Charm School is a new book by Kathy Buchanan - a one-stop survival guide to help you deal with etiquette in the new millennium. You'll discover secrets to good living, loving and working - how to be a wonderful friend, to enjoy a fabulous love life and how to be happy and successful at work. Think of it as a (friendly and supportive) stiletto boot camp or a Ms Manners with a modern- and we promise you, never patronizing - twist. So, read on to take your first class...LESSON 1: Dealing with flatmates and overnight guests
I once flatted with a girl who sneakily moved her boyfriend into our flat without bothering to mention it to our other flatmate or me. We were all out most nights and had an open boyfriend policy, so it wasn't until we started seeing a week's supply of his Y-fronts drying on the heater for a few weeks in a row that we realized he was actually living with us. When we asked her if he'd moved in, she freaked out and he (and his Y-fronts) instantly and mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again.
The stupid thing was, if she'd just been up-front about it, it would have been fine if he stayed for a while. Discuss flatmate and partner issues when you move in together. It is usually a very good idea to say, 'No moving partners in without everyone's okay,' and if someone's partner does move in for a while, then they should automatically be expected to contribute to the household expenses.
If you live with someone who is bringing home skanky guys or girls as 'overnight guests' regularly, then it is okay to ask them to cut back if they make you feel uncomfortable. It is great if your flatmates are friendly and you all enjoy having friends and family stay for short periods, but agree amongst yourselves how long guests are welcome before they should start officially contributing to the household expenses or move on.LESSON 2: The rules about 'air kissing'
'Air kissing' is the handshake of the new millennium, but if you detest it then get into the habit of being pro-active and offering a firm handshake when you first meet someone. If someone puts out their hand to shake yours, then give them a short, firm, friendly handshake, smile, make eye contact while you're introduced and then let go.
If someone goes in for the 'air kiss', don't make a big deal and refuse it. Just offer your cheek closest to them and quickly move on. However, never 'air kiss' someone you've just met or if you're at a work event - unless you work in the fashion industry - as you might make them feel uncomfortable. It's okay to make skin contact when you kiss someone on the cheek if they're in your family, you're dating or you are good friends.LESSON 3: What to do before you get married or move in together
This is the time to come clean and talk about the big issues - money, children or the lack of them, how you would like any children to be raised, their education and whether or not they will have a religious upbringing. You and your partner should have firm ideas about your respective career and study options. You should also talk about your respective family commitments, where you want to live and if you plan on buying a property together.
If you'd like a pre-nuptual agreement, then don't leave it until the last minute to bring it up, and be aware that he might be offended. If he's the one who wants a pre-nup and you think that he's being unromantic, remember that they're starting to become more commonplace. If you do agree to go ahead with it, then get some legal advice and, once you are both happy with the terms, settle it quickly and move on.
You should also decide if you'll share a bank account and how you'll pay the bills. Reveal any serious financial commitments you already have and if you've ever had problems with credit - and make sure he does the same.
Don't kid yourself that if he's a cheapskate now things will change once he's your husband or that, although he's adamant that he never wants children, he'll change his mind after you're married. Ensure that you both know what you're getting yourselves into before you sign on the dotted line.
If you decide to live together then you'll have similar obligations to those you'd have if you were married. De facto relationships need a lot of attention and ground rules. If you have a break-up in a de facto relationship, the legal rules of marriage can apply to you, so make sure you protect yourself.LESSON 4: Why you shouldn't ask him 'Do you love me?'
Asking an unsuspecting guy, 'Do you love me?' is just as bad as saying, 'Do I have cellulite?' Both questions will probably have him immediately breaking out in a cold sweat before your very eyes. By all means tell him that you love him and wait for a response but this is generally not a good idea in the first few months unless you've both pretty much fallen in love at first sight.
If you get a 'ditto' or 'thank you' (eek!) or, even worse, ignored (double eek!) then leave it for a while. But remember, just because he doesn't say it back, doesn't necessarily mean that he doesn't love you or isn't falling in love with you. For all you know, he may never have said it to anyone before, and is only planning on saying it to the woman he intends to spend the rest of his life with. That girl may turn out to be you, but if you've only been dating for a short while, then to him it may seem like an insincere thing to say until he's sure.
Wait for a while and give him a chance to say it first. It may take him longer than you'd like but it'll be so much sweeter when it is his idea, don't you think?
Read more on 'Dating Do's and Don'ts' in the exciting new book Charm School: The Modern Girl's Complete Handbook of Etiquette that helps you deal with life's sticky situations. Other chapters include: men and manners, men friends, bad couple habits, money matters, flatmates and friends etiquette, party etiquette and how to survive in the workplace.
Charm School is available through all good book stores. For more information check out www.penguin.com.au
Kathy Buchanan is also the author of Quit for Chicks - a pocket-sized support guide for women with a foreword from supermodel Sarah O'Hare about how to quit the smoking habit for good.