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

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The Independent Culture
Dear Serena,

When, at a show or match or whatever, the person in front stands up in the middle of the action, should I ask him to sit down, thereby embarrassing my companion, or stand up myself and risk the person behind asking me to sit down, ditto, or do nothing and just not see what is going on?

Tom, Highgate

Mmm. Okay. You've got me there. Standing up and jiggling is, I think, part of what people pay for when they go to public spectacles, isn't it? In the early years of Thatcherism, theatre authorities went through a phase of trying to stop people from leaving their seats at gigs, and they practically destroyed live music as a result. I'd have thought this was largely irrelevant to sports matches, where the preponderance of giant plastic bananas will effectively block your view anyway, and the greater impediment to asking people to sit down is not the embarrassment of your companion but the fear of not being able to walk away afterwards. If people stand up in the theatre they're probably mad, and best left to the Nazis patrolling the perimeter.

Two options. One: join the old people in the circle and balcony. No one ever seems to stand up there, as they're too busy rustling chocolates, following the lyrics word for word on the album covers they've specially brought in plastic bags in their vast quantities of luggage, or waving plastic light-up flowers. These seats in theatres and stadia are usually cheaper anyway, so you can save up for chocolates/album covers/plastic flowers of your own.

Alternatively, accept your fate and get some exercise. It's terribly depressing for a musician to look up and see a sea of immobile bodies, and there's no point in going to a live match/gig and behaving as if you're on an aeroplane. You'll get much more of an endorphin rush if you leap up and jig about a bit. Before you know it, you'll be going to night- clubs, staying out all night, getting twinkles in your eyes at the sight of hotel bathrooms, and buying racier shirts. This will do wonders for your career and ultimately enhance world peace.

How do you tell a woman that you don't like something she's wearing without inadvertently starting off another round of the Cold War?

Mike, Bath

Tell her it's a bit ageing. You'll never see it again.

It's all very well advising young women not to take their husbands' names, but what about the children? What should they be called, and how do you explain the fact that they don't have the same name as Mummy and Daddy? This will be a terrible stigma for them to carry at school and will probably stunt them for life. And all because of some selfish notion about their mother retaining her identity.

Patty, Perth

Patty - have you seen the divorce statistics lately? Have you ever wondered what happens to all the offspring of single mothers who subsequently marry? Children these days are not the milksops the older generation convince themselves they ought to be, and a good half of their schoolmates, unless they are in a dedicated religious school, will probably have different names from their parents. And anyway, they have quite enough to worry about, what with global warming, the price of heroin and being mugged for their trainers, without lying awake at night fretting about whether they have inherited a patronym or not. Most of them don't know each other's surnames until they're seven or so, and certainly, if my own experience is anything to go by, don't give a damn about other people's parents' political shenanigans.

You advised me a few weeks ago, when I wrote with a simple enquiry about my girlfriend's eating habits, to get therapy. I thought at the time that you were being most unsympathetic, but reluctantly, having found no other solutions, signed up with a counsellor. I must say it's been marvellous. My problem now is this: do I admit to being in counselling? I often feel an overwhelming urge to tell people about what I've been talking about with my counsellor. Should I?

Geoffrey, Fulham

Good for you. But, though you should be completely honest about the fact that you are going through it/have gone through it (the more people who admit to it, the less of a taboo it will become), and should, of course, rely on your close friends to listen to you, I would advise against discussing the details of your therapy in public. Everyone who does any self-exploration goes through a phase of wanting to blurt out the secrets they've been hugging to themselves all these years, but it is only a phase. You will be glad, later on, that you didn't tell a group of strangers at a dinner party about the trauma of your first sexual encounters at boarding school.

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