Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 14 2003 10:50 AM

Girl, Uninterrupted

Prudie shares her views on cutting off—and correcting—others in midsentence.

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Dear Prudence,

When did it become "the norm" to routinely interrupt people in midsentence to correct their pronunciation or grammar? I began noticing this trend in co-workers, even employers and clients, in the mid-'90s. In my generation (born in the late 1940s), I was taught that to interrupt when someone was speaking was extremely rude. If it was necessary to correct a mispronounced name, I was taught to wait for a good opening to do so and to do it politely—and privately, if possible. I would never, ever correct someone's grammar unless it was my own children or grandchildren. I personally think the practice is insulting and humiliating, especially in a business setting. Is this just another sign of our changing and deteriorating culture? Thank you.

—Irked at Being Interrupted

Dear Irk,

The issue you raise may well be another example of things going to hell in a handbasket. (What IS a handbasket, anyway?) Prudie is inclined to think, nevertheless, that well-raised people of any generation do not barge into someone else's sentence to play English teacher. Prudie agrees with you about correcting only one's nearest and dearest. What is the point, after all, of setting straight a casual acquaintance—particularly while he is talking and with other people present? An occasion comes to mind where, during dinner for four, a Harvard man mispronounced Amherst College (the "h" is silent), and an Amherst man corrected him. When that dinner was over, so was the two men's years-long friendship. The man just could not tolerate being corrected. Whether it had to do with thin skin or pomposity is hard to know. Usually, though, correcting someone is not that perilous.

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—Prudie, uninterruptedly

Dear Prudie,

My parents' 50th wedding anniversary is coming up, and I am trying to think of something suitable to do to recognize the occasion. One of the problems is that my parents really don't have a very good relationship, and my sister feels that anything other than just a card would be hypocritical. Another problem is that my parents really don't like to do anything but sit around the house, so we don't think they would enjoy a party held somewhere else. The third problem is that many of our relatives (my parents don't have any friends) live a good distance away, and it's doubtful that many of them would make a lengthy trip for anything of this nature ... especially since it's not much fun being around my parents because of the way they treat each other. Any thoughts?

—J.

Dear J,

Ah yes, what to do for the couple who has nothing? No relationship, no interests, no friends. If your folks were big phonies encouraging you and your sister to go through the motions of a celebration, that would be a different story—though of the fairy tale variety. Prudie thinks you are actually lucky not to have to play charades. "Celebrating" a 50-year marriage that is in Chapter 11 could only be painful. Perhaps to mark what is, officially, a milestone, you and your sister could drop off a special dinner. Think of it as a drive-by anniversary party.

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—Prudie, consolingly

Hi Prudie,

I have neighbors who have gotten together and formally complained to the city about the noise my dogs and birds make without talking to me first. For the record, my dogs sleep in the house, so there is no night disturbance, and the birds sleep sundown to sunup, so there are no night noises coming from my yard. I have been awakened, however, by these same neighbors' early morning lawn-mowings plus little kids crying and yelling in the backyard. These same people have had parties that kept me up. I have never said anything or called the police because I figure we've all bought our homes and have the right to different life choices, but now I am wondering if I should adopt the "neighborhood policy" and complain anonymously when I am disturbed. Some people say that to do so would be vindictive, but why should I have cops dropping by and leave the complainers who disturb my peace alone? Is that fair?

—Perturbed Neighbor

Dear Pert,

Now Prudie is curious: She is wondering how many dogs you have. And she's also guessing, when you talk about birds in the yard, that you are not referring to Tweetie in a little cage. You write that there is no "night disturbance" caused by man's best friends, but might there be epic howling all day long? Unfortunately, the police do not come because little kids are crying and yelling in the backyard. Ditto lawn mowers. (Rest assured that if audible lawn care were a crime, Prudie would have turned in, by now, roughly 200 folks with leaf-blowers.) Noisy parties and pets at night, yes; howling tots and weed-whackers, no. Alas, your chances of getting even are limited to high-decibel music and highly vocal drunks. The issue of public disturbance is a sticky one. It involves, essentially, two old axioms: "The freedom to swing your arms ends where the other guy's nose begins" versus "A man's home is his castle." Prudie hopes you and your neighbors can work out a solution. A willingness on your part to sort things out might be a productive beginning ... as in you make the overture.

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—Prudie, peacefully

Prudie,

I'm beginning to wonder if there is something wrong with me or if all men just like game-playing. I was married for 17 years, only to find out he was seeing someone behind my back. I tried to work things out but ended up divorcing him. Then, after six months, I began dating someone I trusted. After two years, I caught him in bed with another woman. I hate to be cynical, but what's wrong with this picture? About the only men I can trust, besides male family members, are my animals.

—Sandra

Dear San,

It is not hard to see how you got into this frame of mind, but two rounders do not a statistical sample make. What happened in your life was an unlucky coincidence. Prudie hopes you will draw on these two demoralizing experiences to examine what attracts you to certain men. As for "what is wrong with this picture?": It is nothing more than the two men who did you dirt. Regarding the issue of trust: To enlarge the number who qualify as honorable, in addition to members of your family or your animals, take time with the next candidate to explore his values and his history. Fidelity is a component of character and maturity. And no, all men are not into cheating or game-playing, as you call it ... just the emotionally damaged ones, or the ones whom Mama ignored.

—Prudie, hopefully