Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 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.

Dear Prudence,

I recently got married and wonder if there's a "correct" answer to the following question: How should our address labels read? I think it should be husband's name first, e.g., "Michael and Katherine Stevenson." But my wife thinks it should be wife's name first, e.g., "Katherine and Michael Stevenson." Who's "right"? Thank you.

--Michael, New York City

Dear Mic,

Prudie checked with Tiffany's, Boston, on your behalf. Here is the response (and Prudie is trying to keep a straight face as she writes): There is no label etiquette because ... well, labels are beneath social acceptability. Stationery, however, can be "Mr. and Mrs." And to quote the Tiffany lady: "It usually stops fights if the woman's name is first."

As for your own situation, the Michael and Katherine dilemma, why don't you have two sets of labels printed? They are inexpensive, after all, and that way you can each affix what you consider the "right" label to a letter.

--Prudie, compromisingly

Hey, Prudie,

Stop the presses! A recent correspondent of yours complained about a waitress writing in a "suggested" 17.5 percent tip, about which he was ticked. He will be thrilled to know that a New York lawyer, by the name of Richard Fishbein, has sued an eatery ("Angelo & Maxie's") for $7 million for holding him hostage when he refused to pay the 18 percent service charge added to his bill. Fishbein refused to pay its idea of a gratuity because he found the management "rude and obnoxious" to his party of 17. The New York City Consumer Affairs Commissioner is quoted as saying Mr. Fishbein has a shot at winning the suit because restaurants are allowed to add a service charge for parties larger than six if the customer is told in advance--but the surcharge is limited to 15 percent.

Thought you'd like to know the latest.

--Two Hands Clapping in Manhattan

Dear Two,

Prudie, like you, is watching these developments with fascination. Perhaps, if successful, Mr. Fishbein might take the Slate staff to dinner--and you, too, of course.

--Prudie, mischievously

Dear Prudie,

Perhaps you backed down a bit too quickly with Mike regarding the "Have a nice day" silliness. This offends almost as much as that other staple, "How are you?"--my retort to which is usually "Do you have half an hour?"

How am I? Well, perhaps you wish to hear about my problems, but I don't think so. I find such linguistic tics simply sloppy semantics.

--Careful in Washington, carefully

Dear Care,

Prudie is grateful for your linguistic support, though on the question of what is required by the question "How are you?" she is more forgiving. Perhaps because her mother taught her years ago that "How are you?" is a greeting, not a question.

To respect your feelings, however, Prudie would not mind if, the next time you are asked the irritating query, you begin a recital of exactly how you are--no details spared. And do let us all know how many seconds elapse before your conversational companion makes a getaway.

--Prudie, tellingly

Dear Prudence,

I have had it with people talking into their fists and mumbling up their sleeves. All these calls on the hoof can't be that important. Plus, they interrupt innocent bystanders. Is there an accepted etiquette for the mobile phone people and anything the rest of us can do about them?

--Anti-Cell Phone Annie

Dear Ant,

Alas, there is no etiquette, per se, regarding cell phones, though some high-end restaurants have tagged them verboten. Prudie is noticing that concert halls and theaters now have printed announcements requiring their restriction, as well. Little by little, various establishments are making house rules.

As for what the rest of us might do about them, Prudie is afraid the answer is: not much. A cross look of disapproval is always worth a try. The best hope of integrating this technological "advance" into society is to hope that those so important they cannot be out of telephonic touch will themselves arrive at some feeling of mobilesse oblige. Prudie is somewhat hopeful on this score, having recently seen some cell phonies remove themselves to the sidelines, as it were, at the ring of the bell. She has even seen an apologetic smile or two as these people get the call. We will hope for the best.

--Prudie, wishfully

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