Dear Serena: Modern Manners: Surviving the minefield

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Dear Serena

Why do women consider men to be totally Neanderthal if we leave the toilet seat up? I can understand that you do not like a lav that hasn't been flushed, but what is the problem with the seat and its cover not being down? Is there something that we men should know, like, for instance that you women don't like to see reflections, or something? There are all sorts of reasons for leaving the seat up: it shows the next person that there are no dribbles on it, it saves the next person, if it's a man, the effort of pulling it up, and putting the seat up and down all the time wears out the hinges. Please explain.

Tom, Highgate

Mmm. The great seat schism. I have harboured a suspicion that feng shui was a fiendish plot invented by a woman ever since I discovered that one of the primary rules is that the toilet seat and the lid have to be closed at all times or the household's wealth will vanish down the drain. Obviously, as a woman, I'm not going to be fair or reasonable about this; there is something in the female visual cortex that is offended by the sight of a loo with the seat up (and terrified by a loo with the lid down), and nothing is going to change that; bear with it, in the same way we bear with your inability to understand that the place for empty drink cans is in the bin.

There are reasons for this, the primary one being that the grimiest bit of a loo usually lurks between the seat and the water line, but despite the fact that men see these exposed on a regular basis, it is a fact that, however modern the households and however well divided-up the chores, the only person who ever, ever picks up the loo brush is a woman. The sight of that area, unshadowed, is therefore going to be much more upsetting to a woman than having to touch the seat is to a man.

Furthermore, it is a good idea to bear in mind that there is one basic rule of survival that men have always seemed to fail fully to grasp, but would be much happier if only they could. And that rule, of course, is that women are always right.

Please can you suggest how communal bills in restaurants should be split? The common practice today seems to be an equal divide, but as invariably I only have a side salad, I don't see why I should subsidise everybody else.

Linda, Waterloo

You can't subsist on side salads. You should try eating a proper meal occasionally, and you might find you aren't quite so obsessed about the financial details so much.

After 30 years of suffering with the name - Derek - that my parents saw fit to give me, I have finally decided to change it. I have gone as far as the process of changing my name by deed poll, but I still have a problem with everyone I know. Friends and colleagues all seem to treat it like a huge joke and won't take me seriously. How do I make them accept that this really is my name, and that I expect to be called by it?

Sebastian, Kettering

Hmm. Why do you think your life is going to be improved by changing your name? Do you think being called Sebastian will work some powerful magic over your personality? Name changes are the personality equivalent of having a nose job. Everyone who has a nose job thinks their life will be dramatically improved, but actually what happens is that they end up with the same snipped and snubbed little Tori Spelling conk as everyone else who's had a nose job. No one ever has their nose made bigger, or changes their name to Derek, do they? It's always Sebastian or Dominic or Eugenie or Ariadne.

Still, you're obviously serious, and, as women still get the option of changing their names on marriage, divorce etc, I don't see why you shouldn't. Try the following: throw a New Year-style party with the express intention of celebrating your new name. Allow everyone to call you Derek as many times as they want until midnight, when, you must make it clear, they have to change to your new moniker. Alternatively, send change-of-name cards to everyone you know, like change-of-address cards. Alternatively, move to a new town and sever all contact with your family and friends.

What's the best form of address for a duke?

Stacey, Notting Hill

"You". If you say "your Grace", people will think you're a Tory MP. And anyway, when did you last meet a graceful duke?

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