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I'm splashing out on my hero plumber this Christmas

TO tip or not to tip, that is the question. Specifically, it's a question that has caused me untold agony in the final countdown to Christmas. Okay, so it's not a popular Irish custom, but I can't help fretting about the dos and don'ts of showing seasonal gratitude to the people who make our day-to-day lives easier.

Depending on where you live, the size of the list can change dramatically. There's the milkman, binman, postman, landlord, caretaker, head of the residents' association, plumber, electrician, or for you well-to-dos, there's the nanny, maid and gardener.

I could go on.

One of the pros of city living is that I never have occasion to meet the postman.

And there could be a flock of gremlins collecting my rubbish each day for all the attention I pay to it.

But when it comes to a Christmas tip for the people who make a difference, I've discovered there's no hard and fast rule.

It would all be so much easier if we were American -- they have tipping down to a fine art.

Furthermore, they're capable of gifting cash in a Hollywood-esque, slick manner, while we get all red-faced and butter-fingered as we attempt to hand over a measly €10.

Among my friends, the tipping quandary has reached fever-pitch. One couple who own an apartment are bestowing a bottle of decent wine on the caretaker, a man who has happily come to their aid on several occasions when they've locked themselves out. Another friend is channelling her funds towards the landlord in the hope the scuff marks and scratches on the previously pristine interior walls won't inspire him to increase the rent.

Then there's the girl who handed over a €30 tip to her hair stylist in early November, in order to ensure she could get an appointment in Christmas week.


We all ridiculed her -- until she boasted that she was booked in for a cut and colour on Christmas Eve morning while the rest of us will be frantically attempting home-dyeing kits to eradicate the badger look.

As for the friends with children, their babysitters will be the recipients of some luxurious designer cosmetic gift sets -- when it comes to looking after our service providers, we know which side our bread is buttered -- and get it wrong and you could be in for a grim 12 months.

And lest you thought tipping everyone was the easy way out, think again. Sometimes, our attempts at showing gratitude aren't always well received.

I remember back in first year in college when five of us lived in a townhouse that was far higher on the luxury scale than the usual student hovels.

In a fit of hysteria, we pooled our meagre resources and purchased a hideous-looking candle and glass centrepiece for our landlady.

The look on her face said it all. She owned dozens of apartments and her glamorous home definitely had no use for a cheap £10 centrepiece.

Now I hope I've learned from past mistakes, so this week I'm reserving the biggest festive tip for the plumber, a man who has saved me from ice-cold showers several times.

Cue a bottle of whiskey and luxury chocolates that might ensure a similarly brilliant service for 2011.

Now that's what I call a worthwhile investment.