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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: What has happened to the art of conversation? My husband and I practically run away from some people -- not because of what they are saying, but how much they talk.

We were having dinner in a restaurant recently, and a new acquaintance came in alone. We invited him to join us, and from that moment on, we never spoke again -- just listened as the man droned on and on nonstop. I couldn't believe he could talk and eat at the same time. Another time, a relative we hadn't seen in about 15 years came to our home for dinner. He sat down at our table and proceeded to talk, talk, talk. When he left five hours later, I told my husband that other than knowing where we live, he doesn't know a thing about us.

I have read about young men and women who, even though they are educated, cannot get dates. Perhaps they should ask themselves when they are with new people, who is doing the talking? Both of them? Or is one of them dominating the conversation so there isn't any real give-and-take of ideas?

Please, people: Ask questions about the person you are with. Wait for an answer before jumping in again. I guarantee you'll have friends all around you instead of people walking backward to get out of your range. -- HEARD ENOUGH IN EAU CLAIRE, WIS.

DEAR HEARD ENOUGH: I agree. Being a good listener will do more for a person's popularity rating than being a good talker. People enjoy talking about themselves and their interests if given the chance. And they usually regard the person who's an appreciative audience as a fascinating conversationalist.

Some individuals talk incessantly out of nervousness or because they're compulsive talkers. However, to turn a conversation into a soliloquy is selfish. One of the most appealing traits a person can have is a sincere interest in other people. A person who comes into your company and does all the talking is no less a hog than the person who comes to your table and eats all the food.

DEAR ABBY: I am a day-care provider in Maryland with a touchy problem. The parents of one of my charges (he's 12 months old) have him in an unsafe car seat. It's an infant rear-facing seat for tiny babies that they have turned forward. He hangs over the edges, and I can't even see how it's attached by the seat belt, if it is at all. This child weighs 20 pounds and needs a proper car seat.

If anything happened to him because I didn't say something, I would never forgive myself. But I don't think it's my place to butt in. These are wonderful people, and I really care about their kids. Please advise me. -- DAY-CARE DILEMMA

DEAR D.D.: Speak up. The parents can be excused for their ignorance, but there is no excuse for keeping silent when you know a child is in danger -- and that child is in danger every time he is placed in his parents' car. Please don't procrastinate.

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