Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 10 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.

Advertisement

Dear Prudence,

I can't believe that I'm writing to you, but I can't get this out of my mind. My very nice sister-in-law invited us to her son's high-school graduation dinner at a nice restaurant immediately after the ceremony. We agreed to go to both events, graduation and dinner.

My question is this. We had to leave early because of the baby sitter, so we got up, kissed the new graduate, said goodbye to everyone, and thanked our sister-in-law. A relative--not the host--said, "Leaving before the bill arrives?" If he knew the guests were supposed to pay for dinner, we didn't. Embarrassed, I gave my father-in-law money to give to the hostess to cover our meals.

Was I wrong to assume the dinner was given by my sister-in-law? What's the etiquette about being invited to a restaurant to celebrate a big event? I paid this time, but what to do next time? (And yes, we gave him a very, very nice graduation present.)

Advertisement

--Definitely Not a Freeloader in New York

Dear Def,

Prudie is appalled, and suspects your very nice sister-in-law was raised by wolves. At the very least, if the host can't manage such a party, guests should be informed beforehand that the celebratory dinner is the gustatory equivalent of BYOB.

As for the next time, feel free to ask if the party is a Dutch treat. If it is, and you're not feeling Dutch, decline with thanks.

Advertisement

--Prudie, choosily

Dear Prudence,

My problem is so small, but I have nobody else to ask. Where everybody sneezes once or twice, I always sneeze at least five or six times--sometimes more. I have never given it a second thought, but recently people seem to be noticing my sneezing and commenting on it, some suggesting I see a doctor. Do you think I should be concerned?

--Lidia

Advertisement

Dear Lid,

Do not concern yourself with your repeater sneezes. To those nervy enough to comment, simply say that you love to hear "Gesundheit" over and over again.

--Prudie, repetitively

Dear Prudie,

Advertisement

I work in an office with about 40 people. I am in my late 30s and the youngest of the bunch. I like computers a lot and know much about them, as well as about systems and programming. Our so-called "computer expert" is over 60 and, admittedly, no expert. I would say that 99 percent of the employees are real computer idiots. Most of the time people call on me when they have a problem with their computers, and until now I have always helped them.

Lately, however, I have found that some co-workers have become upset because I was unable to drop everything and come to their aid immediately. I have decided to no longer offer this help, as it is not part of the work I was hired to do five years ago.

My question is: Can an employer ask that you use skills that are not in your job description just because you have them? I think that the so-called "expert" should do what he's being paid to do and that the same goes for me.

--With all good wishes,

P.V.

Dear P.,

Your take on this matter is correct, and you are a living breathing exemplar of the old saying "No good deed goes unpunished." You've been such a good sport for so long that now it's expected.

Here's what to do: Whenever people hit you up to deal with their computer problems, tell them to turn to Page 23 in their copy of Dianetics. Only kidding. Refer them to the "computer expert," explaining that it is his job to help them and that you are busy doing your work.

If, by chance, "the expert" isn't up to the task, Prudie has a hunch the boss will remedy the situation. You might even consider broaching the subject with him yourself. Would you perhaps enjoy being deputized "the expert" and changing your job description?

--Prudie, wonderingly

Dear Prudie,

I thought you were very gracious a while back to the person who wanted to know if you were Prudy Crowther who went to Bryn Mawr. I've been using the Internet for less than a year but have managed to find several friends with whom I'd been out of touch for years, and we've re-established contact very happily. Two people also have found me under similar circumstances.

Thanks for your astringent wit and good advice, even if it doesn't apply to me.

--All the best,

Writing a Book on Deadline That Has Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Politics

Dear Write,

Thank you for the lovely compliments. It is nice to know that the Internet has uses besides reading Slate. (Prudie jests. She knows you can check stock quotes, too.)

--Prudie, connectedly