Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 9 2006 7:09 AM

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Now, give it back to me.

1_123125_122976_dearprudence_02

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,
When I was 8 years old, my aunt gave me her old dollhouse along with its furnishings. Although the actual dollhouse (already in bad shape when I received it) was thrown away by my parents, I saved the furniture, which I loved. When my own daughters were old enough, I gave it to them in a dollhouse I built. Shortly after completing the house, I sent a picture of it to my aunt, along with a letter thanking her again for giving it to me so long ago. To my surprise and dismay, she promptly asked for the furniture back. This really upset me because the furnishings were the only items saved fom my childhood toys. She is an aunt by marriage, who divorced my uncle long ago, and we were never particularly close. She has a reputation for being stingy, even though she is wealthy. I knew her main reason for wanting them was their value as antiques. I told her she would need to ask my daughters, then 8 and 10, because they now belonged to them. She didn't ask, and I never mentioned this to my daughters. It's now eight years later and yesterday she called my oldest daughter, now 18, to ask if she could have the furniture. My daughter told her the items had sentimental value and she would have to think about it, and ask her sister about it, as well. Are we under any obligation to return this furniture?

—Wondering If I'm Stingy

Dear Wondering,
If she wants to demand the return of the things of value too hastily given away, I wonder why she's harping on doll furniture. Step up to the big items, Auntie—petition your ex-husband to give you back your youth. No, neither you nor your daughters have an obligation to return gifts given freely decades ago. I would be tempted to just let this go—the woman seems to ask only about as often as we get a new chairman of the Federal Reserve. Or your daughters could close the matter by writing a note explaining that they, and you, have gotten great joy from this gift, and that they will continue to treasure these items and hope to pass them on to their children someday.

Advertisement

—Prudie 

Prudence,
I have been dealing with this issue my entire life: I am of mixed heritage, so I guess I don't look "typical." My entire life I have had both people I know and complete strangers ask me, "What are you?" I've been stopped on the street by strangers who will ask this—no "hello" or anything! Sometimes it is preceded by an obligatory, stupid compliment like, "You are so exotic-looking; what are you?" This is no one's business. Sometimes they try to ask in different ways, like, "Where are you from?" When I tell them Los Angeles, they say, "Well, no, where are your parents from?" I generally want to say something beyond rude to these people as I think it is completely inappropriate, especially in a multicultural setting like Los Angeles. But sometimes I am in professional settings or around my friends' families. How do I answer these people without being a total jerk (even though I think they deserve it) while also conveying to them the ignorance of their question?

—From L.A.

Dear L.A.,
I talked with two friends of mixed heritage about this. ("Hi, since you're so exotic-looking, could you tell me what you do about people who point this out?") They both said context is everything. Neither one answers the question from strangers. T. says responding with the question, "Do I know you?" usually blows them back. She added that half the time she is asked this by other "exotic-looking" people who are trying to find out if they're of the same heritage. Your answer, "I'm from L.A." is a good one. Ignore the follow-up questions—you have no obligation to continue a conversation with a stranger. But they both said they are untroubled when the question is put politely by an acquaintance. K. asks herself: "Is it appropriate? Is this someone I see on occasion who just wants to know more about me?" If you ask yourself the same questions and the answer is yes, why not go ahead and open up?

Advertisement

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a newly engaged bride working on her wedding guest list. My parents have many friends they want to invite to celebrate their only child's union. One of their closest friends, Couple X, is on their A list. The problem is, my father shared with me about a year ago that the husband of Couple X is having an affair. The wife doesn't know. My mother doesn't know. Why my father chose to share this is beyond me, but he did, and now I'm stuck with the knowledge and angry with the husband (and my dad) for oversharing. I can't imagine Couple X attending my wedding and wishing me well knowing that the husband couldn't care less about his own marriage. Can I tell my father there's no way to invite Couple X? Can we invite them and have my father tell the husband that he should politely decline the invitation? Can I force my father to tell my mother? How can I tactfully decline to invite this couple, without starting WWIII with my parents?

—Bride in the Middle

Dear Bride,
You found out something that is none of your business, and now you must toss that information down the memory hole. I'm not excusing infidelity, but if this information has you so shaken, life is going to hand you some mighty surprises. As the years go by, refusing to have anyone at your social events who has engaged in behavior not sanctioned by the Ten Commandments will result in exceedingly small guest lists. These are your parents' close friends, and whatever their marital situation, you will cause a hurtful mess by trying to exclude them. (I do give you points for not asking how to keep them away from your wedding while finagling an expensive gift from them.) One thing you can do: The next time dad offers true confessions, tell him you don't want to know.

Advertisement

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
Recently I was involved in a two-car collision on an icy road where I rear-ended someone. There was pretty extensive damage to my vehicle, and some damage to the other car. The other driver, an acquaintance of the family, was extremely nice and patient while I was practically in hysterics. Would it be appropriate to mail him an apology/thank you note in appreciation of his kindness and understanding during the incident? If so, how long should I wait? ASAP? After the whole thing (insurance, repairs, my ticket) is said and done?

—Appreciative

Dear Appreciative,
How refreshing in our "mistakes were made" culture to hear from someone who wants to say, "I made a mistake." However, you don't want your next mistake to be that you void your insurance settlement. I talked with a defense attorney who handles automobile insurance cases and he said most policies require that the holder not admit liability. While the matter is being resolved, stay cooperative and civil, and then when the papers have been signed and the checks issued, you can write your note. Just play it safe—don't mention your driving, instead thank him for his kindness and patience after the accident.

—Prudie