Answers on Morals and Manners

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 12 1998 3:30 AM

Answers on Morals and Manners

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 Prudie,
Nearly 20 years ago, when I was first brought home to meet my wife's folks, they showed us old home movies of her girlhood. At one (especially cute) point, her mother said, "Now P____, if you'd only listened to me, you'd still be beautiful today." It was then that I knew I would have a Mother-in-Law Problem.
We're going to see them around the holidays (we live many hundreds of miles away), primarily to pick up some family heirlooms. The old bat announced that none of us would be allowed to set foot in her home during our visit. (We have two young children; I suspect they are the proximate cause of the ban. In truth, they are a bit rambunctious but not inappropriately or dangerously so.) This has profoundly affected my wife--and I'm a bit ticked myself.
Obviously, I can't do anything about the old bat (though various illegal, immoral, and unethical proposals do spring to mind). But what, if anything, can I do to help my wife develop an immunity to the old witch's mean-spirited caprices?

Yours,
--Happily Married, With One Small Exception, in New Jersey

Dear Hap,
What a sweet and empathetic husband you are. First, Prudie wants to tell you that, to her knowledge, beauty is not dependent on listening to one's mother. Second, the b ...--I mean, witch--and her approach to motherhood are an unfortunate lemon that life handed your wife. "Immunity" is probably not in the cards, but understanding might soften the blows. The old girl is clearly unhappy, probably bitter, and maybe competitive. She is surely selfish. Your real contribution to your wife's comfort will be to reinforce what is obvious: There is nothing wrong with her, but plenty is wrong with her ma.
It is not exactly clear to Prudie why you are making a long trip to see a woman you don't like who will not let you into her house. Perhaps there are other family members there you do like? If not, perhaps engaging a van line to transport the heirlooms would be useful.

27_cleardot
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--Prudie, hopefully

Dear Prudie,
I recently wrote to a government minister requesting him to intervene in a dispute I am having with public servants. Instead of investigating and taking an unbiased view, as he should have, he turned over my missive to, you guessed it, a public servant. Needless to say the reply was a load of bulldust that did not one whit to answer my complaint. My question is this: Should I continue to attempt to gain redress or, being a Vietnam vet, challenge him to AK-47s at 20 paces?

--Up in Arms in Townsville (Australia)
Rod Stemp

Dear Up,
Prudie is sorry you are in high dudgeon down under. (She knows you are kidding about the duel.) If you want to pursue this, why not send the two letters--your original and the inappropriate response--to an even higher minister? You might also consider a letter to the editor of the largest paper ... and do mention names. Just to lend moral support, Prudie is sure that the minister who dodged your letter is a fer dinkum bludger (Prudie is not exactly sure what she has just said, but she believes it is not nice in Aussie slang).

27_cleardot

--Prudie, ministerially

Hi, Prudie,
I'd urge you to read the most recent issue of Brill's Content. You recently advised a seeker of truth that secondhand smoke could kill. It's pretty clear, if you look at the evidence, the case has not been made. If you don't want to wade through Brill's, consider Fran Liebowitz's epidemiological summarization, "Secondhand smoke? What about secondhand car exhaust?"
It's really hard to figure out the role secondhand smoke plays in lung cancer and other diseases. Studies have not given a clear answer nor, in my opinion, will they. It's not a good idea to suggest that people claim their life is being endangered by a companion's smoke. (There are exceptions. Flight attendants probably have a case.)

--Jay Ackroyd (who is not afraid to identify himself ... but then again is not concerned about an editor replacing him with someone who will write under his name)

P.S.: I am not a smoker, nor do I have any affiliation with the tobacco industry.

Dear Jay,
You and Ms. Liebowitz notwithstanding, Prudie's common sense (and her nose and throat) tell her that inhaling tobacco smoke is not a healthful thing. At the very least, it smells awful to a nonsmoker. You are correct that there is some to-and-froing about the scientific aspects of this debate.
Interesting that you exempt flight attendants from the secondhand smoke argument. This implies that a lot of secondhand smoke is definitely trouble, but sporadically it's fine. This sounds like a logic disconnect to Prudie, who hopes you will forgive her if she continues to hold her nose when in the presence of the evil weed and its vapors.

27_cleardot

--Prudie, protectively

Dear Prudie,
I have the problem of trying to pick a man from the vast amount of males on hand. I don't want to be with them but with someone else. That someone is a minor, and I'm an adult. Hope you can help.

--Jaden Stone, Milwaukee

Dear Jade,
You have two options. Get thee to a therapist, or wait for the kid to reach majority. You are playing with dynamite. We used to call it "jailbait."

27_cleardot

--Prudie, pleadingly

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