I choke at introductions. It doesn’t matter if you have lived next door to me for eight years, if we chaired the school auction together, if you have the same name as my first-born child, if you ARE my first-born child. If I have to introduce you to someone else, I will forget your name. It’s not that I’m uncouth. It’s just, as I admitted, that I choke at introductions. It’s like a mini-stage fright.
Now, I recognize that the statutory grace period for forgetting someone’s name is 28 days or three meetings, whichever comes first. After that time, you are expected to know the name, and you can no longer ask for it. Moreover, if you’ve seen the same person at least four times and each encounter included conversation, hugs and cheek-to-cheek air kisses, the next time she happens along, you are charged with the responsibility of introducing her to the person standing beside you, or you are liable for crimes against etiquette. Those are the rules — at least in the South.
So, I have developed two (hopefully) face-saving introduction strategies, which I will share with you now:
Strategy A. The Southern Strategy, a.k.a The Hey Stack
This, of course, is the word “Hey,” uttered over a period of 23 seconds and inserting a veritable rollercoaster of inflections and a bell curve of vowels ranging from A to E to Y, then followed immediately with a warm embrace and a gleeful, “How ARE you!?”
You then proceed directly to the introduction of the person you’re with, “This is my friend Jane…” (Odds are pretty good that if you are already together, you will remember your companion’s name at this moment.) And you wait in awkward silence for Nameless Friend to introduce herself, while smiling brightly and pretending that you didn’t really forget her name.
Sometimes you can interject an intimate anecdote about Nameless Friend (“Liz is married to my brother”) as soon as her name is revealed, just to prove that you really do know her.
Guys can’t pull-off the Hey Stack as well. They must resort to the Hey Slap, which is a slap on the back and a “Hey, buddy!” kind of greeting, I suppose.
I really don’t know what guys do. If you’re a guy, please tell me.
Strategy B. The Help Me, Rhonda, a.k.a. The Preemptive Prompt
If you see Nameless Friend approaching in advance, you might prompt your companion and beg, “Please introduce yourself — I forgot her name!”
You then proceed as described above. After the niceties have ended and Nameless Friend has moved on, you and your companion can have a lengthy yet amusing conversation about all the other things you can’t remember.
My daughter gets irritated by the fact that I can’t remember the names of all her friends, but she doesn’t realize that my forgetfulness is not spiteful, it’s a biological defect. I’m not going to attribute it to age, though that would be the easy, albeit discomforting, thing to do. I can’t remember directions, either, and I’ve always been that way.
The fact is, if I happen to see you at any given time, chances are that I have forgotten your name. The Hey Stack still works very successfully in terms of a greeting in these instances, but with the unfortunate side effect that when you leave, I will still be clueless as to your name.
If you are dating one of my sons, you will be referred to by me as “Little What’s-Her-Name.” I will remember your name if he gives you a ring … or if I hope that he will.
If my accent were thick and syrupy enough to drip out of my mouth and attract bees as I speak, I could sidestep the use of actual first names by using generic “nom de bonbons,” such as Sugar or Honey or Puddin’, but it isn’t. Sometimes I use the more accent-neutral “Sweetie,” which can be uttered with an efficient clip, but is generally more appropriate for people who are younger than I am (which is increasingly turning out to be most people).
So, if I see you at the grocery store and smile brightly and give you a hug and say “Hey,” please tell me your name.