Jul 1, 2010

How I Learned to Play the Name Game

Last Friday, I went to a party where I didn’t know anyone except the person I came with. Here is a sample of the introductions that followed: a square block of man with no neck introduced himself with a wet kiss on my hand; a fumbled double bisou from a lovely French woman who said, “Nize to mit you;” near the food table, a man in gray sweats stared at me for a full minute before approaching me with this one—“Hi, I just got a ticket for being in a bus lane. I’m not really a bus lane kind of guy.”

I remembered two of three names, but as my luck would have it, I ran into the third (bus lane guy) yesterday at my local supermarket. It was a bit awkward, since he remembered my name, but I escaped by remembering I was late for an appointment.

In college, this happened frequently, so my best friend and I developed a system that eliminated the problem. Since we were often together, when someone we didn’t remember approached us, we would introduce each other to the name-unknown party first.

Jackie would say, “Have you met my friend Felice?” And I would say, “Hi, nice to meet you. What was your name?” as if Jackie had said it, but I didn’t catch it.

This trick went seamlessly, and Jackie would continue to chat, using their name as if she had always known it. We did this for each other hundreds of times.

I also had a system to help other people I knew had forgotten my name but were too embarrassed to ask. I’d stub my toe and say, “Good one, Felice” or “Come on Felice, get with it.” If they didn’t catch on, then I’d talk about how many times in my life people have sung the Feliz Navidad song to me, or about the time I met someone with the same name as me, and had then met her again in a different city 12 years later.

You might think that I’m pretty smooth, but I was not always so. I first began experimenting with different methods of introduction in the second grade. Prior to that, parents or teachers introduced me to my friends. This was how I met Olivia, who lived next door to me on Hoffman Street. Olivia and I played together every day.

One day, a new family moved in down the street. Olivia and I saw a girl about our age playing in the front yard while her parents unloaded the U-haul. We watched her from a distance most of the day. We decided we wanted to play with her but weren't sure how to go about it.

We figured that we couldn’t play with her unless we knew her name, so we tried to guess what it might be. I thought that she was definitely a Jennifer, but Olivia was sure she was Ashley. This led to our next course of action. We decided that we would walk by her front yard, say hello, call her the name we thought was hers, and see what happened.

As we walked slowly past her house I gave Olivia the signal.

"Hi, Jennifer.”

"Hi, Ashley," we said at the same time.

The girl looked up from her doll with a look of total confusion. She did not respond. She only stared at us, and we continued to walk down the sidewalk as if nothing had happened. Olivia and I spent the rest of the day in our back yards out of her sight.

A few years later, I learned the "Hi-my-name-is-Felice,-what's-yours?" method of meeting people. From there on out, things were much smoother. In fact, it is still my standby greeting, when I am not feeling up to anything fancy.

This piece was originally published in the July 1, 2004 issue of
The Christian Science Monitor.

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