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Proper Introductions

Text by: Jacque Crosswell Watene

The custom of greeting another person with a handshake, a kiss on the cheek, a warm hug, or even a nod of the head dates back as far as recorded history (and we may draw a fair conclusion that these assorted greeting customs began long before the first stick figure drawings were etched on cave walls). Every culture on the planet has some form or another of extending a greeting and making an introduction, and most of these greeting customs have become so habitual in their use, we hardly recognize that when we are performing them, we are acknowledging and adhering to a distinct social etiquette.

When we take the time to recognize another person (whether with a smile, a handshake, an air-kiss, a bow, a nod, etc.), we are showing them that they are of value to us. Likewise, when we are given special recognition, we in turn, feel valued. This is what proper etiquette is all about: the giving and receiving of respect, which is an acknowledgement of another's value as a person.

Though salutations (greetings) may come as second nature when we observe someone with whom we have previously been acquainted, there may be some confusion as to how one should conduct a proper introduction and greeting. Although there have been many rules written on the subject, we at Polite Society maintain that the art of greetings and introductions should be simple and easy to apply.

When you find yourself being introduced to someone, wait until the introducer is finished presenting all parties, and then extend your hand (or bow, kiss, etc.—whatever the custom may be) to offer a firm, yet gentle handshake, saying, "It's great to meet you, (say their name here)." Be sure to look them in the eyes and offer a friendly smile. If the person introducing you forgets your name, or pronounces it wrong, be polite and gentle in your response. (It would not be polite to correct the person in such a manner that would embarrass them.) Something such as, "It's actually Marion. It's great to meet you," will be more than enough of a correction to the pronunciation of your name. Reassure your introducer that you are in no way offended only if they bring up their embarrassment, otherwise, you will draw undesired attention to the unintentional faux pas.

This is what proper etiquette is all about: the giving and receiving of respect, which is an acknowledgement of another's value as a person.

When you are the one performing the introductions, make sure to address the person whom one would naturally show deference to first (i.e. a woman versus a man, an elderly person, someone with a clerical title, a spouse, a boss, etc.). An example would be, "Mrs. Jones, I would like you to meet my friend, Sam. Sam, this is Mrs. Jones." A good rule of thumb is to always say the name of the person of deference first. If those you are introducing are of the same or similar peerage, use your best judgment as to whom you will introduce first. In most such cases, it truly doesn't matter. The important thing to remember is to make everyone feel valued and at ease.

If you find yourself in the predicament of forgetting someone's name, politely say, "I'm so sorry, but your name has slipped my mind." This should be enough for the person whose name you don't remember to go ahead and provide it. Again, do not make an awkward situation even more uncomfortable by carrying on about your embarrassment over forgetting the name. Just let it go and move on.

When you are introducing one person to another, it is a good idea to include some interesting fact about them in your introduction. (It should go without saying that the fact you divulge should interest the other person, and be one that would not embarrass either party.) This will provide them with the opportunity to continue the conversation if they so choose.

After you have been introduced to someone, it becomes your responsibility to greet them each time you happen upon them. Whether at a park, a theatre, a restaurant, a café, a party, etc., some form of acknowledgement is required and considered proper etiquette. Depending on the social circumstances, you will need to determine what type of greeting is appropriate. If waving from across a theatre or dinner party would be a distraction to others, a smile and nod will do. If you come face to face, a more friendly or casual greeting would likely be sufficient. Ignoring someone you may now call an acquaintance or friend is of the utmost disrespect. Not only will you come across as being snobbish, uncaring and rude, your new acquaintance will not feel valued, and we now know that the only real reason to learn and adhere to proper etiquette is to make those around us feel that we value them.