Saturday, August 25, 2007


One of Prudie's readers writes:
I am a Dutchman married for seven years to a lovely American girl. All is well, unless we visit my family in Holland, which we do one week each year. Apart from the typical in-laws issues, there is a certain language barrier. Everybody in my family speaks decent English, and as long as the group isn't bigger than four or five, we all talk in English (well, OK, at least 90 percent of the time), but when bigger groups meet, like at dinner with my parents, three sisters, and their husbands, then the "only speak English" rule is quickly forgotten. My wife thinks this is rude, and if the others cannot always speak English, then I, at least, should translate for her. I find this an impossible task, as it entails translation and explanation (who is Uncle Sjoerd?), which means that I can't talk with my family. I have asked—begged—my wife to please learn some Dutch so she can follow the discussions. She can talk back in English, nobody would mind. She feels that, being over 30, she is too old to learn a foreign language. She has tried a few times halfheartedly, but a language is simply not something you acquire by listening to tapes in the car for a couple of weeks. Am I being uncaring, and should I keep translating, or could she make some more effort to learn some Dutch?


The Reformed Boor responds:

The answer, of course, is both. In an ideal world, your wife would take an interest in your family and express that interest by attempting to learn the language. It is somewhat boorish of your wife to insist that conversations be held in English or that translation be provided at someone else's effort. Learning a new language is a challenge for someone over 30, but she ought to make an effort to learn, if she wants to know what is going on. In this case, the language barrier is lower than it might be in other situations. For example, in some cross-cultural families, she would not be able to respond in English and expect people to understand what she is saying. Picking up conversational Dutch is not going to be an easy thing, but she should not give it a half-hearted attempt and then expect you to serve as her translator.

That is your position.

On the other hand, speaking in front of your wife in a language that she doesn't know is nearly the equivalent of whispering. Surely you can imagine how uncomfortable it would be if you sat a table where everyone was whispering so that you could not hear what was being said, or talking in a code that was incomprehensible to you. It is great that you are all willing to listen in English, but accomodating your guest's weakness is part of being a good host. It is a sacrifice, but as a matter of protocol it is a sacrifice a good host should make.

That is your wife's position.

On the whole, consider that your wife is the weaker vessel. Nurture and care for her. If you can assist her with translation, consider doing so, even while you try to encourage (gently!) her to study a little more Dutch so that she can begin picking up words and phrases at the annual get togethers. If she is up for it, start using a little Dutch around the house so that she can become accustomed to common words and phrases, and so she will feel less like everyone around her is talking in code when she goes to your family gatherings. You cannot fairly require that all your relatives speak a foreign language to accomodate your wife, but you might try to lead by example, replying to their Dutch in English (since you say that they will understand) as a gentle reminder that your wife otherwise is left out of the conversation. And, of course, if they continue to speak in Dutch, you should offer your wife the assistance you can provide, even though it is inconvenient for you.

May God give us clarity in our communication with others,


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Celebration of Sin

One of Prudie's readers writes:
I've got an etiquette question because I can't decide if I'm being cheap and greedy or thoroughly modern. Here's the deal. I have found the man I plan to spend the rest of my life with. We are very much in love and committed to each other, but we don't want to get married. It's just not important to us. We are, however, buying a home together. For me, it's a huge step and a statement of our relationship. It's a major commitment ceremony all its own. To mark and celebrate the occasion, I would like to host an elaborate housewarming party, with cocktails, supper, and formal dress. And I want all my friends and family to buy us gifts. My reasoning is that this is as close to a wedding as I will ever have. My sister and brother both got married and got to register for gifts. My grandparents gave each of them a substantial sum of money, which each used as a down payment on a house. Am I not entitled to the same, or do I get penalized because I'm not actually walking down an aisle? Would I be able to register and communicate to people that I want gifts? I'd appreciate your advice, as one modern woman to another.


The Reformed Boor responds:

Obviously, this writer is neither "modern" nor a "woman," nevertheless, as usual, this boor's opinion will be provided. Yes, as your conscience tells you, you are being greedy. Worse than that, though, you are not ashamed to celebrate your violation of the seventh commandment.

Fie! For shame!

Surely, many have fallen into temptation and have sinned sexually - but to suggest that one would celebrate one's shame by holding a party, and further to suggest that one's relatives might be expected to come and shower you with gifts for your open rebellion against the Creation ordinance of marriage is abhorent.

Even strictly as a matter of protocol, it is in poor taste for one to expect gifts, even at one's marriage. Accordingly, regardless of how you present your arrangement, you should not do so for the crude purpose of eliciting gifts.

Nevertheless, one traditional occassion for gift-giving is the house-warming party. If the house-warming party is to be a formal affair, polite guests are likely to bring nicer gifts. You could reasonably anticipate that your move to new quarters will be celebrated with relatively modest gifts by your friends who share your moral views.

And don't expect your grandparents to give you money: if you were "entitled" to it, it would be your wages, not a gift.

May God restrain his judgment on this adulterous generation of ours,


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Boss Wants to Party

An anonymous reader of Prudie's column writes:
My manager is extremely sensitive, the sort who borders on being self-involved. I can honestly say she's been a very good boss professionally, but personally she is driving me crazy. She and I are friendly, but she's pushing for us to be best friends. I enjoy her company, but want to keep it business-friendly; after all, she does my performance review! If I'm not overly animated and happy to see her, she assumes I'm mad at her. She then asks around about whether or not I'm mad at her and what she did to make me mad. If I see people from the office on the weekends, she'll sniff out all the details (which I do not broadcast), and then ask me about it, informing me about how much she can drink or how late she can stay up or how she would have added to the fun. She cried over not being invited to my birthday party. She does this to many other people, not just me. We all feel the same way but don't want to upset her. But on the other hand, doing constant damage control ("Oh, no, Susie isn't mad at you, really") is exhausting. How do I salvage this situation?


The Reformed Boor responds:

From a standpoint of protocol, you could politely decline your bosses' overtures of friendship. If you believe that your boss is genuinely interested in friendship, you might try pointing out that you do not want to create the appearance that you are being obsequious in order to attain "teacher's pet" status in your workplace. Indeed, you may be able to find an opportunity to explain to your boss that you are concerned that your friendship will be misinterpreted by your coworkers, who will become jealous.

As a matter of practicality, of course, to receive the favor of one's boss is a boon. The present boor is inclined to scold you for complaining too much: the situation where you are underliked by your boss is much worse than when you are overliked.

The root problem, though, may be that you have not compartmentalized your work/social life. Although you may not broadcast that you fraternize with other coworkers, it's bound to come out in water cooler conversation from time to time. Thus, you can hardly tell your boss that you want to keep your work and personal life separate.

Your comments mention that you are concerned because your performance review is at stake. Surely this is not the real reason: if you were concerned that your out-of-work behavior would be negatively reflected on your performance review, you would not include your coworkers there either, as comments regarding what "you know who" did at last weekend's party are likely to become office gossip - especially in a workplace such as you have described. On the other hand, a positive image from your out-of-work behavior would not harm your performance review - and could actually be to your professional advantage.

However you choose to proceed, you may want to consider that - from what you have described - your boss just wants to be one of the gals. The fact that she is the boss - an authority figure - is probably the reason that it would be a downer to have her at your parties. Maybe you should consider having less wild gatherings - grow up a little. There's more to life than weekend innebriation.

Consider how rarely Scripture speaks positively about partying - though there is a time and place for recreation. Soon enough you will have more responsibility: consider acting more responsible now in preparation.

May God give us wisdom that we may enjoy the good things He has provided, with thanks and moderation,


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

One Way to Illumine the Ungodly

One of Prudie's readers asked:
I know people mean well when they say, "I'll pray for you" when they hear of a serious difficulty in your life. But it makes me really uncomfortable, and it's all I can do not to shout out, "No thank you!" I was brought up without religion yet with a deep sense of compassion for others. So I understand the inclination of others to offer comfort, but when the effort to be supportive is couched in religious terms, it has the exact opposite effect on me. For now, I usually just force a smile or say, "That's nice of you." It's especially hard to take from people who know a bit about me and my nonreligious background. Any thoughts on how I either can keep this situation from bugging me or let people know that it would be more comforting for me to hear, "I'll be thinking of you"?


The Reformed Boor responds:

That "bugging" feeling that you have is your conscience, bearing testimony to you that God is. Listen to it, and soon. If your conscience did not know there was a god, the comment would be no more discomforting than comments about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. You recognize that prayer to God is fundamentally different from myth, and you are nagged by your conscience, which convicts you of sin. Now, while you have time, repent of your sin: soon it will be too late.

But I'm afraid my comments here will likely be missed by the reader above, and only read by those who pray to God regularly. For those of you who fall in that category, here is the Reformed Boor's unsolicited advice: don't be ashamed to make the fact that you pray known. We are not to pray on the housetops, and it is not always necessary to inform someone that you will pray for them, but it can serve (as can be seen above) a good purpose in arousing their conscience to testify to them as to God's existence.

There is also, however, an abuse of the technique: namely using "I'll pray for you," condescendingly. One doesn't have to look far or hard to find blogs where acrimonious folks will make comments to the effect of, "you're the next Hitler; I'm praying for you." Bear in mind that people will see how you say what you say. Telling someone you'll pray for them, while you are behaving in an ungodly manner toward them puts Christ to shame, and defames the body of believers. Don't do that. Know when to speak and when to remain silent. The latter can be a greater challenge than the former.

May God bless the consciences of those who call themselves "not religious," and may God give us wisdom as we bear testimony to the Creator who gave them that conscience,


Monday, August 20, 2007

Innuendo in the Frendship

One anonymous reader of "Prudie's" column on manners and morals asks:
I'm a fiftysomething professional who has been very happily married for 25 years. My wife and I have been very good friends for 10 years with another couple with whom we share many interests. They are our best friends, and it would be difficult to lose them. The wife of this couple made several overtures last year, which I rebuffed with as much joviality as I could muster, followed by a feigned chuckle. I didn't mention this to my wife at the time, but did tell her months later. This caused much distress. My wife wondered if the woman was just kidding and perhaps it all was more in my mind than in our friend's. Then last week, it happened again. I treated it lightheartedly again, but what now? Should I mention it to my wife? Should I tell the woman that's it, we're done, we're out of here? Should I say, "I love you as a dear, dear friend, but please stop?" At this point, she could say, "What, you thought I was serious? Interested in you?"


The Reformed Boor suggests:

Scripture says "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners." (I Corinthians 15:33) It seems clear from your letter that this woman is not a genuine temptation to you at this time. Nevertheless, her cavalier attitude toward adultery is something that is a negative influence on you.

Obviously, it is not necessary to terminate your friendship for every imperfection. Nevertheless, if you have a friendship with the couple, you should do what you would want your friends to do: you should exhort this woman to persist from ribald innuendo. Explain that adultery is something serious, not a matter to be joked about. Adultery is a particularly grave sin: under Moses' administration it was punished by death.

If your exhortation is successful, your friends should be thankful that you have assisted them as they were going astray. If your exhortation is unsuccessful, it is likely that the woman will - in any event - stop making those jokes with you. If her response is that you take sin too seriously, you should ask yourself whether friendship with this woman requires a division of your loyalty to God. If so, you should step back from the friendship.

You also should consider whether you have a duty to tell the woman's husband about the woman's comment. Again, the analysis should probably proceed by considering whether (under the circumstances) if your own wife acted the same way, you would prefer to know or not. If so, you should tell the woman's husband. After all, her husband is ultimately in a better position to give her advice on her moral behavior than you are.

May God give us wisdom in our dealings with others,