our money away. What do you think?

A. The first thought that comes to mind is that your husband obviously has never been a waiter. How could your generous and thoughtful gesture possibly be a bad idea? Especially considering you just had a free dinner and probably are not talking about more than 10 or 15 bucks max. In fact, I love your solution because it solves the problem of how not to short the server while avoiding an unpleasant (and likely to be unproductive) confrontation with your dad. In my rule book, tipping well is never a waste of money.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, November 2009.

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