Advice on manners and morals.
May 1 1999 3:30 AM

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

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Dear Prudence,

Over the past several years it has evidently become fashionable for restaurants to have all their servers march out singing birthday greetings to customers. Am I the only person who finds this intolerable? I've stopped going to restaurants that follow this custom if I can avoid them. (My wife likes the food at some of these places, so compromises must be made.) The noise makes conversation impossible, and I can't help but wonder if that's my meal being ignored in the kitchen during the song.

Am I being petty? Shouldn't servers be respectful of all customers? What can be done?

--BH

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Honey, get a grip. Prudie just sang "Happy Birthday" to herself: It takes 11 seconds. If it is your meal being ignored for roughly one fifth of a minute, Prudie does not think the delay will harm the flavor. Let Prudie hasten to add that she, too, finds the wait staff singing the birthday song rather hokey and believes that the only people who dislike it more than you and I are the "honorees." It is always embarrassing, but certainly not worth the boycott of a good restaurant. Prudie thinks you need to hook up your sense of humor to your tolerance mechanism and find something really objectionable to dislike ... such as the "suggested" tip printed on the bill.

--Prudie, proportionately

A Note From Prudie: What kids call grown-ups is still riling some readers, so here is a knock for Prudie that was at least civil.

Dear Prudie,

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You stated, "It sounds to Prudie as though you and your spouse are a little more formal than the times," when a writer suggested that he felt children should address adults in a more formal manner than using their first names. You may be correct that they may be out of touch with current (rude) customs of our society. In my day, children were taught respect for their elders, and one of the methods used was form of address. Today, the television and the mall do the job that once was the purview of parents. Back then we had no guns in high schools, no drive-by shootings, no graffiti on the walls, etc. I, for one, am glad that I was raised by parents who had a value system. I still get up when a woman enters the room, open a door for her, and offer my seat on a bus. Somehow I am happy to be too formal for "your" society.

--Norm

Dear Norm,

Prudie applauds your standing for women and holding doors, but must point out that calling adults by a first name, if they wish it, is a different issue. Please be assured that knives in the schools are not caused by calling Mrs. Allen "Jodie."

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--Prudie, realistically

Dear Prudence,

While watching the impeachment trial, my husband of 15 years revealed to me that he had an affair with a friend of ours some 12 years ago. It went on for the eight months that we were in a commuting marriage, living in different states. Ten years ago she came out on a vacation to visit us for two weeks, and has continued to correspond during the holidays. My husband says he was ashamed of his lie and that they had promised never to tell me. Over the past years, I have asked him if there was anyone else, and he always lied. He said the reason for the continued correspondence was that if he stopped writing I might get suspicious. So, I wrote her and her husband and told her to stop writing--plus what I thought of her morals.

After four months, I cannot get this out of my mind. I think I love him and want the marriage to go on, but other days I feel so used that I can't believe I am still with him. I've spoken to a counselor twice and that helped for a day or so. My husband is 61, and I am 46. What should I do? Am I dumb to try to make this work? I also suspect him of other lies, but my views of reality are definitely skewed.

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--ep

Dear e.,

Where to begin? Prudie wants to tell you so many things. First is that you must find the way that is right for you to feel good again. That old canard that "confession is good for the soul" usually only seems to work for the person confessing. Lover Boy's disclosure has clearly put your life at sixes and sevens.

Of course your husband's behavior was lower than a snake's tail in a wagon rut. He has not only lied to you but also to the woman he cheated with. You, however, evened the score somewhat by writing to the woman and her husband. God only knows what's going on in their household.

Therapy that improves things for only "a day or so" is not Prudie's idea of effective help. You might want to try someone else. Since you suspect other lies, you might want to have a trial separation. On the plus side, you say you love this man, and the affair you know about ended more than a decade ago. On the minus side, feeling you're never getting a straight story is a major impediment to the comfort one feels when there is trust. Prudie hopes you find your way to peace and resolution, and your guide will most likely be a competent therapist, perhaps of the marriage counselor variety.

--Prudie, empathetically

Dear Prudence,

You recently ran a letter from a politician who was concerned about unwanted sympathy for what was a great example of how to live a life. I also have some areas where I get very uncomfortable with sympathy. I am the father of three sons. Two of them died while they were teen-agers, one from an auto accident and the other from cancer. Yes, I loved them deeply and still have a hole in my heart for them. The problem is when, in conversation, someone asks general questions, such as, "How many children do you have?" People are devastated if I tell them three, but I lost two. If I say one, I am bypassing an important part of my life. If I just say three, I am not giving a very truthful answer.

I have adjusted well to these tragedies. It has been hard. I don't want to put people in an uncomfortable position. There is also a part of me that hurts, but I don't really want to expose that to a stranger.

--Albany Father

Dear Alb,

Prudie bows low to a man such as yourself who, having lived through what is said to be life's cruelest event, is trying to do the honest, philosophically correct, and thoughtful thing. Prudie suggests that you tailor your answer to the situation. If it is a passing social encounter, with what you would call "a stranger," say one child. If you encounter someone with whom you feel rapport, you might say three, with a brief explanation, and allow that person to express sympathy. Let your instinct guide you. Prudie wishes to suggest that you are not playing your history false by not informing people of the two children you lost. Let the decision about what to say, and to whom, come from your heart, the place where two of your sons now live.

--Prudie, respectfully