Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 26 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,

Please don't laugh. I have a dilemma about being a house guest. It is to flush or not to flush. When I stayed with an old schoolmate on a business trip, it was in her small apartment with only one bathroom. Her room was on one side of the loo, and mine was on the other. I had to go to the bathroom in the early dawn and was torn about whether to risk waking her with the noise of the flush or protecting the silence (and trying to catch up with it in the morning, before she did).

What would Prudie advise?

--Hamlet in the WC

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Dear Ham,

Prudie is not laughing, she is merely smiling with recognition, having had to consider the same question on occasion. Decorum and politesse dictate that you opt for the flush. An exception might be if your host or hostess has mentioned being an extremely light sleeper who, once awakened, is unable to fall back asleep. An alternative if you simply can't bring yourself to push the handle down in the middle of the night would be to put a Post-It note on the closed lid advising, "Please flush." Admittedly this may call for more wakefulness than one may have given the hour and the circumstance. If you choose silence and can't deal with the Post-It note, mention your concerns the next morning.

--Prudie, unflushingly

Dear Prudie,

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How long should you date a man before deciding if he is right for you?

--Bewildered in D.C.

Dear Be,

There can be no specified time after which you know if you've found the right partner. Some people make a good selection almost immediately, just as others can take a very long time to make a colossal mistake. The romance gods are fickle. Prudie knows this from experience.

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--Prudie, romantically

Dear Prudie,

As a straight male living in Dupont Circle in Washington, I have had the same problem as "Dimmer." A good friend, staring at a similar blonde, asked how he could figure this out fast. I responded with the best indicators I know. Feet, hands, Adam's apple. Almost never fails.

--Steve, Singly

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Dear Steve,

Thank you on behalf of Prudie's male readers who feel they might fall into the transvestite trap. It must be true: Takes one to know one ... a man, that is.

--Prudie, tellingly

Dear Prudence,

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Because of my healthy appetite, I am quite fond of all-you-can-eat, buffet style restaurants. My question is: How much should you tip the wait staff? They don't take your order or bring your food, but they do bring drinks, remove dishes, and deliver the check. Your advice will be greatly appreciated.

--Perpetually Hungry in L.A.

Dear Perp,

Since the service you receive is not that of a regular restaurant, you might wish to leave the tipping equivalent of an honorarium. Perhaps 10 percent of your bill would be correct.

--Prudie, expansively