Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. ( Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie's Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Long-Lost Daughter: My parents divorced when I was a baby. My mom remarried when I was preschool-age and her new husband adopted me legally. I have never had any contact with my biological father and I know very little about him except basically what he studied in college. It was always a taboo subject growing up. Now I am an adult and have children of my own. I am over the whole angry-he-abandoned-me thing I felt as a kid and curiosity has taken over. I have managed to find him via some intense Internet searching and even found that a sibling of his is on Facebook. Would it be weird for me to contact this sibling? Is this going to open some kind of can of worms that I could not have predicted? I just feel like I have a right to know where I came from and hear his side of the story.
A: This is why no matter how awful a biological parent may be, the other parent has no right to make this person's existence taboo. Had you been able to talk about your biological father you might have come to your own conclusions about whether you wanted to have a relationship, but having as much information as possible was your right. You are perfectly entitled to pursue finding out more about this man. But do be prepared that it will open up an emotional can of worms—how can it not? Before you take action, join a support group for people in your situation and talk through with others about what to expect and the best way to make contact. Once you do that, I would suggest you don't start sideways with an aunt or uncle, but go directly to your father. Keep your expectations low, and have people around you who can guide you through what may be a tumultuous reunion.
Q. Tipping the Housekeepers: I leave the money every day, usually $3-$4 depending on the room size. A lot of hotels have a little card that says "Your room is being cleaned by Insert Name Here," so I put the money under that card. Otherwise, I take a piece of hotel notepad and write "Thank you!" on it, and that seems to work. They do work hard, and I don't mind showing them that I appreciate it!
A: Good solution, thanks.
Q. "Have You Been a Complete Cheapskate? Yes.": A little harsh, don't you think? Tipping a hotel maid has only become standard in the past few years. My parents, who are 70, haven't and would never, and they aren't cheap. I don't do it in a motel or when I am on work and never in the room. When I go somewhere with friends or family, and we actually use the room, I will tip $3-$4 a day. But to say one who doesn't is cheap just isn't true. It's not like a restaurant
A: You parents may be lovely people, but because lovely people have been stiffing maids for decades does not make it right. Your hierarchy of maid-tipping is ludicrous. Housekeepers working at the lowest end of the business deserve nothing? When you say you don't tip if you don't "use" the room, I assume you sleep in it and shower, thus requiring the maid to clean it and make it up. Here's some harsh news: You're cheap.
Q. Flushing Worries: My roommate doesn't check if the toilet is flushed "properly" after she uses it. Ideas on how to bring this up without sounding judgmental?
A: "Jasmine, our toilet lacks flushing power. So before you leave the bathroom please make sure it actually flushed, and if it didn't please reflush." As everyone has discovered, many water-saving toilets can require three or more flushes. But when you can no longer use 100-watt incandescent bulbs to illuminate the bathroom, the flushing problems will be less obvious.
Q. Teachers Insulting National Groups: My daughter, who is in middle school, came home and said that her middle school civics teacher said that the French are pathetic. He went on to say that they are cowards and the U.S. has had to help them twice. I assume that he is talking about WWI and WWII. He went on to mention that Canada was just America's hat (whatever that means) and if it wasn't for the U.S., it would not exist. My daughter has a good friend who is French Canadian and my grandmother was French. She also said there were some other kids who were upset by his comments. I know that sometimes kids can exaggerate what happens in the classroom, but in this case I am wondering what group is next. I don't think it is appropriate for teachers to disparage national or ethnic groups in a classroom setting. I want to say something, but I don't want this teacher to then single out my daughter. Should I say something directly to the instructor, talk to the principal, or just leave it alone?
A: Usually I am in favor of first directly addressing a gripe with the person who is causing it. But I agree that a teacher who exercises such bad judgment in the classroom is capable of making life unpleasant for your daughter. I think you should go to the principal, explain you don't want your daughter's name mentioned, but here's what she told you was said in the classroom. Any decent principal will then have a conversation with the teacher telling him to leave the Franco-and-whatever- else-phobia out of the classroom.
Q. Dog Dilemma: Last week, my team went out to lunch for a fundraising debriefing meeting. We are five women who get a long for the most part. I'm the youngest, without children/marriage. My boyfriend and I are getting a dog and at the lunch, when we were eating, people asked to see pictures of the puppies we were going to be choosing from. I shared. Another co-worker then asked how much we were going to be paying, as it is a purebred. I don't like to discuss money and believe it's a personal matter how one spends it. I told them I'd rather not say. My co-worker then almost threatened me, saying she would find out anyway, so it was my choice to tell her then or not. I didn't know how to respond and everyone else went quiet, so all I could ask was please respect my wishes. To my surprise on Sunday, my BOSS (not the other co-worker) texted me the amount of the dog with a bunch of "!?!?!" Meaning she went behind my back and matched the pictures I shared with the breeder's listing/website and asked the price. I didn't know how to respond and am offended. This could make my life miserable here/hurt my career, as we all work for a non-profit that helps disadvantaged families. Also, it's almost all women—up to 300, who really like to gossip. The managers all make a pretty penny (or so it seems by their clothing, cars, etc.), but I don't ever ask what they paid for anything and up until now never judged. How do I confront my boss on this? I thought it was going to be the other co-worker, but my boss?! Help. I really feel it is none of their business and this felt malicious.
A: Oh, the wrath of the self-righteous do-gooders. You're right, your choice of pet is none of their business. The only way their snooping would be at all justified would be if you worked for an animal rescue organization. Your boss was way out of line, and in a calm, polite way you need to call her on it. You don't want to make this a confrontation, but you are within your rights to draw a line around your personal life. Say you'd like to talk to her for a few minutes, then explain you understand that many people believe strongly in adopting only from shelter animals. You have nothing but respect for those who do, but this was a highly personal choice you made and you were dismayed to get an email at your home rebuking you for your choice of pet. Keep the conversation short. And if you find you are being punished for the dog you've bought, I hope there's a higher up you can bring this to.
I have four animals, three of which I got from rescue organizations. When last year we all decided we wanted a puppy, I started filling out applications with rescue groups. The grilling you get for wanting to take in a homeless animal makes being strip-searched by the TSA seem like a holiday. We ended up doing something I thought I'd never do—we went to a breeder. We got a great dog, and the whole process was quick and painless.