You've got no problem choosing the perfect holiday present for Grandma Emma and Cousin Joe. But you're clueless when it comes to gifting people like your cleaning lady, hairstylist, mailman and kids' schoolteacher.
What to give depends on how long the person has served you and how much you can afford, says Manhattan etiquette expert Charlotte Ford, author of "21st Century Etiquette: Charlotte Ford's Guide to Manners for the Modern Age," (Paperback, $14).
"I hate to come up with numbers," she says. "Some people go to the hairdresser twice a week; I just go for color and do my own (hair styling), so I get them a little gift and a little extra money the last time I go before Christmas."
Queried about what she would do, Greenwich, Conn., resident Lillian Vernon, founder of the famed gift/product catalog company, e-mailed her suggestions: A leather tote bag for the schoolteacher, bottle of wine for the hairdresser, basket of imported soaps for the manicurist, and gift certificate for manicure and pedicure to the cleaning lady.
Lesley Carlin of Dedham, Mass., who co-authored two "Etiquette Grrls" books -- "Things You Need to Be Told" ($9.95) and "More Things You Need to Be Told" ($11.95), both from Berkley Books -- with Honore McDonough Ervin, says she would positively exclude from the schoolteacher gift list novelties pegged for that noble profession.
"Like tiny wooden things saying 'No. 1 teacher,' " she says. "My mom is a teacher and I have seen her come home with stuff like that," notes Carlin. "It's nice that the kids are thinking of her, but one can do better than that."
She says sure-fire hits with teachers are often gifts kids produce in wood shop or art class. Monetary thank yous are appropriate for your letter carrier, newspaper delivery person and garbage collector, say our doyennes of propriety.
For the newspaper delivery kid, Carlin proposes an amount equal to one week's bill, such as $10. Ford and Vernon suggest $20 for the mail carrier (the maximum that can be accepted on a single occasion, based on the United States Postal Service's Code of Ethics), while Carlin prefers rewarding her postman with home-baked goodies. As to the garbage collector, Ford suggests $15, Vernon opts for $25.
Should one feel obligated to give something to people who serve them during the year? Ford says "no," accompanied by a caveat: "Unfortunately in the world we live in, it's very possible you get better service by giving something than if you did not give at all. I hate to put it that way, but it's reality."
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