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Go On, Introduce Yourself: What Brits in America Must Learn to Do
Picture the scene, Brits: you’re at a party, and you start chatting to your friend’s neighbor who seems like a very nice person. You have lots in common and are getting on like a house on fire. She excuses herself for a second, and your significant other comes up.
“Who was that, then?” s/he says.
“I have no idea,” you reply.
This is a familiar and regular occurrence in the U.K. Unless someone comes up and says, “Oh, I see you’ve met Trish,” it’s not unknown for us to chat for hours without introductions and leave the party with no idea of that person’s name. Americans, in particular, notice our strange habit.
Not so in the U.S. An American at a party will introduce him/herself before even a comment on the weather is made. Usually a hand will be thrust forward too, accompanied by a wide grin and fervent eye contact. Some Brits may be taken aback slightly at this forwardness, but really, it makes everything so much easier. It’s even possible to go to events where you won’t know anyone because Americans will expect you to jump right in and introduce yourself. If you’re painfully shy, or even just a little awkward about doing this, just pretend you’re a really confident person and force yourself. Whatever you do, don’t just hang around the sidelines looking like a deer in the headlamps; that will come across as a little weird and standoffish.
Actually introducing yourself rather than just hanging also forces people to acknowledge you and draws you into whatever conversation is going on, a tip that many Americans already know. Giving your name followed by a little nugget of personal information also helps people connect with you; it doesn’t have to be your life summary or zodiac details (unless you’re jumping in on an astrology conversation, in which case it’s perfect), but perhaps your connection to the host or the reason why you’re at the event. Your Britishness alone will probably give rise to some comments and questions anyway.
A very common springboard at parties is a comment about local sporting teams, “How ‘bout them Bears/Tigers/Dolphins?” This is said both seriously and sarcastically (if you’re a Cubs fan like me). Just make sure you know enough to stay in the conversation. And when someone follows up with “And what do you do?”, don’t, for Pete’s sake, answer with the old favorite “Well, for my sins, I’m an accountant/nurse/nail technician” or whatever. To everyone other than your fellow Brits, that really is weird.
Many Americans will introduce themselves even when you’ve met before. One father at my kids’ school introduced himself to me every time we met for about the first two years. “Am I so forgettable that he can’t remember ever meeting me?” I asked my husband. “No, he’s making it easier for you in case you’ve forgotten his name,” came the reply. It’s quite common for someone to shake your hand and helpfully say his/her name before your face betrays your memory lapse. After that, the conversation rarely comes to a grinding halt as Americans aren’t big on awkward silences. Like I said, all so much easier.
Having said all this, guys—American women like Jennifer Lawrence apparently prefer British men to American men because “British guys tend to do the slumping shoulders and almost stammering kind of attitude … It’s a lot more likable than the ‘I can do everything’ American thing.” So, if you persist in the bumbling, non-introduction scenario, it apparently works for some Americans.