MISCELLANY: DEAR SERENA

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

I've been out of the country for a couple of months and have been keeping in touch with people via e-mail. Now I find that everything I've been telling people has been making the rounds by e-mail to everyone else. I recently had an encounter in Amsterdam, told one friend and, within 48 hours, another friend only distantly connected with the person I told started teasing me about it. Do people treat e-mail as some sort of open noticeboard system? Do I have to keep everything to myself now I'm no longer living near my friends and, if so, how am I going to cope without people to confide in?

S, Luxemburg

E-mail is like any other communication system: if you want something not to be passed on, you have to ensure a) that you tell someone who can keep their counsel and b) make it very clear that the information is a secret between you and them. And even then, you have to accept that in sharing details of your private life you are running a risk of it no longer being a private matter. Always remember: the only real secret is the one you keep to yourself.

Can you suggest a gift for a secretary that is both personal and won't give rise to misunderstanding?

M, Chancery Lane

Depends on how much you're prepared to pay. Female bosses can give male secretaries flowers, but this doesn't work so well in male-to-female (too cliched), female-to-female (unimaginative) or male-to-male (implications of cissyness) situations. Ninety per cent of women are always pleased with new shoes, but this choice is loaded with meaning. Monogrammed executive briefcases/desk sets/anything else can be interpreted as put-downs. Dinner for two (not to include yourself) at a swish restaurant? Dangerous, as you might get landed with a bill for a bottle of Chateau d'Yqem 1896. The safest bet is a flight voucher from a reputable airline, which works as a double whammy: thanks for a job well done, and tacit encouragement to take time off.

My husband, to whom I have been married for four years, likes to sunbathe nude in our garden (which is quite private). He also, throughout the year, tends to wear nothing from when he gets up until when we go to bed, and likes to shave his body hair, or have me shave it, which I do. I can't say I dislike his behaviour. He's an exciting lover and we both really enjoy our sex life. But I do have some concern that, as we get older, he may seek someone younger with whom to enjoy his sexual delights. We are much in love. Should I be worried?

CSP, Derbyshire

You don't have a problem at all, do you, C? You just want to show off to all the poor folk who aren't having as much fun as you are. One thing does worry me, though. It can get a bit parky in Derbyshire in the winter, and body hair does help to provide a little insulation. Do encourage your husband to take care in the early months of the year, or you might find that a nasty dose of frostbite puts an end to your frolics in an untimely fashion.

How do you let someone know that their nasal hair has got out of hand, as it were?

Paula, Retford

a) Buy them one of those sideburn-shaping razors that comes with a nose- hair clipper and hope they take the hint. More fun is b): offer them a cigarette and let the lighter slip so it singes the offending follicles. At least that will get rid of them for a while.

I've broken my finger. How soon will I be able to type again?

"Wills", Slough

Don't be silly. Get your personal private secretary to do the typing. That's what he's there for.

My daughter's godparents have all vanished into the ether. She is seven. Can I appoint another lot, who might be more reliable?

Gordon, Sunderland

No. Disappearing godparents, like hamsters dying and Boyzone, are part of a child's education in the harsh realities of the world. Perhaps you should also take this as a lesson in choosing friends/godparents for their loyalty rather than their potential usefulness in the future. If you're worried that she doesn't get enough presents, shift yourself and have birthday parties instead.

I had my last lover's name tattooed on my left buttock, and every time my current lover sees it, he goes into a blue funk and seems to lose the will to live. I can't afford laser removal.

Sheena, Stockwell

Get another, larger, tattoo in a solid colour over the top. It will hurt like buggery, but it's either that or making love with the lights off for the rest of your life.

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

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