Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Service People and the Annual 'Shakedown'

DEAR HARRIETTE: I live in a building with about 10 maintenance workers, from the super to handymen. Every year, they give the residents a holiday card with their photos on it. We know it's a shakedown to give them tips. This makes me furious. I don't see why I have to pay them off. My maintenance fees should be plenty for them.

Anyway, last year I did not pay them anything, and they gave me the cold shoulder. I figure I should give them something this time, but I won't have the money until January or February. Is it OK to give tips after the holidays have passed? -- Worried, Manhattan, N.Y.

DEAR WORRIED: To answer your question, it is not too late after the official holiday to give a tip or any other gift. What's more important is the sentiment behind the gift.

This is why I want to spend a moment addressing your bigger issue. People have written to me with mixed feelings about whether they are required to give tips to service providers. Many feel like it's a "shakedown," as you called it. Those who provide services, however, naturally look forward to and count on tips to round out their income. In the case of maintenance workers in your building, there is a clear expectation that you will tip them something. I totally understand the angst you may have about this.

I have found it's worth it to share a financial token of your appreciation. A little goes a long way. However, if your attitude about giving to the maintenance staff is not positive, I fear that any good will may evaporate and your gift may all be for naught. If you decide to give, do so with good feelings toward the recipients.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My niece's boyfriend of two years broke it off with her recently, saying he wanted to spend time with his guy friends. He said he felt like he was missing out on good times with the boys. She is 17; he is 19. She was upset but walked away.

She recently met another boy and really likes him. When her ex found out, he tried to get her back. She told me about it, and asked what she should do. She was in love with this guy but feels like he dumped her and like she should start fresh. What should I tell her? -- Concerned Auntie, Jacksonville, Fla.

DEAR CONCERNED AUNTIE: Tell your niece that her ex is reacting to the fact that she found somebody else. His jealousy is his own. Let him wallow in it. He made his choice.

As young people, it is likely that they will date a number of people before finding life partners. Let their dating experience be just that -- an experience from which to learn and grow. Tell her to move on and give this new friend a chance. Her goal should be to develop a relationship with someone who respects her and chooses to be with her.