DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have a handyman, George, whom we have used for several years. He was originally recommended to us by a close friend, and a small group of us keep him pretty busy.
My husband and I have come to rely on George as a reliable and trustworthy helper, as we have aged out of doing many tasks ourselves, and we pay him generously. We have also learned George’s strengths and weaknesses: For instance, he is a terrible painter and a so-so landscaper, but a great plumber and a good electrician.
On two occasions, different neighbors have approached George when he is outside our house and inquired as to his availability to do jobs for them. I feel that this is 1. somewhat rude and 2. potentially unwise. Instead, I think that they should ask my husband and I whether we mind their “poaching” our employee. If they are wise, they should also ask our opinion of his skills.
I might add that on both occasions, the neighbors hired him and were disappointed by the painting work he did for them, which resulted in minor disputes over what he charged them.
Am I wrong to think that a neighbor should do us the courtesy of asking before trying to hire our handyman?
GENTLE READER: Your neighbors are properly barred from helping themselves to time you are paying for. Time for which you are not paying still belongs to George.
In theory, this means that asking a gardener for his card while you walk by him seeding the lawn is acceptable, if the exchange is quick. In practice, such requests usually lead to a longer discussion, which, if visible to George’s current employer, will be resented if he is being paid by the hour.
For that reason -- and to avoid the subsequent problem with George’s painting skills -- your neighbor would have been smarter to come to you for a recommendation. But you were saved the discomfort of admitting that George forgets to paint the wall behind the couch -- and afforded the revenge, without looking too ungracious, of pointing out that you could have saved them some trouble.