In Part I, I explained a little about how advice columns worked, and how to maximize your chances of getting your letter published in one. Here's a couple more points about what I look for, specifically, in a "Miss Conduct" question.
I choose questions based on what will make the best--the most entertaining, useful, thought-provoking--reading for the Globe's large readership. Questions that contain good stories and vivid examples are the best. Even a mundane question is better if there's a little bit of a story behind it:
"For my new job, fresh out of college, I am frequently on business trips. At the hotels I never know whom to tip or how much. There's the man outside the hotel that flags down a taxi for me, the bellman, and the people who clean my room and provide room service."
If the letter writer had just asked, "How much do I tip?" I wouldn't have been able to do much with the question. But she embedded it in a little story about a young woman making her way in the world, and that made it more interesting to answer:
"You'll go far in your new career, and I don't just mean geographically. You notice things, and you realize that other people have needs, and you ask questions. These skills may seem obvious to you, young Jedi, but a remarkable number of people lack them. That college of yours must have done a good job.
"On to your question. Tipping guidelines vary, but because you're representing your company as well as yourself, it would be good to err on the generous side.
"Try these rules of thumb:
"The bellhop: A dollar per bag, with a two-dollar minimum, and a dollar or two more if he gives you the guided tour of the hotel (whether you asked for it or not).
The cab-hailer: Between one and four dollars, depending on the niceness of the hotel and the nastiness of the weather.
Maid service: Two to five dollars a night, depending again on niceness (of hotel) and nastiness (of your personal habits). It's best to tip on a daily basis rather than at the end of your stay, because different maids may take turns cleaning the room.
Room service: Same as a waiter -- 15 to 20 percent of the pre-tax total (assuming that the gratuity isn't included in the bill).
"To keep tipping easy, stash 20 dollar bills in an easily accessible pocket, so you can whip them out as called for without having to fumble for your wallet or, worse yet, ask for change. Most importantly, any tip given in person should be accompanied by eye contact, a smile, and a genuine 'Thank you.'"
And finally, please, please do not write to me asking me to join you in Deploring Current Trends. If you want to Deplore Current Trends, write to Lynne Truss; she doesn't have a column as far as I know, but I'm sure she'd love to hear from you. Yes, there is much rudeness today, and it is a particular kind of 21st-century American rudeness. I don't like visible underwear--or visible non-underwear--and public profanity and gum snapping and oblivious cell-phone blabbers either. But do you know what? Every age has had its horrors, and ours are just not that bad. As a woman and a Jew, there is absolutely no place or time in all of history in which I would enjoy the freedom, safety, and respect that I do in 21st-century America. This awareness is with me constantly and really mitigates the extent to which I can get on the "We're all going to hell in a handbasket" bandwagon.
This isn't to say that when faced with, say, conversation-drowning "background" music in a restaurant I shrug my shoulders and say, "Hey, at least we got the vote. What are you gonna do?" Annoyances are annoyances and if there's some way we can reduce them, let's. But let's also keep them in perspective and not get too apocalyptic in our denunciations of modern mores.
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Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.