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At a recent dinner party I found myself sitting next to the mother of a third-grader. Running out of conversational gambits, I asked whether her daughter was enjoying the Harry Potter series, popular among that age group. In response to my puffball question, the mother became agitated and explained that she's uncomfortable allowing her daughter to read Harry Potter books "because there are witches and sorcerers out there who can hurt us." Needless to say, I sought refuge in a discussion of the weather. Prudie, should I inform my friends—the evening's hosts—that their friend is a freak? Also, are there any other conversational minefields I should avoid? I await your sage counsel.
—Dan, New York City
My, my, what an addled dinner partner you wound up with. Too bad you didn't ask her the date and time of the next book-burning. Prudie has very little patience with the people who get all het up about the content of children's books. Some of them, you know, think that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs should be visited by the vice squad, and that Huck Finn is wicked. There is no need to make a point of informing your hosts (obviously friends of the woman) that her elevator doesn't go all the way to the top. If her name should come up in conversation, however ... well, Prudie leaves you to your own devices.
My two best friends are dating. I am completely fine with this; I'm even OK with it when they kiss in front of me. However, recently they've been taking my nonchalant attitude the wrong way. It's gone way beyond kissing, and while they've done nothing particularly offensive, I don't enjoy sitting around while they do their thing and completely ignore me. Should I confront them about this?
—Odd One Out
Forget about confronting them, the next time this happens get up and leave. "Their thing" should be done in private. Prudie is guessing you are youngish so in your lingo, this PDA is totally out of place. (For grown-ups, that's public display of affection.) Necking with a third person present is really moronic. Since the lovebirds are your "two best friends," you might ask the girl one what's the deal with wanting an audience?
What is the best way to deal with "adults" who still make fun of people's names? My name (first and last) is very easy to ridicule, so I have heard everything. When I was a kid! Still as an adult (23) I sometimes encounter an obnoxious co-worker or acquaintance who puts his foot in his mouth. Sometimes I reply that I appreciate the comments, sometimes I just ignore it and hope the joke will get old soon. But I'd really like to say something that would shut the person up or embarrass him in front of everybody. I don't want it to be a hurtful comment, just something that sends a very clear message that it's time to drop it.
—Tired of Immature Name-Calling
You could probably say, with obvious sarcasm, "That is really original," or "Can't you do better than that?" and your displeasure would be communicated. But it will be easier to change your outlook than to retrain countless people. What you need to understand is that people say dumb things without meaning to hurt your feelings, and that your name lends itself to comments. Do the best you can to tune out the name jokes in order to lessen their irritation quotient, because in the scheme of things this is not a big problem and should not have the power to ruin your day.
I could not help noticing the comment of one of your correspondents. It is not simply a question of touching a surface that has been touched by an Unwashed Person. Door handles and opening panels on doors are notorious for being breeding grounds for germs—grow a sample on a petri dish and you will see that they are, in fact, more germy than floors, walls, and most other surfaces. One eminent professor here in the U.K. puts on a pair of white gloves before opening any door.
That professor is my kinda guy. Prudie sometimes does this, though the gloves are not white. Even without the petri dish experiment Prudie is rethinking the habit of shaking hands ... even though that's getting into Michael Jackson/Donald Trump territory. They are two strange guys, granted, but they happen to be on the right track with this issue and probably should be given credit for being willing to seem ever more strange because of this belief.