Advice on manners and morals.
April 24 1999 3:30 AM

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

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Dear Prudence,

Please settle an ongoing dispute between my husband and me. My husband believes it is OK to floss his teeth while driving his car. (I am not making this up.) His teeth are very nice, but I believe this activity should be restricted to the privacy of the bathroom only. He does not see a problem doing this in public. Please respond.

Sincerely,

--Mrs. Floss

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Dear Mrs.,

Prudie hesitates to ask what he is steering the car with. Flossing is not a one-handed maneuver. You are correct that it is not an activity meant for public viewing but, more important, seeing to one's dental hygiene while driving a car poses a threat to oneself, as well as to others. Do tell Mr. Floss that Prudie implores him to find four minutes to do his admirable oral upkeep when he is outside of his automobile.

--Prudie, nervously

Dear Prudie,

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I usually agree with your advice 100 percent, but there were two cases where I'd have suggested something different. I wonder if we actually disagree, or if my solutions just didn't occur to you.

For the woman put off by her old roommate's stinky house, I agree that the best solution would be for the roommate to change her ways, but leveling with her would more than likely end the friendship. It sounds as if things are just fine as long as your correspondent doesn't have to visit her friend's house. So, why not just develop a convenient "cat allergy"? The white lie is a time-honored solution for situations like this.

And for "Fighting Being a Butterball," the person who wants to keep weight off but can't control what's served at dinner parties, it's only good manners to eat what your host serves you--with gusto and gratitude. You can fast the next day. (Well, OK, one bowl of Special-K with skim milk.) Just a thought or, rather, two.

--I'm a Southerner and Manners Are Our Thing

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Dear I'm,

Thank you for being a Prudie. White lies are, indeed, meant for situations like this, but in the case of "Nauseously Yours," there is the chance that straight shooting would be of real help to the roommate living in filth.

As for scarfing down whatever party fare is offered, Prudie will split the difference with you. Granted, one can't get into terrible trouble with an indulgence now and then, assuming one is eating conscientiously, but to inhale a whole meal of rich food is counterproductive. Let's say that when at a dinner party where the sky's the limit--calorie-wise--it is permissible to treat oneself to something particularly wonderful ... which of course would involve small tastes of everything, wouldn't it?

--Prudie, moderately

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Dear Prudence,

I'd like to rely on your unwavering good taste and style to answer a fashion question. Does the rule of no white clothing before Memorial Day and after Labor Day still apply? I learned at a very young age that dressing in white clothing before Memorial Day or after Labor Day was inappropriate. Are the standards still alive, or are we living under the rule of the "casual Friday" ilk that has pervaded the standards of dress?

--Waiting on Hat Pins and Darning Needles for Your Reply

Dear Wait,

Prudie supposes that the calendar's rules regarding white are still operative for the old guard. Even for them, however, fashion has weighed in with a wild card: winter white. To be perfectly candid with you though, Prudie's own style sense veers toward the more individual: Wear what is flattering and what you like. (This is why no one has seen Prudie's knees in eons.)

--Prudie, sartorially

Dear Prudence,

Whatever happened to courtesy? When I am out and about, whether getting food or shopping for other goods, I seem to encounter clerks who equate "There you go" with "Thank you." I can't tell you how many times I have heard "There you go" as I am handed my change, or my bag, with no thanks given. "There you go" seems to imply "Get the hell out," whereas a thank-you is an appreciation of my helping to keep the staff employed.

I am not some crotchety old fool. I have worked retail for several years myself, and I say, "Thank you" because I realize that if I do not act appreciatively, the customer may well go on down the road!

Thank you for you time.

--Courteous Carol

Dear Court,

My dear, with all due respect, Prudie thinks you have the wrong take on this. Actually, Prudie finds "There you go" to be a rather chipper bon voyage at the end of one's transaction. Have you noticed how certain phrases seem to take hold? Like "Have a nice day" (which Prudie happens to loathe). "There you go" is simply one more evolution of our spoken language ... perhaps meant to refresh commonly said things.

You are correct, of course, that a thank-you is always appropriate, but that does not mean a substitute phrase is improper. Prudie, frankly, cannot fathom how you've decided that "There you go" is code for "Get the hell out." All you can do, really, is not go there, yourself, when speaking.

--Prudie, linguistically