Thanks for Nothing?

Thanks for Nothing?

Thanks for Nothing?

Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 7 2000 11:30 PM

Thanks for Nothing?

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

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Dear Prudence,
My wife and I were married recently, and we invited many out-of-town relatives to the wedding, many of whom did not show up. One such invited couple sent us a check for $50, but unfortunately it bounced and our bank ended up charging us $10. My hunch is that these relatives were caught in a momentary cash crunch, not a downward spiral to bankruptcy. How should my wife and I handle the thank-you note issue? Should we tell them their check bounced—or would they know that already?

—Thanks for the advice,
Newlyweds in New York

Dear New,
Prudie inquired, and it is current practice for check bouncers to be notified by their bank that there were insufficient funds. How they then choose to deal with this is up to them. Of course no thank-you note is called for in this situation—because, after all, what would you thank them for? As for the of $10 charge to you, you will get more than your money's worth as the story, over the years, becomes your "most memorable wedding gift" story.

—Prudie, humorously

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Dear Prudence,
A friend of mine has a problem (yes, really a friend). She recently found out that her once-a-week housekeeper has been having an affair with her building's (married) super. She isn't interested in tattling to the wife, whom she doesn't know, or using a baby-sitter spy-cam to catch them. However, since she is the only one in the building to use the housekeeper's services, and the super lives with his wife, my friend is justifiably concerned that they are using her apartment for their afternoon trysts while she and her husband are at work. How do you advise her to handle this? Should she use the situation to get some extra favors out of the super, or just hope that the housekeeper launders the sheets after they use them?

—Belle du Jour

Dear Belle,
It was nice of you to offer to ask Prudie's advice for your friend. How she found out about love in the afternoon would be interesting, but in any case, extracting favors from the super in exchange for silence is extortionate behavior. Also, Prudie doesn't think your friend should be a party to the adultery. As for the housekeeper, Prudie knows good help is hard to find, but closing a blind eye to the weekly rendezvous is not the answer. The employer should tell the cleaner that she has learned of the affair, and while she has no morality lesson to offer, she does not wish her apartment to be used as the No-Tell Motel. Once the employee is put on notice, if your friend thinks her apartment is still the crash pad, she should dismiss the woman.

—Prudie, cleanly

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Dear Prudence,
There is a lady at work who is constantly coming on to me. I work out regularly and that seems to attract her to me. She keeps telling me how she likes to feel my biceps. This is such a regular happening that I avoid that part of the office. I would have problems with it even if I were single, but I have been married for the last 11 months. How do I tell the lady to go to hell without actually doing that? I don't want to hurt her feelings.

—Worried Shy Guy

Dear Wor,
The next time this happens, tell the woman that your wife likes them too, and perhaps give her a long, frozen smile. If your co-worker fails to get the message, you might have to ask your HR person to suggest to her that she keep her hands to herself and off your biceps.

—Prudie, muscularly

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Dear Prudence,
May I depart from the customary arena and ask your opinion about the new and vastly expanded uses to which the term "apology" has been applied? I was raised to believe that apologies were in order in the more intimate social setting ... for example, when one stepped on another's feet while getting to a theater seat, or if one (gasp) overturned the gravy boat onto the Thanksgiving table linen of a stricken hostess.

Now, however, people (mostly men) are apologizing for all manner of deeds that far exceed the humble, traditional use of the word. A man in the highest political public office lies through his teeth and then apologizes to the nation for egregious behavior and an appalling lack of judgment. The next thing we know, this same gentleman, or one of his talking heads, is apologizing to all of Black America for slavery. Now the icy-eyed Russian head of state apologizes to his masses for the deaths of their husbands, sons, and brothers at the bottom of the sea. And somewhere in all this someone apologized for the Holocaust—a gesture which leaves me speechless still. Have we now become so shallow, or perhaps the word is callous, that we let them get away with this?

—Sincerely,
Diogenes (still searching)

Dear Di,
Remember the old cliché "Talk is cheap"? It is also, as you point out, becoming meaningless. To apologize is to effectively end the discussion, because what is left? A court martial? To apologize is to neutralize, because one has, after all, accepted blame, which has become the end of the road. Prudence's brother, Juris, has, for whatever reason, ceased to be called upon for things we might wish to be settled in the courts. Alas, there seem to be no consequences for many horrendous misdeeds, as long as one says, "I'm sorry" and blame has become an outmoded concept. Prudie is not sure how we got there, but that is, indeed, where we are.

—Prudie, wistfully