Dear Serena: Modern Manners - Your cut-out-and-keep guide to surviving the minefield

Dear Serena,

We are finding it difficult to cope with two children and two jobs and we're thinking of taking on an au pair girl. At least, my husband is. You hear so many stories about men running off with the au pair, and I don't want to have my family destroyed in the same way. How can I vet potential au pairs to make sure that I don't allow some man-stealing hussy into my home?

Rebecca, Pimlico

What are you saying? That you don't trust your husband, or that you don't trust yourself? Your marriage is probably at greater risk from the women your husband encounters at work and associates with social drinking and moments of power, than it is from someone he will generally associate with nappies and washing-up. That said, you can't vet au pairs unless they're already in the country, but if you want to be sure, I would advise hiring someone from a former Communist country. One of the first things that went under the Communist regimes were those bourgeois affectations, grace and pretty manners, and there is still some way to go before those who grew up in these circumstances re-adopt them. I would recommend the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary as good sources. Avoid girls from war zones, as they are often understandably desperate and will do a lot to ensure their future in a safer environment. Also avoid Latinas, as before you know it they'll be too busy earning extra pounds, setting up salsa classes in local bars, to look after the children.

Further to Bob's letter of last week, I would dearly love to have a stag night, but when I think about my male friends, I realise that I don't really like that many of them. Should I just forget about it?

Stanley, Seagrove

Like them? Who said anything about liking the people on your stag night? Stag nights are about drinking, ritual humiliation and shaving foam, aren't they? You don't need to like someone to burst a condom filled with water over his head.

I recently broke my shoulder falling off a horse. I work in one of those rather self-consciously classless industries, and am worried that my colleagues are beginning to suspect that I'm in fact rather posh and judge me by it (I dropped the first half of my double-barrelled name for the same reason some years ago). How do I pull the wool back over their eyes?

Isabel, Shepherd's Bush

If anyone asks, say "Naah, it wasn't riding a horse. I was doing my circus skills class". They might thereafter think you're a lesbian, but that shouldn't be a problem.

What do you do if you hate the art at a private view?

Clarissa, Cambridge

Oh, come on, Clarissa; you may not like it, but saying so on the artist's big night would be roughly equivalent to criticising your hostess's dress sense at her birthday party. If you can't bring yourself to say something nice, say what a wonderful time you've had at the party (which will in itself probably be a lie, if the lukewarm chardonnay I've had to drink over the years is anything to go by). If you find yourself challenged directly, grit your teeth and say what a shame it is that they're out of your price range.

Our insurance company says that we must have alarms on the house in order to qualify for cover. What should we do about them when we have overnight guests? Should we set them and risk a false alarm, or leave them unset and invalidate our cover?

Stephen, Cumbria

You can leave an alarm on in the house only if you have en-suite bathrooms. Leave some bacon sandwiches in a covered dish on the dressing-table, as there is nothing that gives you a greater hunger in the night than knowing that you cannot leave your room. Why not get a pit-bull terrier? Great protection against burglars, and guaranteed to keep the most insomniac guests safely tucked up in their rooms till morning.

I am in the entertainment industry, and am about to give birth to my first child, and my fiancee and I still can't agree on names. The problem is that neither of us seems to have very much imagination when it comes to names, and we are afraid that our child won't stand out. Help!

V, Wilmslow

How about something exotic, like Kuala Lumpur Sugar, Ogodougou Feng Shui, or Billabong Toesock? Or something more homely, like Accrington Stanley? If you really want a child to stand out in the entertainment world, call it John.

What precautions are you taking against the Millennium Bug?

James, Whitehall

None; as you can see, I write with a pen.

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

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there