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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I just learned something about an acquaintance I have known for about 12 years. She was my customer until I stopped working a few months ago. I have taken her out for coffee once a month to stay in touch and keep with the news.

Last week, after coffee, she took her time leaving the table. I glanced back and was shocked to see her pick up the tip I had left for the server. I watched her again today as we were leaving the coffee shop. She did it again.

Abby, I like her, but I no longer want to take her out for coffee, especially not in this restaurant. It's one my husband and I visit frequently. I'm embarrassed that the servers haven't been getting my tips and must think I'm cheap.

How do I handle this friendship, and how do I walk into that restaurant again without hanging my head? -- BAFFLED IN TACOMA

DEAR BAFFLED: You may have been acquainted with this person for 12 years, but you're just now getting to know her. How to "handle the friendship"? Confront her. Ask if she's having financial difficulties. Lay down the law and tell her you will not stand for this kind of behavior.

As for the personnel who have been stiffed: Talk to the manager of the restaurant and offer to make good the gratuities that have been pocketed by your guest.

DEAR ABBY: I belong to a group that meets weekly for potluck dinners. Several guests regularly help themselves to two servings of an entree and several pieces of bread before everyone has had the opportunity to get a first serving.

Because of this, there is often no meat or bread left for those at the end of the line. Others eat quickly and get back in line for second and third helpings before some have had their first!

This can only be described as gluttony, and it has upset members of our group. Should we appoint a leader and announce the buffet-line rules before the dinner begins, or should we speak to the offenders individually? -- OFFENDED IN TEXAS

DEAR OFFENDED: I think an etiquette lesson is in order. Don't single out the culprits; it would only embarrass them. Make a general announcement of the rules before dinner. Alternatively, designate members to "serve" sensible portions. That should put a stop to the pigging out.

DEAR ABBY: When a spouse dies, I know that many people continue to wear their wedding rings. However, after a divorce, how soon must you remove them? -- EVE IN ALABAMA

DEAR EVE: Tradition and the rules of etiquette dictate that when a woman is no longer married, she removes her wedding band. The rings can be disposed of in any way she sees fit. (Some women have them made into earrings!) However, I find it curious that anyone would persist in wearing a reminder of a painful experience on her ring finger, left hand -- which would discourage attention from someone who might be suitable.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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