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

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Dear Serena,

If you're in a restaurant, and the food is hideous, how do you respond when some jolly member of staff comes up and asks you if everything's OK?

Prabjot, Richmond

Look, sweetie: if someone's food is hideous, they know it's hideous. If someone comes up and says, "How's your food? Is it good?", pause, fix them with a beady eye and say: "It's exactly how I expected it to be, thanks." That way you can be catty without having to waste time talking to a crap chef.

I am getting married next year and intend to keep my maiden name. How do I tell my intended's family without causing offence. Would it be rude to include this in my wedding speech?

Dido, London

The business of naming is an odd one. Why society seems to think that a woman's name should be an impermanent thing is something that never ceases to amaze me, especially given the number of name changes certain women are likely, statistically, to go through in their lifetimes. You'd have thought that this patronising and schizophrenic tradition would have been one of the first to go as women who had slaved to establish themselves professionally got stroppy about having to ring all their clients and tell them they'd changed into a Brown overnight (funnily enough, few women seem to object to changing from Brown to, say, Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, but that's another story). But amazingly, the expectation trundles on. I once backed down on pushing the point myself with a man of about 70 when he cried, "but it's a natural law!", and I realised that he was almost in tears.

As I'm sure you know, it's an emotive subject, and one, fortunately, that our children's generation are unlikely to be having to deal with when it comes to their turn. Gentle firmness is the answer. Tell your parents, and his, and the chances are that if they think it at all weird, they will discuss it with everyone in their acquaintance, thereby putting the word around without you having to do too much work.

As to the speech, by all means mention the fact at the wedding, but there's a subtler and firmer way to do it. As everyone who objects to women retaining the name they've had over the years preceding the wedding seems to do so from some twisted belief that it is "selfishness" on her part, the person who should make the announcement is the man whose surname you are not taking. Part of the point of marriage is that you're supposed to back each other up and help each other out, and if it's your husband making the announcement that will make it clear that this is a decision you're both happy with.

Also, given that there will be people who won't be there, harness that marvel of modern technology, the answering machine. After the wedding, keep your two full names, not just your forenames, on it. That way, not only will it save you having to talk to every deadbeat your husband still calls a friend, but only the really obtuse will fail to get the message.

Oh, but do remember to be happy. These are only minor irritations compared with picking up someone's Shreddies off the bedroom floor for the next 50 years.

Following on from last week's smoking queries, smoking genuinely makes me ill: I think I'm allergic to it. Not only does it make me wheezy, but it makes my eyes water and gives me the most awful hangovers. Do I really have to put up with it in my house?

Claire, Bangor

No, darling, of course you don't. However, if you love your smoking friends and want them to come round to your house without stripping the wallpaper off with their fingernails, starting fights or going into gloomy silences, you could think about keeping a few well-washed Nicorette inhalators about the place. It may look as if all your friends are sucking on ball- points, but will save a lot of tears in the long run.

What's the etiquette for "call waiting"? How long do you stay on the line, beeping away, until you give up?

Craig, Neasden

The main thing to remember is that there is a lull between what you hear and what the person on the other end hears. By the time you get that madwoman (who I am convinced taught me English, very badly, at school), instructing you to hold on, the person already talking will have heard two beeps and will be telling the person they're talking to that they have to take another call. If you hang up immediately at that point, you will drive them to distraction by interrupting their conversation to no purpose. The optimum time to wait is three "The number you are calling is". Any shorter than that ,and you give them no time to explain, apologise, drop the phone, hit the wrong keys and finally switch channels. Any longer than that, and they really want to call you back on 1471.

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