Shopping for an Expensive Ring? Ask Everything but That


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Christoph Niemann

Is it appropriate to ask salesmen if they are working on commission? I know we don’t typically go around asking people how they are paid. That would be rude. But I have been shopping for an expensive and significant ring, and I would like to ask the woman at the jewelry store how she gets compensated. That could affect how much I have to pay, correct?

Andrew, Emeryville, Calif.

In the words of Sy Syms, that tireless pitchman of cheap suits, who seemed to buy ads on every TV show I watched as a boy, “An educated consumer is our best customer.” (Because then we’d know what a great deal we’re getting, right?) Understanding price and quality is crucial before making big-ticket purchases. But a salesman’s pay is not a huge driver in price — much smaller than what the store pays for its gems or even its rent. I wouldn’t ask.

But I get your thinking: You assume, reasonably, that if your saleswoman earns 1 percent of what you pay for that marquise-cut diamond, she will want to soak you for it as much as humanly possible. And she may. But that doesn’t mean that her salaried counterpart will offer the ring at a better price or be more inclined to look out for you. Caveat emptor (on both fronts)!

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Comparison shopping is the answer. The price of jewels really varies — and that’s before we turn our attention to their platinum settings. Find the smartest deal by visiting several jewelry stores and hunting online for baubles like the one you want. Ask a million questions, consult knowledgeable pals, and go slow.

After your homework, if you still notice price gaps between stores, don’t be shy about mentioning them politely. This may lead to a price reduction or nowhere at all — in which case, buy elsewhere. I am all for collecting relevant data. But asking the woman at the shop how she gets paid seems intrusive to her and not terribly helpful to you. (And though Social Q’s is a poor excuse for a Jumbotron, I hope your significant other says yes.)

An Evening of Whine and Roses

My brother is married to a lovely woman. We take turns dining at each other’s homes. She is an excellent cook but serves extremely bad wine. I arrive with a fine, expensive bottle. She thanks me for it, then whisks it away and brings out the cheap swill. Would I be committing a social sin if I asked her to serve the bottle I brought?

Sharon, Toronto

From my vantage (as no Pierre Franey), buying an expensive bottle of Chablis is magnificently easier than cooking an excellent dinner. Perhaps this is coloring our fundamental disagreement about the nature of hostess gifts. You are bringing the wine to thank your sister-in-law for her blood, sweat and grocery shopping — not to consume it yourself. If you brought her peonies, would you expect to leave with a few stems?

Call your sister-in-law before the next dinner and say: “I’ve become interested in wine pairings. Would you mind if I brought a bottle that goes especially well with your menu tonight?” If she agrees, bring two bottles — one for the table and another as a hostess gift. Otherwise, not another pinot peep.

Worried Sick

Three years ago, a close friend and I had a big falling-out. I tried to mend things, but our relationship has never been the same. We say hello but rarely converse. I heard that she is now undergoing chemotherapy. I feel the need to go to her and offer support. If our relationship had not soured, she would be confiding in me. Should I speak to her or pretend I know nothing?

Bill

I know your heart is in the right place. But serious illness is a nasty business. And people who are sick should be allowed to confide in whom they choose, not forced to dodge folks who want to insert themselves (however supportively) in their crisis.

Complicating matters: We don’t know how your friend feels about you, post-blowout. If she still harbors resentment, your speaking with her may cause even more stress — the last thing we want. Err on the side of safety and let her make the first move. Her need to take care of herself trumps your desire to speak.

Every Day Is a Holiday

Last year, our new neighbors lit holiday decorations on their front yard until the beginning of April. This year, they doubled the number of decorations, and they are still up. Is there any way to ask them politely to take down the decorations if they don’t come down soon?

David, Weston, Conn.

I’ve got it: Knock on your neighbors’ door and ask if you can buy their place. If they agree, decorate as and when you like after the deal closes. Otherwise, keep still. Absent local ordinance, they are free to power up their twinkly lights on the Fourth of July, and you are free to avert your gaze. It’s called private property for a reason (even though everyone knows that you and I would do a better job).

Correction: January 29, 2016

An earlier version of this column misspelled the hometown of the writer of the first letter. It is Emeryville, Calif., not Emoryville.



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