Dear Miss Manners: One of your gentle readers used the phrase "people of breeding," and indicated that they knew certain rules of etiquette. I cannot help but think of dogs and horses as objects of breeding rather than people.

Is the phrase still an acceptable way to refer to people well versed in basic etiquette?

Gentle Reader: People do breed, Miss Manners is given to understand. But you are quite right that those who believe that it is something about which to brag in public cannot be considered polite.

Dear Miss Manners: On a recent road trip, I stopped at a small-town auto-parts store to buy a replacement brake-light bulb. Realizing I would need a socket wrench to complete the repair, I went inside and asked for assistance.

I asked if they had a wrench I could borrow for a few minutes, and the young man kindly offered to put in the replacement bulb himself, as I am a young lady who (as evidenced by my confused look) does not know much about car repairs.

When he was finished, I went inside to pay for the bulb, which was about a dollar. I gave the young man three dollars and said to keep the change, as well as verbally thanking him for his assistance. He silently handed me back all of the change, and gave me a look to indicate that he was insulted.

It is my understanding that a tip is given when a service is performed. Considering this young man worked at an auto-parts store and not an auto-repair shop, I thought it would be appropriate to give him a little something for his trouble, so to speak. Was I wrong to do so?

Gentle Reader: Evidently. But how were you to know that you had encountered one of the rare survivors of the once-universal American disdain for tipping?

Miss Manners is sorry about your embarrassment, which you can avoid in future by asking, "May I pay you?" so that it sounds like a regular charge rather than a tip. But she can't help admiring the cause.


Miss Manners' newest book is "No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice," written under her real name, Judith Martin. Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.


© Judith Martin

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