Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 10 2005 7:09 AM

The Perils of Re-Gifting

What to do when you get a present that's obviously been used and abused.

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

Dear Prudence,

I've been crushed, hurt, then infuriated by a gift I received from my boss at an annual luncheon. There are only five employees in our department—all women. This year, as in the past three years, we all go out for lunch and exchange (nominally priced) gifts. This year my boss gave me a pair of USED earrings. She placed these used earrings in a gift box with an upscale department store name on it. Thankfully, I didn't take the earrings out of the box at the table, or I probably would have lost my composure and bawled! I did do this, however, after I got home and took the earrings out of the box. They were dirty—really yucky and gross—the earring backs didn't even match, and one back wouldn't even fit on its post! I was so hurt. How could the person earning the highest wage in the office (with the fewest dependents) offer such a horrible gift? I want to throw the earrings on her desk and tell her what a cheap, horrible, disgusting thing she did! How should I tell her I'm hurt and angry? Or should I keep it to myself? Please help.

—Sensitive Recipient

Dear Sen,

Prudie thinks a decorous way to respond (well, OK, to call her on it) would be to return the earrings with a note saying you are certain she wrapped something of her own by mistake. She will then know that she fooled no one and has been caught out, as the Brits say. You probably won't get a proper gift after this, but you should get some satisfaction. Prudie also thinks that if this episode reduced you to tears, perhaps something else is going on in your life that is causing you to be labile. You might want to think about this. Good luck.

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—Prudie, tactically

Dear Prudie,

What is the polite response to others' self-deprecating humor? Recently, I was filling the coffee maker at my office when an overweight co-worker entered the kitchen and made a joke about how the kitchen was too small for a person as fat as her. I did not feel comfortable laughing, and it also seemed ridiculous to respond with a patronizing "You're not fat" to someone who is over 300 pounds. And then there was the time I was seated on a plane next to a woman who, upon finding out I was in my 20s, made the comment, "That's the one good thing about my having acne—people think I'm young, too!" I never know a gracious way to respond to these kinds of comments. I would love to hear your thoughts. If you do respond, I hope you will encourage your readers to go easier on themselves and stop the self-deprecating remarks!

—Most Uncomfortable

Dear Most,

Your instinct to not laugh is correct. Perhaps respond with a faint smile to acknowledge that you've heard the remark. You might feel less uncomfortable if you understand that the people making this stab at humor are doing a couple things: They are trying to deal with their own discomfort with whatever it is they feel sets them apart, and with their "humor," they are putting it out there so that you will know that THEY know. It is distress and embarrassment that you are hearing and, in a way, a plea for your compassion.

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—Prudie, essentially

Dear Prudence,

I have often read your column but never thought that I would have a question for you. I am 20 years old and have been dating a wonderful guy for two and a half years. It was a struggle when I went away to school, but we have managed to work through the long distance. Lately, however, I am at a loss. As our relationship progresses and I get older, I'm beginning to wonder whether we will ever have a future together. If not, then I fear that I'm wasting my time in a pleasant, but doomed, relationship. I really do love him, but my biggest concerns are his future and his family. I have always pictured myself ending up with a college graduate, and while he is enrolled at a nearby community college, I'm worried that he will never have the money or drive to finish. He seems very nonchalant about his future, which has caused a great deal of conflict between us in the past. The second problem is his family. While they are nice people, they have more than their share of baggage. His mom and dad are both alcoholics, his teenage sister is a complete recluse, and his brother is a convicted felon. I know that I shouldn't judge my boyfriend by his family, but I can't help but be embarrassed at the thought of being related to these people. Am I just being stuck-up and judgmental, or should I take my legitimate concerns and run for the hills?

—Young and Troubled

Dear Young,

Get out your track shoes. With a different scenario, Prudie might tell you to disregard the unfortunate family. However, because you say you are on different educational tracks, he is cavalier about his future, and you've already put in a fair amount of time squabbling about this, the wise thing to do would be to cut your losses and not invest more time in a romance that does not even approach wonderful. (What you call "baggage," by the way, would be some people's idea of a whole set of luggage. Two alcoholics, a recluse, and a felon are not chopped liver.)

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—Prudie, optimistically

Dear Prudie,

I am in a very iffy relationship that I think is probably not good for me, but I can't quite make the move to call it off. I guess I think maybe with time I can get his behavior to change. This man and I both work for an international company at its headquarters based in the States. I am American; he is from England. (We do not work in the same division.) We were attracted to each other almost from the get-go and soon became "a couple." Although he says he loves me and we've talked about marriage, he is whatever the opposite of "supportive" is, he undermines me, and casually says rather insulting things. Is this the English way? Don't get me wrong; there are some good times, but the meanness tells me I should get away from him. Should I?

—Miss-Treated

Dear Miss,

Oh, how Prudie wishes you had mentioned this man's height and said he was small in stature. Then she could've told you that he sounds nasty, British, and short. But back to business. As for being offhandedly cruel, that is not the English way. (What they are actually known for is sometimes being cold or uncommunicative. Stiff upper lip and all that.) Because you write that you work in different parts of the company, we know that he's not competitive with you professionally. What he may be is misogynistic, or one of those straight guys who basically doesn't really like women. As you intuit, a man who loves a woman does not find ways to make her feel bad. As for bringing about a change in behavior, Prudie has said it before, and she'll say it again: Women are not reform schools. The guy you see is the guy you get. Without knowing what his redeeming features are, let us just say that your life will be better if you bid him cheerio. As a friend says, you will get a "flucky." (Translation: You will get off lucky.)

—Prudie, finally