Go On, Introduce Yourself: What Brits in America Must Learn to Do

Name tags do work but are probably a last resort.

Name tags get the job done, but let’s just say they’re a last resort. (IBT)

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.

See more:
What Can Brits Learn from American Optimism?
10 Signs That You’ll Never Move Back to Britain
8 Pointers For Brits Dating in America


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a British author who has lived in the USA since 1990. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom and The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students. She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV discussing US/UK matters.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • MontanaRed

    I’m not British, of course, but I have finally learned to overcome a feeling of gaucherie enough to introduce myself when I’ve been talking with a new, hitherto-unidentified acquaintance for some time, and we’re getting on like a house afire. It’s painful enough for lil’ ol’ American me, but I can only imagine what it must feel like for anyone brought up with self-introductions being thought of as somewhat tacky and unbecomingly forward if not downright presumptuous.

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      That can be a bit embarrassing here although I’ve seen Americans just make a joke of it and say “I’m sorry, I know you told me your name but…” or something like that. My memory is like a sieve these days so I am especially vulnerable to this situation! Sigh.

  • http://www.blogiota.blogspot.com/ Iota Manhattan

    I agree with you. It makes life so much easier if we introduce ourselves. I think it’s catching on a bit in Britain now, though (thank goodness).

    I wonder if the reticence stems back to the days when social strata were much more rigid. The convention was that people needed an introduction before they could talk to someone, which kept everyone in their rank. (Or maybe I’ve just been watching too much Downton Abbey lately!) That feeling of needing someone else to do the introducing, rather than being able to introduce yourself, is deeply ingrained in the British psyche, as you say.

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      There are some fairly old and rigid rules about who should be introduced to whom. I can’t quite remember it, but I think it’s the important person should be addressed first and the pleb is introduced to him/her. Definitely all about status.

  • Shazza

    not my own american experience growing up and living in Boston, at least with Bostonian natives, and I don’t do it myself. I’ve seen and spoken to people, out and about, for a long time before every knowing or providing my name. I think perhaps there are cultural differences in the U.S. and then differences between introverts and extroverts and those who’ve maybe read a book about habits of successful people that they take to heart :) Then there is the workplace which can be a different and depends on the particular work culture.

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      Cultural differences for sure, but I think a lot of people wave etc to local residents and neighbors without knowing much about them. The examples in the piece are about more intimate social situations.

  • therealguyfaux

    It may sound strange, but there’s a possible reason for this that may not be apparent at first glance. The renowned self-help guru, Dale Carnegie, in his best-selling work How To Win Friends etc, seized on it. A person may feel they have had more attention paid to them if the person with whom they are conversing refers to them by name; a subconscious thought that “(S)he went to the trouble of recalling my name at various turns in the conversation, even though I said it only once…”

    Now, Carnegie made a mint in his day, and his training courses still do, from getting people to overcome their self-consciousness in speaking to others, speaking usually in the “giving a speech” format but also one-on-one networking as well. His contention was that a person likes to hear their own name, and the best way to find out what that name is, is to enjoy hearing the sound of your OWN name by introducing yourself to them. It’s a way of saying “I’m not hiding in anonymity” and is a way of showing a willingness (in a restricted sense, to be sure) of “going on the record.” Your counterpart in the conversation could hardly decline to do so on their end without looking quite furtive and secretive.

    Now, nobody’s saying to bare your soul or to speak with unbridled candour here. But a simple “I’m Joe, and YOU are…?…Well, hi, John, pleasure’s all mine!”, however by-the-numbers it may seem, gets many a conversation off on a good start, if it seems that the person saying it is adhering to good form by doing so.

    • Rent Boy For Hire

      Hi my name mark

  • frozen01

    Most parties I’ve been to, there will be one or two people who introduce themselves in this manner, but that’s all. They usually just do it as a way to jump into the conversation or break the ice. That said, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an entire conversation with someone at a party or gathering and never known their name or made introductions. It wouldn’t matter one way or the other; for some reason, names do not stick in my mind (probably says something about my empathy? *lol*)

    So far as someone introducing themselves when you’ve already met? I’ve only encountered this when the person forgot your name and says “I don’t know if you remember me, I’m __________” so you’ll tell them yours in response.

  • LL

    There’s nothing more embarrassing to an American at a social event (especially a involuntary one) than failing to remember someone’s name, especially if you’ve talked before. We’ll work our way around using their name until we can’t fake it any more. So I’m glad when someone reminds me immediately. Though my dad’s boss, whose known me since I was born, could probably stop now.

    • ProudYankee

      I think this might just be you. I’m American, and I have no problem asking someone’s name if I’ve forgotten it.

  • tikiwa

    I’m not sure, but I think the variation you’re seeing here in the comments has to do with cultural differences around the States. I think perhaps the introductions described by the author are a lot more common where I come from, in the southern/southwestern US. We tend to be more formal than in the Northeast or the west coast. We also say “sir” and “ma’am” down here and when we go up north and say it, they look at us like we have two heads. I traveled a lot in my 20s and when I came home I had lost a lot of those little habits. I found myself terribly embarrassed to realize how “rude” I had become while I was gone, and quickly returned to introducing myself with a firm hand-shake and saying, “Yes, sir,” to questions!

    So please try not to be taken aback. We are simply following our own cultural etiquette. It means we’re civilized–in our own way! :)