Advice on manners and morals.
April 4 1998 3:30 AM

Drawing upon her rich experience of life, Prudence (Prudie to her friends) responds to questions about manners, personal relations, politics, and other subjects. Please send your questions for publication to Prudence@slate.com. Queries should not exceed 200 words in length. Please indicate how you wish your letter to be signed, preferably including your location.

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Dear Prudie,

Just what does a gentleman do when suspected of having been unfaithful to his wife? Is the answer to lie, lie, lie in order to keep peace in the family, shelter the self-esteem of his wife, and protect the reputation of the lady in question? Or is it as the Bible and some of our laws say: Do not bear false witness?

I think I know how Prudence would reply. I'm interested in learning how the next generation looks at a question like this.

--Dick Taylor

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Dear Dick,

You do not say suspected by whom. If the transgressor is called on the carpet by his wife, the Bible's admonition is the one to follow.

While Prudie admires concern for the spouse's self-esteem, peace in the family, and the reputation of the illicit partner, she must point out that all are jeopardized by the "gentleman's" actions.

Your use of the phrase "having been unfaithful" suggests the affair may be over. If this is the case, the gentleman might take his wife for a drive and ask, "Will you forgive me, or should I drive right to a jewelry store?"

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--Prudie, generationally

Dear Prudence,

It would be fair to say that like Alyssa, the central character in Chasing Amy, I have until now led an experimental life. I am 25 and have one criminal conviction for hacking, a bad credit history, and some failed personal and professional relationships. Recently, however, I have settled down and become decidedly less experimental.

My problem is this: I am extremely bright and possess an advanced degree in philosophy. Now I wish to go to medical school, law school, or apply for a government job. What do I say at the interview about my previous experimental life? In Chasing Amy, Alyssa says, when confronted with her past sexual behavior, "We are not born with maps inside us," but somehow I think an interviewer will want a more comprehensive answer. Can you suggest a metaphor for rationalizing my past? I need to be my own spin doctor.

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--N.F. in New Zealand

Dear N.,

Whatever you do, don't use dialogue from Chasing Amy at any interviews.

As for your sexual experimentation, Prudie feels certain that the subject will not come up. You might, however, have a problem with the conviction and the credit history. I wish I could come through for you in the metaphor department, but I am feeling metaphorically challenged today. Just try to act reformed.

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--Prudie, spinningly

Dear Prudence,

I live in Pennsylvania, and during the warmer months I have a habit of not wearing shoes. I feel more lively and energetic when I'm barefoot. The good points outweigh the bad (such as dirty soles), and that's why I do it. Checking on the Internet, I have found there to be no health laws in any state that force people to wear shoes in public.

My question is this: Why do some people look at me as if I'm doing something indecent by simply not wearing shoes? Also, why do most major fast food chains post a sign saying, "No shirt, no shoes, no service, by order of health department"? Do you find a person who is shoeless in public to be dressed indecently?

--Jamie T. in Philadelphia

Dear J.T.,

For the word "indecent" I would substitute "unappetizing." The idea of entering a place of food service without shoes (or a shirt) seems vaguely Appalachian to Prudie. (Hot dog stands and ice cream shacks at beaches excepted.)

Since people come in all manner of shapes and degrees of cleanliness, a decorous person would support even a fraudulent health code advisory.

--Prudie, properly

Dear Prudence,

Not long ago I learned from "Trish" (not her real name), a co-worker, that the pregnancy of another co-worker, "Tina" (also not her real name), had ended in a miscarriage. After delivering this bit of news, Trish assured me it was "OK with Tina" that we all be told the bad news. I found this odd, since none of us had even known Trish was expecting.

Is gossip now the preferred method of office communication? If so, has gossip replaced the memo? Will my supervisor whisper my work assignments to my co-workers, who will then whisper them to me? Or is gossip only sanctioned when the topic is of a private, personal nature? I guess my question is: How do I distinguish "sanctioned" gossip from regular old slander?

--Hanging on the Grapevine in Dickenson, N.D.

Dear Hang,

Slander is a false report meant to do harm and is legally actionable. "I think Sally had a face lift" is not such an example. And no, Prudie does not think gossip has replaced the memo, but it is somehow delivered faster.

--Prudie, idly

Dear Prudence,

I need your advice on the following. I received gifts from my parents (delivered by my mom). There were three gifts in the bag but none for my wife. Friends have told me this was a slight to my wife. My problem is what to do about the gifts. I could return one or all of them and use the credit to buy a gift for my wife, or I could return the gifts to my mother, explaining that I take the presents being just for me as an act of hostility.

--Confused in Baltimore

Dear Con,

Prudie is not sure your problem is what to do about the gifts, but perhaps what to do about your mother. Subtle she is not. The solution for you may be to do both the things you mentioned, with a slight modification. I would tell Mumsy that you take umbrage at her acting out, and I would return the gifts for credit, buying a treat for both you and your wife.

--Prudie, subtextually