Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 14 2002 2:24 PM

Art: In the Eye of the Beholder?

Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click hereto sign up.Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

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Dear Prudence,

I know a wonderful young lady with whom the bridge once thought burned has been crossed. In the spirit of relearning one another, I provided her with a couple short stories I wrote while she has responded with a painting of hers. I got the painting, but ... I don't get it. Maybe I'm an artistic dolt, but I found myself making the classic man-meets-modern-art mistake of turning it the wrong way. Do I rave insincerely about it (as perhaps she did about my stories)? Do I use it as a chance to make inquiries so that she may lead me into new cultural lands? Or do I tell her that I was unaware she had a child but was touched that she sent one of his/her paintings from school? I can probably stumble through this, but maybe you can help me avoid a pothole.

—Just Don't Get It

Dear Just,

Prudie knows exactly how you feel. She once hung a painting upside-down ... not because she didn't know which end was up, but because it really looked better that way. And many years ago she strayed into the territory of your joke: She picked up a short ceramic jug at someone's house and said, "Oh, did Scott make this when he was a little boy?" The answer was, "No, Picasso did—when he was all grown-up." As for how you should proceed, Prudie likes your idea of asking to be educated. And be positive ... if opaque. You know, something ambiguous like, "What colors!" Or, "Interesting composition." Prudie learned this weasel approach as it is used in legitimate theater. When forced to say something to an actor who gave, uh, an undistinguished performance, Prudie has seen actors who were audience members say, "My ... you were really up there on that stage!" The bottom line is not to play yourself false with totally bogus raves, but to leave some room for benign misunderstanding.

—Prudie, diplomatically

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Dear Prudence,

My question may sound petty, but the issue is enormous to me because my relationship is beginning to show signs of strain due to a difference of opinion. I live in a big heritage home that has become a tourist attraction. I have no say about tourists stopping to photograph the exterior; however, I draw the line at them knocking on the door to ask to photograph and look around inside. My partner has a different view on this, and when I'm out, he welcomes strangers to come inside. I feel like I am living in a museum and feel if he doesn't stop encouraging this intrusion on my privacy, I might have to make an appointment for him with the taxidermist. What do you think?

—Yours furiously,

KT

Dear K,

Stuffing your friend, my dear, should be saved for a really egregious error in judgment. Prudie thinks a fair compromise would be that the tour groups only be permitted entrance when you are out ... assuming your partner accompanies the curious on these walk-throughs so there is no question of strangers being on the loose in your house. Your partner obviously has pride in the dwelling and maybe even a wish to share history. He can, however, and should spare you having to deal with the lookie-loos because of your feelings on the matter.

—Prudie, agreeably

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Dear Prudie,

My fiance and I live in a very small, one-bedroom apartment. We had agreed to live together in this apartment for one year until we could get our finances in order, then move into a bigger place. I am embarrassed to have friends over because our space is crowded with surfboards and boxes of stuff, and we haven't had the money to buy nicer furniture or pictures for the wall. All in all, I don't find it a very pleasant place to be. The problem is that my fiance just told a friend (whom I have yet to meet) that he may stay with us for one week while he is in town. He also has three surfboards. That means we will have eight surfboards lying in our very small living room. I am feeling resentful that we did not talk about this first and embarrassed and awkward for someone else to be in this small space with us. On the other hand, I feel I can't say no because my partner has not seen this friend in several years, and he doesn't have the money to stay in a hotel. If I were young and carefree, I might not care, but we are in our 40s, and I am mortified to be in this situation. Any advice?

—Sardine

Dear Sard,

Can you stack those things up one on top of the other? Put them under the bed? Prudie is not a surfer (she bets you're surprised!) and so has no idea how they are configured. As for the inconvenience, because your beau's already issued the invitation, just keep repeating to yourself, "It's only a week." If possible, maybe you could stay with a friend during this period of time. Prudie thinks your fiance should have cleared this with you, but he didn't, so take this opportunity to be a good sport. And make no apologies about the apartment. In the scheme of things, although annoying, seven days is really spit in the ocean ... no surfing metaphor intended.

—Prudie, aquatically

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Dear Prudence,

I was wondering whether it is considered polite or rude to speak in a different language with someone in front of others. Some people have pointed out to me that this is rude while others have been amused or enjoyed listening to a foreign tongue. What do you think?

—Wondering

Dear Won,

This would depend on the situation ... where you are, who else is present, and the purpose of the Berlitz riff. It would be impolite, for instance, to say," Get a load of that ugly hairdo" in Farsi while surrounded by English-speakers. Prudie believes that intentions count. Another consideration might be if the foreign language speaker is seriously challenged in English. Perhaps the thing to do, if this is the case, is to excuse yourself in advance. (Sample: "I am just going to explain to Francoise that she may not smoke her cigar in the cinema.") It is risky to communicate in a foreign language in the presence of people you don't know based on the assumption they won't understand what you're saying. Such a practice can be dangereux. Prudie was once in a hotel elevator with a French couple who were dishing on her outfit. As they were getting out on their floor, Prudie said, "J'essaierai de faire mieux la prochaine fois." ("I will try to do better next time." )

—Prudie, linguistically