Tipping and Panhandling, Vol. 12, Issue 16

Dear Etiquetteer: I had an ethical quandary today. I was hawking programs at Fenway Park. A man was begging for money next to me. He was in a wheelchair. He was conversant and friendly with people. He offered to buy a program from me for $2. I obliged.

When I finished my shift, I gave him a dollar. It was actually a dollar I had received as a tip.

Was this right? Was this ethical?

PS. I'm submitting this to the NY Times Magazine as a question, too.

Dear Hawking:

Etiquetteer considers that you were acting in two capacities, professional and personal. Had you not waited until the end of your shift to assist this man, it would have given the appearance that your largesse was, in fact, that of your employer.

The purchase of a $2 baseball program by a panhandler might be considered extravagant on his part, but he may have considered it expedient to ensure your goodwill during your time together outside the ballpark. (Etiquetteer can only imagine the difficulties he and others face.) Was it right/ethical of you to sell him that program? Absolutely! That's the job your employer has hired you to do, and it isn't Perfectly Proper to inquire into the circumstances of your customers - even when they're paraded in front of you. In other words, they aren't your programs to give away.

But your tips are your own to dispose of as you wish, on yourself, or to share with others.

Etiquetteer will be interested to read what the Times has to say, too!

Barkers and Panhandlers, Vol. 4, Issue 29

Dear Etiquetteer: I’m spending a lot of my time this summer in [Insert Name of Prominent New England Resort Town Here], and I find myself getting more and more annoyed with the barkers outside restaurants and theatres yelling about how we all have to come right in for dinner, drinks, whatever. These days it seems that they are asking more specific questions and trying to engage me on a person-to-person level. Like, I’ll be walking by and they’ll ask "Are you headed to dinner?" or something like that. My first reaction is to be irritated, ‘cause my plans usually don’t include what they want me to do. Then I feel guilty that I’m ignoring them or being rude to them by not responding. I end up angry at the barkers for putting me in this position in the first place! Am I doing the right thing by not responding and should I just get over myself, or should I really take the time to answer their questions? This is really stressing out my vacation plans! Dear Barked: Aside from the obvious solution (use [Insert Name of Alternate Street Here]), Etiquetteer wants you to know that the only thing you’re doing wrong is stressing out about this. Barkers are hired to engage your attention and attract you into their establishments, be they restaurants, theatres, or dance halls. Unfortunately, doing their job means getting you to pay attention to them. No, Etiquetteer dislikes this as much as you do. Indeed, Etiquetteer will never forget walking through the French Quarter of New Orleans several years ago and being hailed by a shoeshine man. Courteously passing by in silence, Etiquetteer was deeply embarrassed to hear the man call out "You look real neat ‘til you get to your feet!" Imagine if you will Etiquetteer continuing to pass by, this time in raging silence. To inquiries you do not want, you need only respond "No thank you" and nothing more. Unless they are exceptionally thin-skinned (not a good job qualification under the circumstances) the barkers will not go home to cry the bitter tears of the rejected. If you are in close proximity on a crowded street, you may add "We already have plans" to make yourself feel less uncomfortable. Etiquetteer also hears complaints about pamphleteers, those earnest folks asking you to sign a petition, contribute money to a cause, take a free newspaper or any sort of promotional postcard, etc. Indeed, Etiquetteer knows one sick-and-tired individual who has gotten to the point when, asked by pamphleteers if he has a moment for the environment, will answer back "No! In fact, I’m going to start littering right here in front of you!" You ought to know by now that Etiquetteer can’t endorse a response like that. Total silence, "No thank you," or even that old chestnut "I gave at the office" will serve you well. If any pamphleteer or solicitor should be so ill-bred as to continue to hail you after you’ve responded, Etiquetteer can only encourage you to say "No thank you" again and move on as quickly as possible.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at query@etiquetteer.com!

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