Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 24 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 Prudence,

The confluence of the Slate toothpaste articleand a recent event has inspired me to write. I have lived outside the United States for quite some time now and am not at all up on current U.S. manners. Recently, a visiting U.S. State Department official flossed at the table after dinner in a restaurant. Is this now accepted hygienic behavior in the States, or is it as undiplomatic as it looked to me?

--Not a Diplomat Overseas

Dear Not A,

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You will be relieved to know that quality people in the United States have kept flossing a private ritual. Prudie would not even do it in front of The Beloved, let alone at a restaurant table. (Prudie even retires to the ladies' room to use her gold toothpick.)

It is a safe bet that your State Department friend is in no danger of being given an ambassadorship. Your take on his behavior was correct: It was gauche. Prudie does have one slight bit of curiosity about the faux pas. Did he whip out the little white plastic thing that holds the floss, or was he using one of those ready-to-go saw instruments that look like a cello bow for a doll house?

--Prudie, flossily

Dear Prudie,

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I feel like a fool. A group of guys went out for a drink after work, and sitting at the bar was a real stunner: a 6 foot blonde with a fabulous face and figure to match. I struck up a conversation with her and was greatly annoyed when one of my friends insisted I interrupt the conversation to go have a word with him.

He got me away from the bar and told me the beauteous blonde was a guy. I felt like a moron for not being able to figure this out myself. Of course the teasing has not abated, and the weight of my imaginary dunce cap is giving me a headache. Any thoughts?

--Dimmer Than a 10 Watt Bulb

Dear Dim,

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Prudie wants you to immediately regain your sense of humor and be grateful that your pal stepped in before any, uh, harm was done. It is sometimes difficult to determine if it's real or if it's Memorex, though build, voice, and the hint of a beard can sometimes be a tip-off. To defend yourself against the teasing friends and to show that you, too, can see the humor, Prudie offers a fun Latin saying you might share with your buddies: "Dumbassus! Hottie iste transvestitus!" Meaning roughly, "Fool! That gorgeous woman is a cross-dresser!" Prudie's betting you will, in the future, pay closer attention to knockout ladies in public places.

--Prudie, cautiously

Dear Prudence,

Your answer to the fishy question was imprudent, I think. In your response, you used the word "floundered." Now if you meant that to be a pun, then I have no problem with it, but if, instead, you meant that you failed, the better word might have been "foundered," meaning that you a) failed completely or b) went directly to the bottom. You will of course make the final decision, which will be prudent in the end, or prudence at work, whatever!

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--Cordially yours, I amCarl in Simpsonville, S.C.

Carl, you devil you,

Such wonderful wordplay just to respond to the trout letter comments. Your first supposition was right: Prudie was punning. It was the least she could do.

--Prudie, admiringly

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Dear Prudie,

I am the product of perhaps too permissive parents in that they believed, being children of the '60s, that excessive discipline and training may lead to stunted personality development in their children. As a result, I have no solid knowledge of basic etiquette. Can you recommend a general text that is current, comprehensive, and for my parents' sake, progressive?

--B.H.

Dear B.,

Prudie salutes you for knowing what you do not know and concurs that a world without etiquette is a less lovely one. Prudie's suggestion would be to wander into a good bookstore, online or actual, and select the most appropriate book by Letitia Baldridge. She is both progressive and proper, having made it her business to keep up with the times.

--Prudie, politely