Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 19 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 work in an office of some 20 people. While I have cordial but hardly warm relations with several co-workers, the only person I genuinely like is a woman who was hired about eight months ago. We have become quite friendly, verging on affectionate. I sense a mutual attraction (and I know she is available). We're both in our mid-30s. Since I both like her and find her desirable, I am considering pursuing a relationship. However, my track record isn't great: The last two lasted six and eight months, respectively (though I have remained friends with both women). If this current attraction were to blossom into a relationship, I could foresee some happy and soul-supportive times--but not permanence. By the way, since she exited a long-term relationship just before she joined our company, I suspect she's not interested in permanence either.

So, do you think it's worth going into an office relationship that probably won't last? We don't work closely together but, then again, I wouldn't want to hurt or alienate the only person in my office whom I really like. And how much disclosure about my track record do you think I should reveal?

--Wondering in New York

Dear Won,

Since we only live once until further notice, Prudie thinks it would be a shame to pass up a promising romantic opportunity simply because it may not turn out to be perfect--or permanent. You are wonderfully thoughtful about looking ahead, but try not to plan things that are, after all, emotional and evolutionary. It is Prudie's guess that if you tell the young woman in question of your interest, as well as of your concerns, her response will be the guide you are seeking. As for revealing your strikeout record, that kind of information always gets out during the course of what Prudie refers to as the "what did you major in?" discussions.

Your remark that "it probably won't last suggests faulty reasoning. You are pessimistically assuming that because no one has interested you on a permanent basis so far, no one will.

For some reason, Prudie feels hunchy about your situation and thinks this romantic friendship has possibilities. You can't not try to find out. And do keep us all posted.

--Prudie, encouragingly

Dear Prudence,

Am I an idiot? I already know I am an idiot, but am I to be a happy idiot or a miserable one? Recently I went on a press junket to an Italian island, hosted by dull technologists. There, over two days, I fell in with another trapped journalist. In the way of such things, we now say we are in love. On the bright side, she is a beautiful, terrifyingly honest 24-year-old French girl. On the other hand, I am (problematically) 31, balding, British, and bitter.

My question: She wants to move out to California, where I live. I want her to move out. We know nothing about each other. What should I do?

--Eager To Be Told What I Want To Hear

Dear Eag,

Let her come. This must be Prudie's day to play Cupid, because like the chap who wrote the previous letter, you sound as though you have serendipitously found someone terrific. Take a chance. The worst scenario is that you will be dropped on your head; in which case you will pick yourself up and begin again--without having to wonder if you passed up the love of a lifetime.

And about the bitter business. Prudie assumes this refers to another woman situation. The fact that you acknowledge it, however, reveals a useful self-understanding. As for being balding, Prudie is surely not alone in finding that look attractive, even sexy. Once again, Prudie feels hunchy that the melding of très charmant and jolly good could work out brilliantly.

--Prudie, sighingly

Dear Prudence,

I put before you an etiquette quandary that I faced a few years ago and may face again. I was going regularly to a New York hair salon and getting my hair cut by the salon's owner. Was I supposed to tip him? Even a hefty $10 or $15 tip seemed a paltry thing to put in the hand of the owner of the salon. To me he was "the master," and tips only seemed appropriate in the case of employees. I therefore refrained from handing him a potentially demeaning tip but was still left with the feeling that I should do something.

After a few visits (and no clear advice from my usually sage friends) I resolved to give him a copy of a book I had written. As a personal gift with no measurable value, it seemed a better way to thank him than to price my gratitude at 10 bucks. I have moved from New York, but if I had stayed I am not sure what I would have given him next. What should one do in such a situation?

--Striving for Graciousness in Toronto

Dear Strive,

Well, some years ago, Barbra Streisand married her hairdresser, but that seems an excessive thank-you. Because you've left New York, your question is hypothetical, unless, of course, you wind up in the same situation again.

As for not tipping an establishment's owner, in terms of etiquette you are correct. Prudie, a classically trained salon-goer, recommends a grand gift at Christmastime. Such a  gift could cost the equivalent of a year's tips if one were so inclined. BTW (as we say on the Internet) or "by the way," Prudie was recently on your wonderful Bloor Street.

--Prudie, grandly

Dear Prudence,

Several of my colleagues and I have noticed that our new supervisor repeatedly interrupts us when we are talking on the phone with our clients. She can see the phone, she can hear us talking, yet she bursts in, unwilling to wait. This leaves us in the awkward position of wanting, but not being able, to tell her to go away (or at least to cool her jets) or being inexcusably rude to others. Granted, we all have quirks, but this is highly unnerving to many of us. Your thoughts, please.

--Trying Very Hard To Hear You in Michigan

Dear Try,

It sounds as though your new supervisor is 5 years old and hellbent on instant gratification. Prudie would suggest that you and your colleagues go to this person's superior and spell out the problem. If for some reason this is not feasible, write a memo signed "Everyone in the department" saying you don't wish to be disrespectful, but her habit is counterproductive, annoying, and unnecessary. Feel free to point out that callus interruptus is bad for business.

--Prudie, uninterruptedly