Advice on manners and morals.
July 11 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 P.,

There is another bald, black guy in sales in my company. He's located in Florida. Whenever I attend a quarterly sales meeting, there are inevitably several people who don't know me who start talking about how they love Florida. I politely tell them I live in California, but I get very irritated. As much as I love Mad magazine's "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions," I can never bring myself to snap at these retards. In the end, the frustration is mine, when it's they who should be apologizing. Can you offer me some wit to help diffuse these situations?

--Still Black, Still ShavingLos Angeles

Dear Still,

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Your letter comes at a cosmic time for Prudie, who recently made the mistake you write about. Having been on the wrong end of the situation, let Prudie point out that such mistakes come from unfamiliarity, perhaps thoughtlessness, but not bigotry.

The rejoinder Prudie suggests is, granted, an old standby, but it defuses the situation and everybody gets the message. It is what a prominent black academic said when Prudie greeted him by another gentleman's name: "We all look alike."

It was said with wry humor, and Prudie felt about as tall as a toadstool and will never again be careless in her address, which is, after all, what you're after, isn't it?

--Prudie, penitently

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Dear Prudie,

I am good friends with a girl, and both of us share a similar interest, namely politics. However, we are on completely opposite ends of the political spectrum: She's a liberal Democrat and I'm a conservative Republican. When we discuss our common interest it turns into a fiery political debate. We disagree on every issue from gun control to tax policy to our views on Clinton. I've even considered changing my political views for her.

Recently, I've considered becoming intimate with her, but I don't know how we would fare as a couple, considering the area of political tension. Is it possible to close this political gender gap? How do Mary Matalin and James Carville do it?

--Sincerely,Too Conservative for Her

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Dear Too,

Prudie can relate, though she doesn't see how you can turn a switch and change your views. Your voter registration, maybe, but not your views. For you to become a born-again Democrat would probably take a deprogrammer.

As for maintaining a romantic relationship with someone with wildly divergent politics, it is like walking with oatmeal in your shoe: It's not easy, but it's possible. The deciding factor is how the rest of the relationship functions. You might simply agree to disagree on this one subject.

As for those shrinking violets Matalin and Carville, Prudie has a hunch they have knockdown drag-out fights about their different affiliations. Bear in mind that some couples thrive on volatility and friction. Now you must figure out if you are in that category.

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--Prudie, politically

Dear Prudie,

One of my pet peeves when dining with family or friends is the constant thanking that goes on. When the waiter brings cocktails for a table of eight there is a ridiculous rhapsody of "thank you" and "you're welcome." Then there are appetizers, salads, main courses, beverage refills, desserts, and coffee. A thousand thanks for doing one's job? I choose to thank once at the end of the meal and to provide a generous tip. I have been a waiter and preferred the artistry of being both attentive and discreet. The trick is to clear the salad plate and place the dinner plate without being noticed.

--Sign meNoshing on the North Shore

Dear Nosh,

Prudie had no idea about the depth of feeling on the subject of when and how much thanking of waitpersons is appropriate. Your letter is just one example. The fact that you yourself have experienced both positions relative to the dining chair lends authority to your opinion. Prudie, imagining herself waiting on tables, concurs that an appreciative gratuity is, indeed, preferable to repeated thank yous and now considers the problem solved.

--Prudie, conclusively

Prudie!

You racy minx! "Tat caught in a wringer." "Ex post fucto." Goodness me; what would Miss Manners say? (Oh yes, and that's not even counting your comment on "the oatmeal disability," in the June 26 column.) Where will it all end?

--Mikeberla

Dear Mi,

As to the racy minx business, don't you hope it will never end?

--Prudie, naughtily