Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Let's Make a Deal

I've always been a bit of a deal-maker. This was a bone of contention between me and my ex-husband. The argument would usually go like this:

Week One
Me:
Could you unpack those boxes of stuff in the corner of the bedroom?
X: Sure. In a minute.

Week Two
Me:
Okay, I'll make you a deal - I'll unpack the boxes if you organize the stuff and put it away.
X: Sure. (not looking up from his latest version of King's Quest) I'll be right there as soon as I get to a point where I can save the game.

Week Three
Me:
(fuming as I trip over the stacks of stuff piled up along the bedroom floor)

Week Four
Me:
Why haven't you put away that stuff? I thought we had a deal.
X: That's the problem with our marriage - everything is a deal to you. It's like you're weighing and measuring everything all the time.

This line of reasoning, which now seems to me transparently self-serving, carried a certain weight with me at the time. I responded by blaming my father. He was the one who had raised me to solve most conflicts by making deals. Clearly this had warped my personality, made me incapable of living freely and naturally with another person.

I hear the echo of my father's voice a lot these days. Pie, in particular, is instantly calmed by the offer of a deal. I'll go fetch her kitty if she takes off her pyjamas. She'll get into her carseat if I promise to play the Shrek soundtrack. Deal-making offers children a (mostly illusory) sense of control; it is the opposite of the usual dictatorship, the tyranny of parenthood whereby they never get what they want, always do what they're told, and submit to the various forced humiliations of toddlerhood, like bathtime, breakfast, or bed.

As a childrearing technique, deal-making is undeniably effective. Parent-child relationships are not unusual in this respect, though - I think that almost all social relationships are characterized by a mostly unspoken sense of quid pro quo. Sometimes the deal must be verbalized to be binding, and our culture has developed rituals surrounding the most significant social deals - becoming engaged, breaking up. There may not be any strictly contractual or legal aspect to these events, but we still feel the need to mark them with some exchange of tangible goods: we give and receive rings, return sad boxes full of toothbrushes and spare t-shirts.

The vast majority of these social contracts are determined not by individual choice but rather by social expectation. One can negotiate alternatives to the prevailing social code, but as individuals we have little control over which deals can be safely taken for granted and which must be painstakingly negotiated. Many social codes that were universally acknowledged in the past have now become obsolete, while others have sprung up their place. Andrea's post yesterday drew attention, for instance, to the implicit (and historically recent) expectation that any dating relationship is exclusive unless otherwise specified. Fifty years ago, a guy had to give his girl his frat pin in exchange for exclusivity; now even a first date often carries with it an expectation that other dating opportunities will be postponed until this relationship has had a chance to pan out.

Tipping is another complex and evolving social code that is rarely articulated directly but remains subtly binding. I found out last night, to my shock, that as many as half of homeowners leave their mail carriers a tip at Christmas. I had no idea - for nearly five years I have been ignorantly reaping the benefits of prompt mail service without fulfilling my side of the unspoken bargain. I have sipped wine, gobbled chocolates, and cashed in gift certificates, never reflecting that perhaps some of this bounty ought to be shared with my faithful frozen mail carrier.

If I controlled the universe, tipping would be eradicated: employees would be paid a fair wage that allows me to escape the embarrassment of having to fumble with loonies and toonies, a shabby princess scattering her paltry largesse. But the universe remains stubbornly outside of my personal control, and so I slide my small bills across the salon counter, muttering "This is for Carol," as I sidle out the door.

37 comments:

Maddy said...

Now I didn't know that you're supposed to tip the mail man and I've been here for 12 years! I'm surprised he hasn't stuffed the post straight into the recycling bin - would serve me right!
Cheers

Omaha Mama said...

When my then two-year old shook her hands out in front of her and said, "Here's the deal", I realized that perhaps I say that too much. I still do.

I'm forever bargaining.

painted maypole said...

I'm so with you on tipping.

and i've given up on deal making with my husband. worthless line of approach. ;) MQ on the otherhand.... all the time...

Beck said...

Ah. Tipping. My bete noire.
Right now, we're trying to bribe The Baby into instant continence with the promise of a toy pizza set. It seems to be working as well as anything else has.....

Janet said...

I don't tip my mailman either, but I am tempted to buy him a warmer hat. He wears a Tilly even in this frigid weather.

This year I did leave Tim Horton's gift certificates in the mailbox for the bloke who delivers our morning newspaper. I guess I feel like he is harder done by than the mailman, getting up before dwn and trudging through the bitter cold snow so that I can catch up on local events over my oatmeal and morning coffee.

Kit said...

I was interested in what you said about dating - I'd never really considered it before, but I remember my Grandmother telling me that she was dating two men when she met my grandfather and then gave up going out with them quite soon after. I thought at the time she must have been a bit dashing, but it was normal then.

Mind you dating then probably meant a chaste meal in a restaurant, with no more than a peck on the cheek at the end, whereas these days dating tends to become a fully fledged relationship much more quickly ...at least in my experience!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

If it weren't for deal-making, my children would never get dressed in the morning. My husband and I don't strike deals with each other, though; our agreement is either unspoken, or we explicitly and rather impatiently order each other about. (How come you couldn't figure out that's what I wanted of you? Dude! Pay attention!)

Regarding tipping: we tip everyone at Christmastime. We tip the mailman, the garbage truck drivers, the recycling truck drivers... Not money, though. They either get cookies or a 6-pack of beer.

And regarding dating: I haven't dated in a decade, but I don't remember there being implicit exclusivity. Sex implied exclusivity, but not a simple date.

kgirl said...

If I can't tip 'anonymously' (like leaving it on the table and walking away), it embarasses me immensely.
And it's funny about the deals with a toddler - so effective, and yet, so ineffective on grown men. Too bad.

Actually, if the deal involves a bj it could work with the huz. (tmi?)

Angela said...

I don't tip our mail woman, and she had to MACE our dog this year. So, I am waaaaaaaay more rude than you are.

Anonymous said...

A woman at work has a husband who has been a mail carrier for over 20years. He says that is illegal for federal employees to accept gratuities.

Stop beating yourself up for being a law abiding citizen!

Gwen said...

I tip everyone at Christmas, even if it's not entirely appropriate because what if I missed the one person I was really supposed to get and then, gah! they would think I was stingy!

I don't think I could parent my 4 year old without deals. She doesn't respond to much else.

Aunt LoLo said...

Oh, the deals! I loved the line about the shabby princess - it puts it all in perspective, doesn't it?

I didn't tip anyone this year (having not heard about the custom until nearly Christmas time, when I was leaving town), but I was able to give some Christmas treats to my garbage man. He happened to come late (due to snow) and I happened to be out early (to enjoy the unexpected sunshine) and there happened to be fresh zucchini bread on the counter.

minnesotamom said...

I am fully aware that I shall be reduced to deal-making as soon as my baby is old enough to comprehend one...but really, a believing parent shouldn't have to wheel and deal if they are doing what is best for their child and teaching their child to honor God. Should they?

In honoring God's word, they also honor their parents, which means obedience without fighting/whining/tantrums. I realize this is a utopia, but it's a utopia that has worked for some...

None of this is my original ideas, but it comes from the best parenting book I've ever read: "Shepherding A Child's Heart" by Tripp.

Through this type of parenting a child also learns that their parent is a sinner who is accountable to God. It's humbling, but from what I've read, effective.

So how does one break with the generational patterns they've assumed (e.g. Well, this is how my parents did it...)?

As usual, a thought-provoking post! Thank you!

cinnamon gurl said...

I had no idea about tipping the mailman. Really???

I am a big deal maker with Swee'pea. It's the only way to go, I think.

Amy said...

Dating works like that now? Wow. No wonder I feel like I've been married a long time. I guess I have been!

Shannon said...

Do I still have to tip my mail carrier if they constantly walk across the yards on my street rather than using the sidewalk? Is that unreasonable? I was taught that it was extremely disrespectful not to use the sidewalk.

On an aside, are you in London? For reals? I was just looking on your profile. I don't know if I started reading you before I moved here or not but I just thought that was kind of cool.

Marian said...

"...a shabby princess scattering her paltry largesse." Love that.

The whole practice of obligatory tipping makes me crazy. "Supposed to " and "tip" do not go together, almost by definition. Bleh. Our mail carrier, whom we've never met, has started delivering Christmas cards from himself several weeks before Christmas, just to prime the pump.

Blog Antagonist said...

I don't look at it so mauch as dealmaking and reciprocity. Every relationship has to have some reciprocity, right? I actually think it's a fairly healthy constructive way to solve a problem.

I do think that negotiating can be taken to extremes though. My youngest child is the worl champion of negotiating.

I agree with you on tipping. I don't tip anybody except waitstaff. It's ridiculous to tip people for doing their job.

nomotherearth said...

You're supposed to tip the mailman? Really?? Huh. Apparently, you're also supposed to give daycare workers one week's salary at Christmas. (We gave paltry homemade cookies..). I feel ridiculous tipping at the salon, but do it anyways.

Swistle said...

There is some deal with letter carriers, though, like that they can't accept a gift worth more than $20, or can't accept cash. I tried looking it up on the USPS site, but got a lot of hits for shipping gifts and shipping cash and so on, and couldn't find what I was looking for. I got it from a post office clerk, when I called to find out if it was okay to leave a gift for our mail carrier in the mail box.

Your ex sounds really hard to argue with. He makes a deal, then claims the problem with your marriage is that you're making deals? Sounds like the problem was pretty clearly that he made deals and didn't keep his end of it.

ewe are here said...

The tipping at Christmas time etiquette rules are very complex and mysterious and I don't know what they are.

I'm with you --- just pay people fairly so my head doesn't hurt so from trying to figure out what to do.

Karen said...

I do lots of stuff for my kids - and yet they never tip me.
I am quite shabby princess as well - tipping confuses me - I think I'm too broke to do it well...and then I feel worse. So I rarely go to the salon. I do tip at LP's salon - very well. He cries alot.

Magpie said...

i think the mail carrier is not allowed to accept tips.

i hate tipping. not having to tip the doormen and super is the best thing about living in my little house.

i make deals with husband - always backfires. deals with the kid usually work.

Jenn said...

Are you kidding me right now?

Tip the mail carrier? The dude that keeps bringing me bills, which thereby eradicate any tipping possibilities?

Sounds like a vicious cycle.

Angela said...

I make lots of deals with my son.
You can have chocolate milk if you get dressed. Hum... that could also be seen as a bribe

I do wish I got paid better as a massage therapist. But because I am good I tend to get good tips.
There are those people who do not believe in tipping
I try not to take it personally

Sus said...

It's true - deals work wonders with my 2-year-old, too. So when does the kid become the husband, making any and all deals futile?

Nora Bee said...

You are supposed to tip the mail carrier?? I am a bad postal customer. I agree with you about tipping. I'm with you on the deal-making thing. Good with kids, not so much with spouses.

Lady M said...

I hate tipping too. I don't want to look like I'm trying to impress by overtipping. I don't want to be cheap by undertipping. I just want to be fair - and how much is that amount?

panu said...

my parents used to tell me : "you dont do that, you get the spanking of your life." Never laid a hand on me, though. I never used to obey them, but..

gretchen from lifenut said...

I wouldn't know which postal carrier to tip. They are really inconsistent. It seems like every day, there is a different mail carrier.

Telling a child they can't have chocolate milk until they get dressed isn't making a deal. It is establishing the order things will get done.

wheelsonthebus said...

Now, I like Kgirl's suggestion!

I think it is unfortunate that we have a culture in which women asking their husbands to do something must either be nags or pushovers. You are in a partnership, and you make deals all the time as a part of that partnership.

bren j. said...

Argh! Tipping really gets my goat! Seriously, what the frick? Tipping is supposed to be for good service, but nowadays, even if you don't get good service, you're expected to leave a tip.
Tipping at a restaurant seems okay to me for some reason, but at the coffee shop? for a haircut? the mail carrier? Good grief! That is just too much!
When did a genuine "Thank you" cease to be enough?

Julie Pippert said...

I do not think I can be talked out of deal-making.

I know I use the concept of deals and say the word deal often; it is employed against me frequently by my children.

And if you saw my post of a year ago, you know how I feel about all this obligatory tipping and gifting everywhere.

This past December, my inlaws got a REMINDER card from their newspaper delivery person, outlining all the ways the tips help his family. GAH!

Anyway I'm glad that those hwo have extra money can do this; perhaps it keeps the wolves at bay for the rest of us.

But still.

Anyway if my vote counts...your husband should have put the stuff away. ;)

We have a "Raymond v. Debra, The Case of the Suitcase on the Stairs" around here regularly.

Miss Perfect said...

I'm all about making deals. It works just as well with my husband as it does with my son who is almost 4.
It happens at work as well.
I have never tipped my mail carrier. He brings me far too many bills!

kittenpie said...

I'm big on making deals with Pumpkinpie and Miterpie, too.

But I must admit - I like that my hairdresser knows I value her because I leave her a pretty nice tip, one that has grown over the years with my finances and our relationship. And a bit extra at Christmas.

Susanne said...

I am completely socially awkward when it comes to unspoken agreements. And especially with tipping. I'm always afraid of offending someone by offering him or her a tip, in my book those are for waitresses and waiters and little else. My husband has taught me to be more generous and that even the mailman, and someone who delivers my washing machine will like to be tipped. But still I can hardly bring myself to do it.

b*babbler said...

Oh, your last paragraph.

You sum up perfectly the awkwardness I feel in any circumstance that requires the gratuity (a silly expression really, because it doesn't necessarily, or often, reflect true gratitude).