Dear Serena

MODERN MANNERS: YOUR CUT-OUT-AND-KEEP GUIDE TO SURVIVING THE MINEFIELD
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Dear Serena,

Remind me: do we scrape or stack?

Carla, Thame

People who stack plates are either extremely posh or have a background in waitressing. People who scrape lack inhibition and don't mind about what people think of them. Stacking confuses people more and is therefore the preferable option.

What do you recommend for covering awful pongs made inadvertently in other people's bathrooms?

Magnus, Prestwick

My grandfather said that a gentleman always carried a box of matches. This, actually, is very good advice - the sulphur in a burning match seems to be the most potent remedy for bathroom smells: strike a couple and burn them down as far as you can, and the worst of the offence will be dissipated. Do not, whatever you do, hunt in the bathroom cupboard for unused scent and spray it around; the combination of perfume and pong is one of the most effective emetics known to man.

I share a house with three other people, one of whom owns the place. No one seems to be any good at taking messages for the others, so the obvious solution is to get a digital answerphone. But what order should we put our names in? And, given that we only have a minute for the outgoing message, how can we fit in all our mobile phone numbers?

Jake, Notting Hill, London

To be honest, Jake, I'd say that the lot of you are spending too much time up the All Saints Road if you're really fretting about such tiny things. Either put the names in alphabetical order or let the person who records the message go first; anyone chippy enough to think that name order reflects pecking order should check into rehab sharpish. As for mobile numbers, the problem is not fitting them, but giving the caller time to write them down. Begin the outgoing message by saying: "Have a pen ready, as there are several telephone numbers after this message." Ah, and for heaven's sake remember to say "zero" as, especially if you come from the Home Counties, "O" sounds very like "8".

I am 45 and marrying for the second time in the spring. Can I have a wedding-present list - and what should I put on it?

Rupert, Winchester

No, you jolly well can't, you greedy monkey. First marriages may be regarded as an opportunity to stock up on consumer goods, but there is only so much one should demand from one's friends. If it is your fiancee's first marriage, a limited list could go out to her friends only, but otherwise accept whatever your friends give you with grace.

There is a fair possibility that I will soon be sent away for some time. Can you suggest some courses I could do to make the experience educational, at least?

Jonathan, Thanet

Certainly. Many of the better residential establishments offer courses that would suit you very well. I would suggest, for your preliminary consideration, Armoury and Simple Sword-making, Creative Accounting and Hotel-keeping, Practical Parenting (with an additional course in teaching your children to distinguish truth from fiction) or Middle Eastern Business Techniques: How to Pick Your Contacts Using Other People's Experience. I wouldn't recommend Litigation for Fun and Profit, as many find that they have less talent in that field than they had been led to believe.

Do I have to order a drink in a bar when I don't want one? I had a row the other day with friends - I didn't want anything but they insisted that I order a glass of mineral water. Why should I be forced to spend money on things I don't want?

Nancy, Washington

Food and drink have many more functions than simple sustenance. It's not like they're trying to force you to drink alcohol, but refusing to participate in a communal activity is tantamount to sitting in judgement upon it. It's also one of those tiresome attention-seeking behaviours that usually results, if repeated too often, in social exclusion. Furthermore, bars are businesses, not public utilities. You haven't paid any tax to support them, and the space you are occupying is intended for the use of paying customers. Think of it as rent and don't be so po-faced. If you want to sit around with your hands in your lap, stay at home or go to the library.

What should I wear on my holiday in the Yemen?

Sally, Newport

A label saying "Not to be removed from Heathrow Airport".

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