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Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 7 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 Queries should not exceed 200 words in length. Please indicate how you wish your letter to be signed, preferably including your location.


Dear Prudie,

My girlfriend is intelligent, attractive, and affectionate. Maybe too affectionate. When we're eating in public she likes to play footsie under the table. That would be OK--I enjoy playing footsie--but she likes to tease me by digging her heel into my bare toes (I usually wear sandals), often when I'm ordering. She then watches me squirm to appear nonchalant in front of our server. My question is this: How do I gently ask her to "play nice" without hurting her feelings?

--Ouch! That Hurts!

Dear Ouch!


Without hurting her feelings? It sounds to Prudie like your dominatrix friend is passive-aggressive, with only a tiny quotient of the passive.

Prudie does not like to be bossy, but she strongly suggests you do the following, since she divines you are not going to change your shoes. Next time Miss Intelligent, Attractive, and Affectionate decides to stab you with her heel, scream bloody murder--and don't hold back. You will attract momentary attention from the other diners, but it will be worth it. (This maneuver is called sending her neurosis back to her.) If the darling girl asks why you have never hollered before, simply tell her you were not interested in playing her games, but now you are.

--Prudie, poetically

Dearest Prudence,


How may a proper person handle the delicate matter of bad breath when happenstance forces one into consulting with someone on the boss' staff? I don't mean to be indelicate, but "retching" was very close at hand when that person talked. Prudie, this vile odor was beyond belief!

--Sincerely,Dorothy S. Shreveport, La.

Dear Dor,

Prudie, too, has lived through this a few times. What she has done is try to seem casual and arrange her hand so it covers her nose. One wants to be helpful and alert the person, but it is a very difficult thing to do.


If it is more than a passing acquaintance, you might want to risk the person's embarrassment in order to be helpful, with a remark something like "I hope you don't take offense, but I feel sure you would want to know that, somehow, your breath has turned sour," or "your lunch is lingering," or whatever you are comfortable saying. Granted, it is easier to get away quickly and say nothing.

--Prudie, breathlessly

Dear Prudie,

Recently you published a letter asking if you must use skills not in your job description just because you have them. This is in fact a legal question. In Virginia, for an employee of a private company, absent contractual provisions to the contrary, the answer would be a resounding yes. Not only can employers ask, they can require it; and if you refuse more than once to do something your employer has asked just because nobody put it in your job description, you might even be denied unemployment benefits when they fire you.


In my experience, employers tend to be relatively uninterested in people whining about what someone else should be doing. In the case of the fellow who wrote, I would give priority to my own work but help out to the extent that I could without neglecting my tasks. It is generally safe to check what the boss wants.

This is not legal advice, do not rely upon it. If you have a problem seek the advice of an attorney, usual disclaimers, etc., etc.


Dear AE,

Thank you for your expertise about employment law, at least in Virginia. The wild card you may have overlooked is that our computer-expert correspondent was not being asked by his boss to help everybody. Instead, co-workers themselves were falling on his neck seeking help. In addition to job description issues, our writer was trying to determine where good-guyness intersected with doormathood. And you raise a pertinent point for Prudie: She is not practicing either law or psychological counseling. She is merely advising Slate readers who want an outside, unbiased opinion from one of Mr. Kinsley's minions.

--Prudie, nonprofessionally

Dear Prudence,

I am a big fan of your column and, generally speaking, a supporter of the "always leave 'em wanting more" school of thought regarding product such as yours. However, while I am consistently impressed by the high quality of your responses, I must admit I am somewhat underwhelmed by the quantity of your output. Four letters once a week? (Or thereabouts.) That's it?

It's not as if you were being printed on a paper medium of limited dimension, where space issues would be an important consideration. In the realm of cybermedia, you have unlimited space in which to work--yet you limit yourself. I ask that you consider expanding the scope of your pleasant palaver, to the enrichment of us all. After all, Ann Landers and sister Abby give it to us daily with no diminution of quality or reader interest. You are no less than they.

--Sign me, Wanting More in Rosamond, Calif.

Dear Want,

You are kind to want to see All Prudie All the Time, but Slate is a banquet table of offerings. We would not want to overdose on the problems of Slate readers, would we? As for your reference to Ann Landers and her sister, Prudie has particular regard for Ms. Landers, and delights in the observation of many that she resembles her ... though Prudie, of course, is somewhat younger.

--Prudie, appreciatively