Late every November, a reader we're calling Anne receives a self-addressed envelope with a note from the person who delivers the daily morning newspaper to her doorstep. On weekdays, the paper typically arrives before 6 a.m. and on weekends before 7 a.m., even in the foulest of weather.
"My Deliverer gets up early and works hard to get the newspapers delivered," writes Anne. Several decades ago, a teenager in the neighborhood delivered the newspaper and Anne knew him by name as well as his family. He would even collect delivery fees from his newspaper route subscribers in person, once a month. But the days of kids delivering newspapers in Anne's neighborhood have long passed.
Now, while Anne occasionally has caught a glimpse of her deliverer driving off in the early morning, she wouldn't recognize her. She only knows the deliverer is a woman because of the name on the annual envelope provided.
In the old days, Anne would include a monthly tip for her newspaper deliverer when he came to collect. But now she waits for the annual envelope to arrive in December before tipping the deliverer.
"In the past, I've put cash in the envelope and sent it back to her," writes Anne. But this year she decided to write a check for $50 and return it.
"It's been more than a month and she still hasn't cashed the check," writes Anne. She's torn about whether to cancel the check, but she wonders if she was wrong to write it in the first place.
"I'm pretty sure the deliverer doesn't make a lot of money," writes Anne. "Was it wrong for me to assume she had a checking account?"
Anne asks if she should cancel the check and wants to know if she made an egregious faux pas by writing a check instead of including cash.
As for writing a check rather than giving cash, Anne did nothing wrong. If the deliverer couldn't accept checks, she should have indicated so in the note she left with the envelope. Given the choice, it's understandable that Anne chose to write a check rather than send cash since a canceled check would indicate that the deliverer safely received the tip.
It might be annoying to wait for the check to be cashed, but a month doesn't seem to be a significant enough period of time to be overly concerned. Anne can cancel it if she wants to, but if she doesn't let the deliverer know she's doing so that might result in the deliverer running into a hassle if she ultimately decides to cash the check. If Anne does decide to cancel the check, the thoughtful thing would be to let the deliverer know she's done so. That, of course, would require a bit more work for Anne. She'd have to track down the deliverer's name and address. While those were on the envelope, Anne doesn't have them on file anywhere.
While I would lean toward simply waiting, the second option of canceling the check and letting the deliverer know is equally good. Next year, however, if Anne wants to avoid the worry, the right thing is to tip with cash.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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