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SUITOR GETS THORNY RESPONSE

Dear Abby: I met an attractive woman at a consumer products show. She works for a company that supplies items to the store where I work. She wasn't wearing a ring, and she seemed interested in me, so I decided to ask her to lunch.

I had always heard that women welcome flowers, and prefer them to direct invitations because it allows them to reply with a warm thank-you or refuse without putting anyone on the spot. So I ordered a mixed bouquet with a card that carried a friendly -- not romantic -- message. She never acknowledged it, but I received a brief fax from her boss saying that I was off-base and the flowers were inappropriate. He signed off with a directive that I make no further contact.

How should I handle our next meeting? Should I pretend it never happened? Should I cross them off our supplier list to avoid further contact?

-- Embarrassed in Iowa
Dear Embarrassed: I don't know who told you that women prefer flowers to a direct invitation, but the information was incorrect. Frankly, the approach was a bit over the top and may have made the woman uncomfortable. If she indicated that to her employer, he had a legal obligation to step in on her behalf. However, his technique was heavy-handed.

If I were you, I'd forget about trying to cultivate a personal relationship with the lady. It's not necessary to "cross them off your list"; just keep any further contact with her strictly related to business.

Disappearing tips?

Dear Abby: I work as a volunteer, helping recent immigrants find jobs. Several months ago, a middle-aged woman I'll call Maria was hired as a maid with a large hotel chain. Maria is struggling to learn English, and she makes very little money. I asked her if she receives tips from hotel guests, and she replied by showing me a small glass jar containing nickels and pennies. There were no dollar bills.

Maria told me that after the guests check out, her supervisor checks the room before she does, and it is assumed that any monies in denominations larger than small change are removed before she's allowed to enter and prepare the room for the next guest.

I trust that this kind of behavior is not common practice, but from now on, when I stay at a hotel, I'll either tip the maid personally when I see her in the hall, or leave it for her a day before my departure to ensure the proper person receives my gratuity.

-- Careful Tipper in the Midwest
Dear Careful: That's a good idea and one worth sharing. I'm printing your letter because many hotel guests "forget" how hard hotel staff work for low pay, and sometimes leave without giving them a gratuity. As to when to tip, the best time is at the beginning of your stay at a hotel.

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