Seasons Greetings…or Shakedown?


This is my very first holiday season living in NYC. Every place in the world has its own special customs and celebrations, and New York is no different. I haven’t noticed people being overly xmas “spirity”, but then again, I don’t live near the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza. Still, there are signs around, here and there, that let you know we are heading towards Christmas and the New Year. Signs like this holiday card we received in our mailbox yesterday:


I thought to myself. That is nice, but a little odd. When I casually mentioned receiving this card to my friends Brian and Adam at dinner, they launched into a brief expose of tip giving practices in New York City, and told me that these types of cards with people’s names on them are a not-so-subtle way of asking for a holiday tip.  I though to myself, “Really?”. My friends live in a much fancier and full service building that I do, and so I expect their tips are probably higher than mine must be, but I really never gave it any thought til now. My building is never cleaned and not very well maintained, and I have often thought that our lobby resembled a very old pawn shop that is nothing other than a front for some illegal activity. Still, on occasion they have come up to repair a broken shower or fix a radiator.  So I asked my roomate what the customary tip was and she told me she usually gives the super and one of the maintenance guys around 20 bucks and a card, so I gave her some money and told her to pass it to them for me.

This morning I got up and started thinking about it. What were the rules and customs for this sort of thing? Was it really a matter of tipping to show gratitude, or a kind of “protection” racket? If we didn’t tip the right people or tip enough, would things mysteriously break or not get done? I scoured my brain for all the people that provide me service (and who I have ever seen) and couldn’t come up with any other than the ones I gave my roomate money for. I found this interesting discussion on yelp this morning from someone who likewise received the above card from their mail carrier, and then was led to this link that makes it pretty clear that any form of cash given to a USPS employee is illegal. So is the above card a shakedown from the mailman? Is “Romeo” expecting something? And when the mail doesn’t come (which is a lot btw), what is appropriate? Who else is expecting a tip?

And then a couple of incidents popped into my head that I previously hadn’t given much thought to.

A couple of days ago, there was a knock on our door. It was the exterminator. I let him in and he sprayed the kitchen and bathroom. As he was leaving he slowed and gave me a hearty “Have a nice holiday!” and paused briefly before leaving. I asked my roommate this morning how often the exterminator comes and she said that he is supposed to come every other wednesday and more often in the summer. Which is odd, because I work from home and am here most wednesdays (and other days), and in the six months I have been living here I have seen the exterminator exactly once, two days ago. Was there some special holiday reason that he finally climbed the six flights of stairs to kindly spray in my apartment, now that it is cold and there is oh so much less need than in the summer?

A few weeks ago, the Con-Ed guy came to read our gas meter. It was the first time that I had seen him, and I didn’t think anything of it. But then yesterday, the Con-Ed guy came again to read the meter. I asked him if it was normal for them to check it twice in 3  weeks and he said no. He also paused on his way out and wished me a happy holiday. Was I supposed to tip him as well?

Scouring the internet this morning, I found this interesting article in the NY Times on the subject. I assume this is something that will become more clear to me over time while living here, and that my tip-giving will increase with my own living status (like if I move to a nicer building) and wages (like if I am not struggling to make ends-meat). And speaking of that, I would like to wish you all a very happy holiday!!…pause….I sure hope I can continue to provide you great blogging service in the coming year…pause