Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 16 1999 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 Prudence,

I went to a New Year's Eve party thrown by a friend, at her loft. She's a lawyer, and I'm a semi-starving artist. At one point in the evening I stood up from her couch and an end-cushion fell to the floor, knocking a full glass of red wine onto her Persian rug. It was my roommate (semi-starving artist as well) who had set the wineglass on the floor. We were both apologetic, and the hostess seems to have forgiven us but, Prudence: 1) What's the best way to try removing the stain? 2) What's the best way for me and my roomie to make amends?

--Butterfingers

Dear Butt,

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Prudie is not a dry cleaner. Had we, by some mysterious mechanism, been in touch the moment after the spill, Prudie would have told you something she just happens to know: Pouring white wine on red wine is the antidote. But this only works immediately after the calamity.

Alas, Prudie is as up in the air as you. Do offer to pay for the rug to be cleaned at the finest rug cleaner you can rustle up. If the lawyer-hostess declines, then send lovely flowers. If she tells you everything's fine and only a faint hint of color remains, suggest she tell friends the Persian weavers were famously big drinkers.

--Prudie, spotlessly

Dear Prudie,

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My best friend was married two years ago, and I was his best man. I was somewhat lazy in procuring a gift, and in the intervening time my friend has got a divorce and is soon to be remarried. He tells me that I need to "double up" on his gift. What do you think is the proper protocol for this situation?

--Richard Vagge, Los Angeles

Dear Rich,

Prudie is so busy sputtering she hopes she can type! Your friend, the groom, is way out of line. Double up, indeed. Why don't you respond that, in the infinite wisdom of your procrastination, you somehow divined the marriage would be a dud, and you think you will give this one a similar two year trial period?

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--Prudie, archly

Dear Prudie,

I have but one living relative, a female first cousin. Her son has three children. The girl has just finished college and married. During her time in college I contributed $40,000 to the family, most of it for her tuition. The older of the two boys is now in college, and the second will enter in the fall. His father wants me to give him $50,000 net to cover a portion of his tuition fee of $21,000 annually by giving him stock to that amount plus what he estimates will be his tax liability on the gift. It will amount to about a third of my remaining nest egg (most went to my university as a "planned gift," for which I get a quarterly dividend).

Recently I bought insurance (annual premium $11,000 plus) that supposedly will pay nursing home care after Social Security and employers' insurance coverage are exhausted. I am 84, in reasonably good health, and my cousin will get the estate after inheritance taxes. My friends say don't do it, and I am of the same opinion. What do you think?

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--Old and Tired of Hassle

Dear Old,

The beneficiary family seems to be proving the old adage: No good deed goes unpunished. You were most generous to your cousin's daughter. Prudie imagines the gift was your idea. To be asked for more--and a particular amount, yet--seems grasping. Prudie might point out that the group to which you refer is also not immediate family.

Security for the rest of your life certainly comes before anything else. Discussion closed.

--Prudie, assuredly

Dear Prudie,

I am a single woman, and I frequent a chichi coffee shop near my home. This establishment provides four bistro tables, which obviously fill up quickly on weekends.

It is my habit to enjoy my coffee, pastry, and Sunday paper in the shop when it first opens and to leave as the crowds begin to come in. This Sunday, as I was poring over my outspread paper, an older woman came over to me and said, "Would you mind if three of us joined you at this table?" (!) As I silently looked up at her, she demurred. "Or would you rather read your paper?" I asserted that I would rather, indeed, but added that I'd soon be packing up.

Prudie, I think you would agree that most of us linger over coffee, within reason. Lately, though, a young man has also begun to frequent the shop, so singles occupy two of the four tables. I'm afraid he appears not to be the type I would approach to suggest sharing a table, though this issue is not under my control, as he comes in shortly after I do. If you were I, what would be your policy here?

--Kick Me, Northwest of Boston

Dear Kick,

Prudie's instinct is yours: An unknown threesome would not be the group with whom I'd want to share Sunday breakfast. As for the young man, however, here's what you do. Alter your time a bit (or hide behind a lamppost), allowing the single gentleman to enter first. Then you come in, "notice" he's by himself, and ask if he is inclined to have you at his table so that two singles will not occupy half of the available tables. If he is welcoming, that means you guessed wrong about his approachability. If he declines your overture, you will have definitive information that the Coffee Shop Man holds no possibilities ... and you can go back to the Sunday papers.

--Prudie, strategically