Dear Prudence

Kitchen Stink

The restaurant staff think I can’t understand when they call me anti-gay slurs in Spanish.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg.

Photo by Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
I’ve waited tables at the same restaurant for more than two years. Most of our kitchen staff communicate primarily in Spanish. Being half-Mexican and raised in New Mexico, I understand quite a bit of Spanish but often can’t respond. I am a running joke among our kitchen staff. I’m a gay male, so I’m often called a faggot in Spanish, among many other terms, several times during a shift. It would be easier to deal with if it were one specific person, but I feel like I’m being bullied in grade school, because nearly half the staff makes jokes about me in a language they think I can’t understand. I want to reach out to management, but I’m afraid it would elevate the insults and make the situation worse. I rely on these people to correctly cook my orders and help bus my tables, so any retaliation might result in less money for me. I dread almost every shift I work because I know I’m going to hear them and I know there’s little I can do about it. I can likely afford to quit the job altogether, but I feel like it’s a stupid reason to leave. Am I being hypersensitive?

—Can’t Stand the Heat

What a lousy dilemma: Resign yourself to being called names at work, or face subtle (or overt) resistance from a group of people whose cooperation you need to do your job. You’re not being hypersensitive; no one should have to hear people making cruel and homophobic jokes at their expense at work. There is an option between quitting and telling your managers, and that’s letting your co-workers know, in Spanish, that you understand what they’re saying, and telling them to knock it off. But since this is an ongoing and everyday problem, I think your best bet is to bring this up with management (who surely don’t want to lose good waiters over an abusive kitchen staff) and let them know what’s going on. If, after being reprimanded, a cook is willing to intentionally ruin your orders because you object to being called a “faggot,” he deserves to be fired.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I didn’t think I had a problem until a girls’ night out recently. I have been married for one year to my second husband, and I am currently pregnant with our first child together. (I have a 6-year-old from my first marriage.) My husband is 10 years older than me, a good man, husband, and stepfather, and provides well for us. Here’s the thing: My girlfriends and I were sharing a few laughs about the various quirks our men have. I mentioned that my husband is quite insistent that I am in bed by 9:30, with lights out by 10. You could have heard a pin drop, even after I explained he wants to make sure we both always get a good night’s sleep. They seemed to think he is overly controlling, which only got worse when I did actually have to leave so I could be home by 9. Is my husband too controlling?

—Early to Bed

Yes. You’re a grown woman and can surely set your own sleep schedule. There’s a fine line between being a creature of habit and being controlling and manipulative, and while your husband may have plenty of good qualities, this doesn’t sound like one of them.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I’m a journalist working at a local news station. Last year, my father, mother, and younger sister were all killed in a very publicized accident. During this time, I received a lot of interview requests from reporters—through Facebook, through email, on my cell, and on Twitter. Fast-forward a year: Now I’m the one who has to hustle for interviews, and I feel so uncomfortable and gross having been on the other end of the process. My editor has told me I don’t have to do anything I’m not comfortable with, but I’m a young person in a very competitive field, and this is something reporters are expected to do. I don’t know how to get over it. I love journalism—I spent years working really hard to get where I am. Should I just grit my teeth and deal?

—Sad Journalist

I’m so sorry for your loss. You shouldn’t have to give up a job you love just because you’ve suffered an extremely painful tragedy, but neither should you feel like you have to swallow your sorrow and interview grieving members at the risk of damaging your hard-won well-being. I hope that you’re receiving counseling on how to balance your emotionally fraught work with your own recent loss. If not, please consider it. You’re clearly a thoughtful and empathetic person, which are two enormously important characteristics in a journalist. I’m glad to hear that your editor is supportive, as she should be, and since you have the support of your boss, make use of it: Ask for a different beat. Surely there is plenty of news for you to cover that doesn’t involve directly interviewing the newly bereaved.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I am a 24-year-old man who recently moved to a new city for college. Although I have really good friends, I find myself wanting to stay in my room on my own instead of socialize. I don’t see myself wanting a girlfriend or any type of relationship. I’m not depressed at the moment—I am bipolar, so I can read the signs of that pretty easily—but I just find not having anyone else in my life is so much easier and simpler. Is it weird not to be lonely? Can I live my life with minimal contact with nonfamily members, or will it eventually catch up with me?

—In My Room

Oh, this is a good question—or series of questions, really. The first is easiest: I don’t think it’s weird not to be lonely at all! The Desert Fathers used to hole themselves up in caves to get away from not only society but each other; they found the company of other hermits to be too distracting, and look at how well books of their quotations are still selling. You will spend your entire life with yourself. It will always be your most important relationship. It is possible to live a good and fulfilling and contented and useful life without dating or marrying, although many will try to tell you differently. Solitude can be a good thing, sometimes even a great thing.

The other question is whether it is good for you to cut yourself off from all but the barest minimum of human contact. There is a great deal of difference between intentional, meaningful solitude and sitting in one’s room avoiding the world. You say you’re not depressed, but choosing your bedroom over other people because it’s “easier” sounds less like mindful solitude and more like depression. You’re at college right now, so consider visiting the affordable mental health services on campus. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be alone, but cutting off good friends to make things simpler isn’t a good sign.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My father is an alcoholic who abused me verbally, emotionally and physically during my childhood. I spent most of my 20s in the care of an excellent therapist and have a stable job, a good husband, and two sweet dogs. I’m happy to have left my painful childhood in the past, where it belongs. I opted to maintain a cordial yet distant relationship with my father rather than confront him or cut him out. I dictate the terms of our relationship and see him once or twice a month. My father hates this; he complains regularly that I don’t visit him enough and constantly tries to get me alone to bully me. What do you think, Prudie? Is my “cordial cool” stance the right one? Should I let him have it? Or is it enough that I even still speak to this man?

–Daddy Dearest

You should be proud of yourself for building such a wonderful life and getting help dealing with your painful childhood. You’re not giving in to your father’s game, and it’s infuriating him—too bad. If a part of you wants to tell him off and let the chips fall where they may, it might be a sign that you’re ready to cut ties with him. If you do decide, though, that you want to tell him why you limit your contact, I think it’s better to prepare how and when you’re going to have that talk, rather than waiting until you’re so angry in the moment that you blow up at him. Have a plan to get in, say your piece, and leave before you’re sucked into a game of “Whose Fault Is Everything?”

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I graduated from college about five years ago with a degree in anthropology but now work in banking. What do I say when people (including co-workers) ask me if I like my job? The honest answer is, “Good Lord, no! I’d much rather be a museum curator,” but I know that’s not what they want to hear, and that I wouldn’t want my boss to overhear. But I’m at a loss for finding nice things to say about my job without sounding ungrateful. “Well, it pays the bills!” Doesn’t cut it. What do you think I should say?

–Lost for Words

As a student of anthropology, you know that many social interactions must be smoothed over by gentle half-truths. If someone at your job asks you what you think of your job, you say, “I’m learning so much here!” and “I never realized banking was so interesting!” If someone outside of your office asks what you think of your job, “It pays the bills, but I’m really hoping to work as a museum curator someday” is a perfectly appropriate response. Until you find that position, enjoy your fieldwork in the alien culture of finance.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I were married a couple of months ago.  The best man’s speech was about a drunken escapade with my husband and I wasn’t mentioned once. It was a funny story—I  smiled and clapped when the speech was over, but truthfully was upset that he didn’t wish us well. I always thought the best man and I had a good relationship but now feel uncomfortable and anxious when he’s around.  My husband believes I am reading too much into the speech and should get over it. Help!

–Can’t Let the Best Man Win

The tone-deaf best man’s speech is a staple of weddings everywhere for a reason: People, in general, get nervous when speaking in public, and nervous people can be thoughtless. The story was racy but not insulting. He does not secretly want to undermine your relationship with your husband, he just wanted a funny story for his toast. It didn’t land, but that doesn’t mean you have to question your entire friendship with him.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My 7-year-old came home from school telling me that a classmate of his has gone to a “third-eye awakening” class and can now read things while wearing a blindfold. The trick has been exposed by various skeptics. It is pretty clear that children are being put in a position in which, to please parents and show off to peers, they peek through a blindfold without telling anyone. Now my son is wondering when his third eye will wake up. Is there any way I can help my child learn that his classmate is just performing a magic trick, without also suggesting that this same classmate is actually lying?

—Two-Eyed Dad

What an odd skill to want your child to have! “Samuel can read a book even if you cover his eyes. His future is assured.” What a shame that some parents are wasting their money training their children to imitate Clever Hans. The other boy will get over the third-eye trick eventually, and your son doesn’t have to worry about failing his second-grade midbrain requirements. But you can’t inculcate a healthy skepticism in your son and pretend that his friend might be right about third eyes at the same time. Tell your child the truth: Sometimes when people want to believe in something very much, they can convince themselves of things that aren’t real.

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More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts

Take It Sitting Down: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who won’t let her husband stand up to pee.”
Knock Knock It Off: In a live chat, Prudie offers advice on a husband who won’t stop making crude jokes.”
Heck No, I Won’t Go: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman who refuses to visit her husband’s home country in the Middle East.”
Hell Mouth: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman whose husband has such bad dental hygiene, she is considering divorce.”