Cory Farley, voted "Best of Reno" 26 times in 27 years by readers of his column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, takes an unconventional look at topics from presidential elections to the best way to cook Brussels sprouts.

Location: Verdi, Nev, United States

Friday, December 14, 2007

By your gifts they shall know you

If I had a personal trainer, his Christmas this year would be less merry than he might expect.
Forgive the masculine pronoun; normally I try to be gender neutral. The fact is, though, that a personal trainer would have to see me with my shirt off, and I’m not man enough these days (more accurately, I’m too much man) to go around like that in front of a strange woman even if I've paid her first.
But I’m man enough to look any trainer in the eye and say, “Your Christmas gift is going to be smaller than you anticipate, Body-Fat Boy.”
What brings this to mind is a story I read the other day on something that's apparently a puzzle in some circles: At Christmas, how much should we give the people who do all those little services we’re too lazy to perform for ourselves, or that we may forget are done at all?
It wasn’t exactly a six-paragraph demonstration of what’s wrong with journalism today, but it was out on that edge.
In addition to personal trainers (hang on—I’ll tell you in a minute if you “gifted” yours appropriately), it included manicurists, hairdressers, teachers, pool cleaners, a regular waiter or waitress and even cops.
The idea that we owe a Christmas gift to everyone we deal with may be novel to you (it was to me), but apparently we haven’t been paying attention. This story pretty much assumes that everybody gets something, and that it will be in the form of cash. The only question is how much.
If you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all rule, here it is: the cost of one regular session of whatever they do. If you normally pay your hairdresser 50 bucks (is that ballpark? I have no idea), then this week you should duke her 50 extra, for the cause.
What cause? ‘Cause it’s Christmas. You don’t want to be thought cheap, nor to have your hair come out orange, either. Thus we’re held hostage by those who serve us.
This rule, the story said, can safely be applied to most service employees with whom you have a regular relationship. It won’t work for mail carriers, who can’t accept cash (gift cards in small amounts are OK), or with trash collectors, who “should” get $10 to $30 apiece, which means you have to stay home on trash day to count how many guys are on the truck.
Notable among the other exceptions were personal trainers, who (at least according to personal trainers) customarily get more generous remembrances.
That kind of sourcing was one of the problems with his story: To find out the usual gifts for people in various jobs, the reporter asked people in those jobs, who strike me as not necessarily impartial.
That aside, though, if you have a trainer, you may be relieved to learn that he or she will not be insulted by a gift of $100, though “some” say they’ve gotten as much as $1,000 and $400 “isn’t unusual” (just for fun, I’d like to check those people’s tax returns and see how many declared that kind of giftage as income).
Who really gets screwed, though, is teachers. As usual.
Tipping them in cash, the story said, "isn't customary." It's all right to give your trainer a C note. Your kids' teachers, though, operate under different rules.
That section of the story started fine: Rule No. 1 of teacher-gift selection, it said, is to avoid mugs or anything with an apple on it.
Good advice. My wife taught for 30 years, and when she retired, we had to haul mugs and wooden/ceramic/plastic/macramé apples away in crates. She has fond memories of many students, but we don’t need no more damn apple stuff, except pies.
Then it went bad: “Instead,” the story counseled, “consider donating a book in the teacher’s name to the school library.”
So your housekeeper, at Christmas, should get “one to three weeks’ salary” directly in her hand, while a teacher gets a book off the Special Values table at Barnes & Noble, and it goes to the library? I ran this idea by a couple of teachers, including the one with whom I share a toothbrush rack.
“It’s because we’re ‘professionals,’” she said. “We’re supposed to be in it for the kids.”
Oh, right. Like professional athletes or lawyers, except you're not allowed to go on strike.
"That's pretty much it."
People in most other businesses, though, apparently are inclined to swallow their pride and take your filthy money. Some starting points:
  • Your gardener will not be offended by $50 to be split among the crew.
  • The guy who cleans the pool gets the cost of one cleaning.
  • Nursing homes generally prefer gifts for the whole floor, like candy or a food basket, rather than individual presents. Private nurses, who often are closer to both the patient and the family, are treated as family members and get gifts commensurate with that status.
  • Mail carriers, as noted, can't take cash but can take cards, candy, stuff like that, as long as the value is less than $20.
  • Retired newspaper people amusing themselves with blogs traditionally receive $200 or more in small, used bills


Blogger Unknown said...

This 'problem' is easily solved by not tipping anyone. Then they are treated equally, right?

It snowing in Spokane, lightly, very pretty when you are retired and do not have to leave the house unless you want to.


3:37 PM  
Blogger ReconRanger said...

I'm with Spokane Gal. Don't tip anybody and nobody gets left out. This is more a big city custom anyway, where people live in places with doorpeople and elevator operators and washroom attendants.

I remember returning from a few weeks in Japan, where tipping is unknown, and bellying up to an overpriced cup of coffee in the San Francisco airport. On the counter was a tip jar.

A tip for dispensing coffee into a cup and handing it to me?

Only in 'Merica.

It's 28 degrees and cloudy in Pinsk, Belarus.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Ann Onn said...

I took eight pounds of cookies and candy to a relative's assisted living home this afternoon. I told one of the care givers one bag was for the staff and the other was for the residents and handed them to her. She responded, "OK."

I'm not sure which makes me madder--being asked for the gifts or not being thanked for them.

My further comments are on my blog:

4:24 PM  
Blogger sabjoro said...

I'm not home enough to know if the same people come by each time to deliver mail or pick up trash.

Which begs the question: do I Christmas tip if the person is Jewish, Muslim or of non-Christian faith or is that an insult?

5:11 PM  
Blogger tuzoner said...

Fortunately, I do most things myself.

That leaves:

USPS Mail Carrier
Apartment Manager
Renters Insurance Provider
Bicycle Repair Shop
Electricity Utility Provider
Telephone Service Provider

Four little words: I don't think so.

7:37 PM  
Blogger ReconRanger said...


You need to weigh in on these comments slash chats now and again just so we know you're there.

After all, we're here, all five of us, in support of you. We're talking to you as well as each other, Brother.

7:50 PM  
Blogger gkbagne said...

I prefer giving homemade gifts to tips at the holidays. I knit up things like hats for acquaintances to sweaters for family. I hadn't thought of tipping the garbage guys. Think they'd like caps?


4:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Weather report first, it was 8 degrees at 8:30 AM yesterday here in Winnemutant...

I don't give anyone anything at Christmas (or any other pagan holiday), with the rare fruitcake exception to certain columnists...

Speaking of which, Hostess has a snacksized fruitcake found with the other Hostess products at the store which isn't too bad...



8:43 AM  
Blogger polackjoe said...

About the only ones I tip are the Garbage Man and the Recycle Guy - they perform an essential service that I appreciate greatly (but it's not to say that I DON'T appreciate "retired newspaper people amusing themselves with blogs," but I don't deal with small, used bills....).

I'm with most others here - don't tip. I think too many people think they deserve one rather than earn one. And for what? Nothing more than doing their job. Tips are for "above and beyond" type service.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Pogonip said...

Then there's your doctor,
accountant who does your taxes,
the auditor at IRS,
the cop who gave you a parking ticket,
the ticket seller at the movie
the kid that sold you popcorn
the clerk at the AM-PM
the checker at Raley's

This could get a little bit out of hand.......

12:04 PM  
Blogger Steve_R said...

Congrats on your return to private life,,, oh, yrah, you're still publishing :-)

Anyway, I agree with the others.. tipping shouldn't be overdone. The people I tip are tipped all year long on a case by case basis. I exchange gifts with friends & family, and donate to charities I trust.

9:46 PM  
Blogger tuzoner said...

I realize this is off-topic but it's a rather good book review for those that still read books.

From - free registration required

A Grim Diagnosis for the U.S., and a Prescription

5:18 PM  
Blogger Civil Write said...

I only wish I had the $200! That's the CF I've known and (off and on!) loved for 25 years! It's hard to believe This Space is now just space. I'm glad you provided us with your blogspot so we can still enjoy your ramblings (whether correct and concise or simply coercive). Merry Christmas to you and all yours, Cory.

Bonjovic Bob's brethren

8:02 AM  
Blogger sleet10 said...

Tipping has got really out of hand. Christmas is now or has been for a long time out of realm of reality. Over all the years the only one I have tipped and it was my personal trainer was a gift certificate to In and out burger, boy is that an oxy moron. Anyway, he really enjoy it, because every once in awhile we all like to fall off the wagon.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Bob Custer Wilkie said...

Of course the old school New York tradition means tipping your doorman-
I'm not sure either why so many others are now in on the Holiday tip circle, either...It's a nice gesture,
and I know teachers can and do accept gift cards of a modest amount...

9:35 AM  
Blogger shawndoggy said...

Yeah, I'm totally sorta with you till I read tuzoner's comment that he won't spif the bike shop. Lemme tell ya, when I worked at a shop (early 90s), none of us EXPECTED a tip, but when a customer came in with a last minute request and a six pack of brewskis, not only would his work get moved to the top of the pile, but we'd also remember him next time.

Not justifying that anyone DESERVES the tip, just saying that sometimes a small gesture can be a big investment in how well you are served in the future.

3:31 PM  

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