Dear Serena

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

At a communal meal, should one wait until everyone has been served before one starts eating? I think yes, my fiance says no. Who is right?

Kirstie, Leeds

Grand manners are always supposed to dictate that the moment a plate lands in front of you, you should get your snout straight into the trough like a Tory minister. If you start chowing while your hostess is still slaving over a hotplate, some individuals will think you're frightfully frightfully. Others, however, will think you're frightfully frightful: you wouldn't start eating before the Queen, would you? At least wait until your hostess has said encouraging words before you pick up your eating irons.

Also, don't be over-enthusiastic about shovelling up the pheasant in very grand houses. Certain elements among the toffs, who always delight in epate-ing the bourgeois, seem lately to have taken to saying grace at the beginning of meals, sometimes even going so far as importing a pet clergyman for the purpose. You'll look mighty fine spluttering a Te Deum round a mouthful of Brussels sprouts, won't you?

I occasionally drop in to my local sauna on a Saturday afternoon for a little R&R. I have encountered someone several times, and we seem to get on very well, if you know what I mean. The other day, though, he

suggested we might go for a drink once we'd got our clothes on, and I found myself struck by panic. I mean, he seems nice enough, but I thought people went to saunas for anonymity. Is it acceptable to make dates in these circumstances? Should I give it a go?

Gareth, Manchester

Why not? It could make an interesting story to tell the godchildren.

I recently found out that I had been passed over for a job when the current incumbent started doing it. No one had had the manners to tell me. Is it normal these days not to bother to inform job candidates that they have failed?

Renee, Battersea

It's not normal, but it seems, sadly, to have become common practice these days among a certain type of employer to eschew courtesy to staff members. You are obviously working for one of these. I wouldn't bother saying anything, if I were you. Instead, start tunnelling your way out. When you get a new job, hand your resignation to personnel rather than your colleagues. They will, as is the way with personnel departments, fail to communicate the information to the relevant people. You can then derive considerable personal satisfaction from the fact that the first time these ill-mannered employers find out about you leaving is the day you don't turn up for work.

I don't seem to have the staying power I had when I was a lad, and worry that I can't satisfy my partner like I used to. I was thinking about trying Viagra. Would you recommend it?

Roger, Marlowe

If you're not put off by potential heart attacks or crashing headaches, there's no harm in giving it a go, I suppose, though staying power is one of those things whose value has been greatly exaggerated by the pornography industry. Technique has always been more valued by those in the know. But for heaven's sake, check that your partner has the time and inclination before you go popping anything; there are few anaphrodisiacs more effective than being expected to drop the laundry/ the baby/ one's nether garments when confronted without warn- ing with a grinning sap proudly toting a chemical stiffie that won't go away.

I am going to a wedding in Scotland and was wondering if you could recommend a good outfitters where I might buy a kilt? And what should I wear underneath?

Leonard, Lincoln

Yes, and I can also recommend a good place to buy a turban in case you get invited to a Sikh wedding. As to what to wear underneath, you should follow the native example and invest in a pair of frilly knickers in a contrasting fabric. Oh, and make sure, if there's reeling, that you fling your arms over your head and shriek "Hoots, Mon" every 10 seconds. That way you'll be sure to make an impression.

How long should a widower wait to appear in public with a new partner?

C, Gloucestershire

Probably until the new partner has had enough hair-dying, facial treatments and styling advice to compete with the previous wife. Then again, there is only so much one can do: as my granny used to say, you can't make a Dresden shepherdess out of an old leather boot.

Knotty problems with the world today? Write to The Independent, 18th Floor, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL, where they will be treated with customary sympathy

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