Last week I attended a writers’ event with a group I’ve just joined: the Tri-City Wordsmiths. I entered the room with a little anxiety, thinking it likely I wouldn’t know anyone. Turned out there were two people I knew, so I could tell my anxiety to stuff it. Still, when the leader of the group suggested we go around the room and introduce ourselves, I was pleased.
I told my daughter about it later, and she said, “Oh no! I hate the whole ‘go around the room’ thing, can we just not??”
Now, I’m an introvert; my daughter is more like a full-on recluse. So I understand her point of view. But I explained to her that I like the introduction phase. She prefers to not speak or be spoken to unless she chooses. For me, however, the introductions help me cross a line from not feeling welcome to feeling welcome.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine came over with her daughter who’s a bit younger than mine. I forgot to introduce the daughters to each other, for which I apologized to my daughter later. She said it was fine, because obviously they each knew who the other was.
Well, yeah, but…
This is what really got me thinking about introductions. Is it an archaic practice? Or is there really some sort of social barrier that is removed, a door that is opened, that helps people to engage in conversation?
In Jane Austen novels we read about introductions being required in society before a person should engage in conversation. Despite his reasoning, Mr. Collins broke a social more by speaking to Mr. Darcy without an introduction. I’m not talking about having permission to speak to a person you don’t know; I’m talking about feeling at ease speaking to a person you don’t know. This is not an issue for everyone, but it certainly is for some. With the introduction we are no longer strangers, but acquaintances, which makes engaging in conversation easier.
I am a very welcoming person and, despite my introverted tendencies, am often the one to speak to someone in a group who doesn’t appear to know anyone, (probably because I can relate to that situation). When the tables are turned, and I’m the one who doesn’t know anyone, if no one takes on that role, I’m left in that awkward position of having to pretend to be outgoing, and introduce myself. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to do that. Without those introductions I would be more compelled to sit by myself and not speak to anyone, after which I would go away feeling less inclined to return.
If I go to a gathering that is hosted (a party, or a meeting, as opposed to a conference/convention where it’s everyone for themselves) I really appreciate when the host makes introductions, to make sure we have all met. And rather than a simple, “This is Julie,” I love a little snippet of how this person is related to the host: “This is one of my writer friends, Julie,” or, “This is Julie, my friend from work.” I don’t even mind being re-introduced to people I’ve met, because at least the host is making sure we’ve met. Erring on the side of being extra welcoming. (I’m always introducing people over and over, and sometimes I feel a little silly when I recall that the two parties know each other, but still… I’d rather do that than not at all)
There’s also a thing about names. I used to be really good with remembering people’s names, yet over the years that ability has been leaking away from me. So even when I’m at a gathering of people I’ve met, particularly if we’re talking about folks I have met only a few times, and infrequently, I feel like a total dummy, and embarrassed, because I can’t remember a person’s name.
Even when a person is being introduced, hosts rarely use full names anymore. And yet you can learn so much from knowing a person’s full name.
I recall the time my friend Catriona introduced my at-the-time fiancé to her mother, using his full name, and it turned out she grew up with his dad in Scotland, something they would never have learned if Cat hadn’t used his full name. Her mom was able to reach out and remake her old friend’s acquaintance.
What if it’s a person you have heard of by name, but don’t know their face very well? If you’re only given their first name you have no way of knowing it’s a person you’d heard of and are pleased to have met face to face.
My folks were consummate hosts. My mum was a big proponent of the Full Introduction (using full names), because she loved learning about people, their backgrounds, who they’re related to, and so forth. She loved forming connections that way. Visitors always felt comfortable and welcome in their home.
My daughter says that in her generation, introductions aren’t a thing. If she goes to a party, nobody makes sure everyone has met. Usually, she says, people just go and talk to other guests. They say, “My name’s Sandra,” or they just start talking. OR, she just winds up talking only to the people she already knows. She says she doesn’t find it to be a problem…
Except that recently she attended a baby shower, where the host didn’t introduce people. My daughter only knew three people there, and those were the only people she talked to the whole time. None of the folks she didn’t know introduced themselves to her, and she didn’t speak to them. She came home feeling “Meh” about the whole event.
Are introductions a lost art? Is the non-introduction barrier that I feel real? Or does my daughter’s generation think everything is fine without The Introduction simply because they don’t know what they don’t know?
I would love to try an experiment with three rooms of people: in Room One, a host-type-person introduces everyone. In Room Two, we have a few pairs or trios who know each other, but nobody else in the room. In Room Three no one knows anyone.
The natural inclinations of the individuals will play a role, for sure: how many introverts and extroverts are in each room? That sort of thing. But I would be interested to see what the dynamic and mood is like in each space.
Meanwhile, I’m going to err on the side of introducing people, and making certain that guests feel as welcome as possible. And I’ll appreciate it when others do the same for.
Hi, I’m Krista Wallace. Nice to meet you.