DEAR ABBY: I work retail and have bipolar disorder. (I have been stable for nine years.) A few Christmases ago, a customer called me "hateful" because I wished her a Merry Christmas. (She doesn't come into the store anymore.) My manager and co-workers explained that she was in a bad mood that day, and it wasn't my fault.

Due to my illness, I am obsessed with thoughts that it will happen again during the holidays, and I won't know what to say or how to react, or I'll think it's my fault. Worse yet, I no longer want to say Merry Christmas again, although I will try. Do you have any advice in case I get another bad reaction? — GREETING IN THE EAST

DEAR GREETING: You did nothing wrong! When December rolls around, the expressions "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" are very common. If a customer takes offense, all you need to reply is, "Excuse me if I offended you." And if you're still worried about this issue, discuss it with your doctor or therapist.

DEAR ABBY: I want to know if I should ask my neighbor out. I'm a female, and I don't want to come across as aggressive. I'm also a Christian who was taught that a woman should never ask a guy out. Could I ask him out to hang out — not necessarily for a date?

I'm a single parent of a 14-year-old. This neighbor is cute and single and has two kids. I don't know him well. I've made many mistakes with men in the past, which is why I'm cautious. What's your advice? — CAREFUL IN WYOMING

DEAR CAREFUL: Many men would be very happy to be asked out. Because you haven't had the opportunity to get to know this man, it may be time to create one. Consider hosting a friendly get-together for some of your neighbors and invite him and his children to participate. You didn't mention how old his children are, but if they hit it off with yours, so much the better. It's a friendly gesture that shouldn't be considered aggressive.

DEAR ABBY: I am a Southern belle who was given two "first" names, such as Mary Lou (Peggy Sue, Betty Ann, Bobbi Jo, etc.). All my life the second half of my first name has been dropped. When I sign in at a doctor's office as "Mary Lou," it never fails that when I'm called or the receptionist looks at my records, my name is listed as Mary even after I have explained that my name is Mary LOU. At the pharmacy, I am asked my birth date because they say they have several Mary Smiths, even when I say I am Mary LOU Smith. Can you please tell me what I can say so they will remember that I have two first names? — NOT JUST MARY, IN THE SOUTH

DEAR NOT JUST MARY: Try this the next time it happens. Look the person in the eye and say, "I prefer to be called by my full name. It's Mary Lou, NOT Mary. Please note that in your computer so we can be clear about it."

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.