Dear Prudence


Kids from poorer neighborhoods keep coming to trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?

Young boy trick-or-treating

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Dear Prudence,
I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?

—Halloween for the 99 Percent

Dear 99,
In the urban neighborhood where I used to live, families who were not from the immediate area would come in fairly large groups to trick-or-treat on our streets, which were safe, well-lit, and full of people overstocked with candy. It was delightful to see the little mermaids, spider-men, ghosts, and the occasional axe murderer excitedly run up and down our front steps, having the time of their lives. So we’d spend an extra $20 to make sure we had enough candy for kids who weren’t as fortunate as ours. There you are, 99, on the impoverished side of Greenwich or Beverly Hills, with the other struggling lawyers, doctors, and business owners. Your whine makes me kind of wish that people from the actual poor side of town come this year not with scary costumes but with real pitchforks. Stop being callous and miserly and go to Costco, you cheapskate, and get enough candy to fill the bags of the kids who come one day a year to marvel at how the 1 percent live.


Dear Prudence, 
Like a lot of young adults, I’m a twentysomething woman with a pretty high student loan debt. I graduated from high school at a time when we were being told by everyone that any loans we took out for our educations we would be able to pay back right away. Now I know better. When I graduated university, I had trouble finding a job and ended up as a cashier in a large retail company. I kept the position while going to graduate school and working two other jobs. Three years after starting at the company I have a masters degree and some good experience in my field. I also have been promoted twice at my store, and broken into management. I love my job now. I’ve found it to be fast-paced, interesting, and a great use of my skills. This company has helped me grow personally and professionally, and I am so proud of what I’m accomplishing as a manager. I want to stay and continue to climb the ladder. Right now it doesn’t pay as much as I could get if I went on to the field I have a degree in, but I see so much more potential for growth than I did in my graduate assistantship. Lately I have been getting a lot of questions about when I plan to start my career and some condescending comments about how unimportant my job is. I’m also not sure if I’m making the wrong choice, and setting myself up for a life of debt. What do you think?

—On the Ladder

Dear On,
Read this story of how Karen Kaplan went from being a receptionist to the CEO of Hill Holliday, one of the country’s top ad agencies. I’m not surprised your company recognized they had something special in you. Not many people could juggle graduate school and two jobs. Whatever it was you were studying, you obviously have a superhuman capacity for work and a rare ability to meet your goals. Good for your employers for recognizing your talent and drive and rewarding it. Keep impressing people, and you’ll continue to climb. Since you started at a low pay base, you must ask for raises commensurate with your accomplishments and your education. You need to point out that now you have both a great track record at the company and a graduate degree, so you would like to increase your compensation appropriate to your experience and education. It’s fine if your degree is in a subject not obviously related to retail. Make the case that what you learned in graduate school about analyzing complex data (or whatever) is something you apply every day. Also check that you’re handling your loans in the most efficient way—here’s a New York Times column full of tips on this. You do not express any longing for what sounds like a now-abandoned academic track. You do express a desire to make a mark as a corporate manager. So tell those naysayers that you’ve already launched your career and you feel grateful to have found a rewarding way to use your skills and abilities. When you become a CEO and profiles start getting written about you, please mention that one lesson you’ve learned is that when you’re having a major dilemma, it’s good to turn to a neutral person for advice. 


Dear Prudence,
I’m a man who runs a mid-size team (50 or so people) at a company. Over the past year one employee has complained five times about sexually inappropriate behavior from both colleagues inside our team and in other parts of the company. Her complaints fall within the broadest concept of workplace harassment (being called “sweetie” by a co-worker, for example), but we take them all seriously. We discuss what happened and how to behave going forward with the offending party, and also note the complaint in their personnel file. My worry is that while her concerns are legitimate, they also seem like marginal offenses and her volume of complaints gives her a bit of a “boy who cried wolf” image. Outside of her, we have had one harassment claim in the past five years (which ended in a dismissal). I’m worried I am hurting the careers of her peers by reporting offenses that seem overly sensitive. How do I address this?

—Too sensitive?

Dear Sensitive,
I’m tempted to tell you to say, “Courtney, sweetie, babe. Pull that broom out of your rear end and join the human race.” So it’s a good thing I don’t teach sexual harassment law. But Jennifer Drobac does, as a professor at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law, and she had some different advice. First of all, she noted that the law does not require people in offices to be robots who must check every word they say; conversely, employees can’t be so sensitive that every stray comment is seen as an attack. In general, sexual harassment is severe or pervasive, and the occasional joke or remark does not constitute harassment. Drobac explained that where your company is located makes some difference on the “sweetie” front. In the South or some parts of the Midwest, people do this without being sexual or sexist, and she said both the speaker and listener need to have cultural sensitivity. (I live in Maryland where “hon” is an equal-opportunity endearment.) But you’ve got an employee who doesn’t like it, so your best course, Drobac said, is to tell the person who uses the term that it makes some people uncomfortable (don’t identify Courtney even if everyone’s going to know it’s Courtney). Say you know it’s a habit, but it’s one that needs to be curbed for the workplace. Drobac also pointed out that not every conversation between management and an employee about behavior needs to go in the personnel file as a disciplinary action. You may feel better about responding to Courtney’s complaints if you see these as opportunities for education, rather than punishment.

Since Courtney is a chronic complainer, the kind of person who might like to take her unhappiness to the EEOC, you should consider taking action to protect the company. Drobac said that you could hire an expert in sexual harassment—without announcing it as such—to come in and review the office culture and make a report. If there are things that need correction, improve them. But you likely will end up with a document saying you have a safe and nondiscriminatory work environment. Then the next time Courtney comes to you with an outrage, tell her you took her concerns so seriously that you had an investigation done. The good news was that the company does not promote or condone a hostile work environment. Give her a copy of the report and tell her you’re always happy to talk to her, but not every minor offense is actionable. Let’s hope, for your sake, Courtney decides self-employment is the best course for someone with her sensibilities.


Dear Prudie,
My husband and I are facing an ethical dilemma when it comes to his parents and their choice of extended-family vacation time. They are comfortable financially and it has become a tradition for us to fly down on school break from the Northeast to their home in central Florida. Often, on their dime, we visit One of Central Florida’s Most Popular Destinations. This year our youngest will be turning 3 years old just ahead of arrival. That is the “magical” age at which admission must be paid. My in-laws have asked how we feel about passing him for a 2-year-old, thus getting in for free. Our issues are that it’s their money, but we feel kind of icky about lying, and also our other children would be old enough to pick up on what we’re doing. We are grateful for the trip and their generosity but since they asked, is it OK for us to say they’ve got to pay (the ridiculous cost) for the preschooler?

—M-I-See You Go Broke …

Dear M-I,
I’m with Jim Gaffigan  on Disney: “If you haven’t been to Disney as an adult just imagine you’re standing in line at the DMV. And that’s it.” Last year Disney CEO Robert Iger made $34.3 million. This was a crushing drop of 15 percent from the previous year, and probably due to people like you who pretended their 3-year-olds were 2-year-olds and didn’t pay the $93 kiddie tariff. Yes, that’s what it costs to bring a child into the park, one who later in life will have not one single memory of that $93 day. Or as Gaffigan says, “We hope you’re having fun. It was either this or send you to college.” Perhaps when you get to the ticket booth and say junior is only 2, your older children will be appalled to discover Mom and Dad are conspiring in a lie to defraud Disney. More likely they’ll be distracted by the tweens hitting puberty who are being pushed in strollers by parents claiming the kids are still toddlers. Tell your youngest to say, “Ga-ga, goo-goo,” as you enter and don’t worry about ripping off Disney—your group will be dropping a bundle. All age cut-offs are somewhat arbitrary, but that 3-year-old one seems positively exploitative. If you must expiate your guilt, going on the hellish “It’s a Small World” ride is the Disney equivalent of self-flagellation.  


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