Advice on manners and morals.
June 13 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,

I hope you don't find this too personal or indelicate a subject for public consumption, but I am in a dilemma about a relationship.

I am divorced, mid-30s, with one child. A while ago I started to see an older man (he is 50) who is very taken with me and genuinely likes my son. He is starting to think long-term, but my reservation is that he is iffy in the boudoir department. Do you think this is a legitimate consideration, or am I being sappy?

--In a dither in Boston

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Dear In,

Unfortunately, you do not define what you mean by "iffy." Do you mean he is putting off going to bed, so you wonder if he has declared his major? Or do you mean you've already been to bed and are thinking you could put up with this if he were a billionaire?

No matter. Prudie's advice would probably be the same for either situation: You must determine the importance of sex in your life. You are still young, so you can afford some more looking time. On the other hand, you may already have run through a number of klinkers and determined that it's a jungle out there.

You can't go wrong giving it more time to see how things develop. Prudie does not wish to sound like a Ouija board or the thing in the cookie, but time reveals much.

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--Prudie, patiently

Dear Prudie,

Misters, misters everywhere. 'Tis the spring entertaining season again, in which people fumble with their once or twice a year attempt at Victorian propriety. One common confusion surrounds the use of "mister" when addressing more than one man.

At my Victorian grandmama's knee I was taught that one uses the abbreviation "messrs" (plural of mister) only when addressing two men with the same surname residing at the same address--an admittedly Victorian situation.

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Today I find it often used for two men with different surnames who do sometimes reside at the same address: "Messrs. Smith and Wesson." I can't think of a similar complication in modern feminine address. Did I miss a change in the weather?

--Plurally Perplexed

Dear Plur,

Granny would be pleased by your attention to this arcane detail. Messrs is now the accepted plural of mister, even for the unrelated and separately domiciled. The origin, of course, is from the French, messieurs, with the distaff appellation being mesdames.

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Prudie liked your example of Messrs. Smith and Wesson, though she cannot remember if those gentlemen have to do with oil or guns. In any case, she rejoices that your problem is of such a nonstressful nature.

--Prudie, linguistically

Dear Prudie,

How often should one thank a waiter for service rendered during the course of a meal? Several of my friends think it is appropriate to specifically thank the waiter for each task he or she performs. I am of the opinion that one should always be polite to waiters, but it is best to allow them to fulfill simple operations like filling a water glass or removing plates with a minimum of interruption. Repeatedly saying thank you forces the waiter to engage in conversation, when they just want to finish a small task in a hurry. Who's right?

--Nonplussed in Puyallup

Dear Non,

Prudie instinctively thanks wait-people for each effort expended--unless she is telling a story, in which case she pretends not to have noticed. It is perfectly correct to parcel out the thank yous at a reduced rate, as long as one is pleasant-seeming and not totally indifferent to the server.

Naturally, there is less need to acknowledge service when one is enjoying haste cuisine.

--Prudie, thankfully

Dear Prudie,

Regarding a letter from your column about a young woman's boyfriend being afraid her "pedigree" isn't good enough for his mother, I have some suggestions for retorts, should the occasion arise.

Pretentious boob: "Do you come from an old family?"

Answer: "Oh, yes, we go all the way back to the apes."

Pretentious boob: "What is your pedigree?"

Answer: "Dogs (long pause and withering look) ... have pedigrees."

Thanks for a fun column. And by the way, thanks for your wise answer to Libertarian a while back. You knew something I took years to learn.

--badbert

Dear bad,

Your kind words are gratefully received, as is your standing in for Prudie with suggested responses to the snob.

--Prudie, appreciatively