Advice December 2008

What's Your Problem?

Tropical print is dead, and other advice

I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve started an advice column, so maybe you can help me. I, too, write an advice column, for a prominent online magazine, and every day I get letters from people desperate for answers to life’s grinding problems: husbands addicted to porn; boyfriends who won’t brush their teeth; mothers-in-law who refuse to address their daughters-in-law by name; etc. So, Mr. Big Shot Advice Maven, tell me quick what instructions I should give these tormented souls—I’ve got a column to write. Also, why are men terrified of dishwashers?

Washington, D.C.

Dear Prudence,

Men are terrified of dishwashers because dishwashers cause impotence. To answer your other questions: it’s not the addiction that’s the problem, it’s forgetting to clear the computer’s search history that causes trouble; your boyfriend is a vegan and doesn’t want to harm any of the bacteria in his mouth; and isn’t not addressing you by name better than calling you “the tramp who ruined my son’s life”? If I can be of further help, please do let me know.

If your company adopts a business-casual dress code, is it okay to wear Hawaiian or tropical-print shirts during working hours?

Milford Prewitt
New York, N.Y.

Dear Milford,

Hawaiian shirts fell out of favor shortly after CBS canceled Magnum, P.I. Also mustaches. Some men, however, do still wear so-called Aloha shirts. Rick Warren, the pastor of California’s Saddleback megachurch, was the most famous, but he recently informed me that he has stopped wearing them. “About three years ago I noticed that journalists were always referring to them, like it was a big strategy or fashion statement, so I threw them all out.” Warren reports that, in the 15 years he wore Hawaiian shirts, “they went in and out of style four times.” They are currently out. Steer clear.

Is it appropriate to text-message condolences?

Brianna Snyder
Springfield, Mass.

Dear Brianna,

I’m new to the advice racket, but it seems to me that this is an example of a question to which you already know the answer. One doesn’t have to be Miss Manners to believe that the only proper ways to extend condolences are in person or in a handwritten note.

How do you remove the tobacco smell from books?

Chris Markham
Bloomfield, N.J.

Dear Chris,

Place kitty litter in a deep plastic container and cover with an unprinted paper towel. Place the offending book, upright and open, atop the paper towel, and close the container. Then wait. How long you wait depends on the degree of smoke saturation.

When is the right moment for first-time buyers to purchase a home to live in?

Mitesh Desai
Atlanta, Ga.

Dear Mitesh,

I prefer investing in assets more portable than real estate, such as collateralized debt obligations and soda cans. But a smart and wealthy man who serves on this column’s panel of advisers reports that the proper answer is “Right now.” That is, if you can find someone to lend you money. My adviser further reports that a “brilliant and venal man” once instructed him to buy a home he couldn’t quite afford. “You’ll spend the first two years trying to get on top of the payments and the rest of your life glad you overreached,” was the venal man’s advice. My adviser also reports that this man died “old, rich, and utterly alone.”

Is medical school more difficult in the U.S. or in France?

M. Bergman
Bangkok, Thailand

Dear M.,

France. Because it’s in French.

To submit your question or request for advice, please e-mail Include your full name and address.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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