23 September 2011

The man that needs no introductions

I was never good at introducing myself. You know, those times when you get next to the other person and say "Hello, I'm John, pleased to meet you". Yes, those are the ones. At first glance, it doesn't seem much complicated, but the fact is that there's a whole ritual in an introduction that is more complicated than it seems and where is very easy to get it wrong in little things. The little things that rapidly turn something perfect in something, let's say, clumsy and, eventually, stupid.

Starting with saying your name. It always bewildered me that people introduce themselves by saying their own name. No, no, just their own name. Not something as sophisticated as "Hi, I'm John", but something more harsh, like "John." An introduction that could be moderately long and educated is replaced by "John." "Mary." Just like that, short and to the point. And this is just when the new acquaintances don't say their names at the same time, which happens half of the times, making them pleased for having said their name but puzzled for not hearing the names of each other. Even weirder is when my interlocutor decides to say their full name. "Peter Jefferson Hawthorne." OK, is this really how he wants to be called? Does he expect me to call him later and say "Yo Peter Jefferson Hawthorne, grab me a beer"? Because of all these things and some more, most times I do not introduce myself by saying my name, thus my typical introduction is something like this:

The other - "Peter Jefferson Hawthorne"
Me - "Hi..."

On the other hand, if people don't tell you their name you never get to know how they're called, which is a bummer. You have to wait for someone else to call them, or for them to introduce themselves to another person, and if everything else fails you'll have to suffer the humiliation of the "What's your name again?". I have fallen into this trap a number of times already, maybe because when you don't tell your name, the other one doesn't feel the need to tell you theirs. I remember that in my teenage years I hung out with some guy for months without knowing his name. The problem is that the "What's your name again?" has an expiration date, if you let too much time pass by, you can't use it anymore, the humiliation would be unbearable, like if you were struck by lighting or something. Fortunately, after a few months, someone else called my friend by his name, and I listened and registered. I didn't have to suffer the humiliation, this one even worse than the other one, of the person finding out I didn't know their name, as happened in this episode of Seinfeld.

The best introduction, the way I see it, is the one that is mediated by a third party. It's the third party that tells people their names (and no full names whatsoever!) and the others say "Pleased to meet you". The "Pleased to meet you" is also very interesting since it's an expression that can range from the hypocrite (do we really have pleasure in meeting them?) to the vaguely erotic (just take the expression literally). It also makes way for the best, most elegant expression to use in an introduction, "The pleasure is all mine". "The pleasure is all mine" makes an introduction perfect: it removes any traces of hypocrisy and pulls it to the side of the vaguely erotic, which is a valuable point. Believe what I tell you and try using "The pleasure is all mine" in an introduction: you'll see your interlocutor's eyes shine with satisfaction.

There are a number of little things that make my own introductions go wrong frequently. Sometimes I feel guilty when I realize, after the introduction, that the other person didn't get to know my name. Other times, I say my name in passing (most times between the first cheek kiss and the second), which ends up having the same effect.

And after all, the fact of knowing beforehand that I'm going to have a weird introduction enables me to mess things up even more. The most recent cases were with new co-workers: as a person used to see these people every day and just say good morning without kissing or handshaking anyone, what was I supposed to do when meeting a new colleague? Or, to complicate things a little bit, a new female colleague? Well, one of them, after being introduced to me by another person, stood up to give me two kisses, then changed to an handshake, and finally gave up when realizing that I had already started talking to her, bringing the introduction to an end even before it started. The second time I made the mistake of knowing her name before I met here, and when I saw her for the first time I just skipped the introduction, called her and talked to her normally, naturally, like if I knew her for months... It may seem arrogant or unwilling, but believe me, it's just plain clumsiness.

Finally some notes about the title of this post. Obviously the title is a little overstated. I don't consider myself a man that needs no introductions, just one that is not very good at doing them. Yet I still try to introduce myself to new people the best way I can. Hello, I'm... aaaa... I may cause a terrible first impression, but I promise it gets better with time.

(versão portuguesa)

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