If you’ve ever had a case of foot-in-mouth and introduced your date, boss, parent or stepmother in a not so flattering way, you’ll know how awkward first introductions can be.
I know, I’m the Queen of getting it wrong. In fact, I’ve quite possibly committed every introduction faux pas in the book. I’ve introduced my 70 year-old father’s partner as his ‘girlfriend’, forgotten people’s names mid-introduction and revealed way too much information about (very embarrassed) parties. Eeek. So with that in mind, I decided to speak to the Queen of Manners and author of The Little Book of Etiquette, Patsy Rowe. According to Patsy, it’s not only the title you give someone that is important, but the context in which you know both parties too, which gives them a talking point to initiate conversation.
“Use a ‘tag’ when introducing people,” suggests Patsy. “For example, ‘Professor Robson, I’d like you to meet my husband, John Smith,’ so that both people are aware of the status of the person they’re meeting.”
With that in mind, I threw a few ‘tag’ curve balls at Patsy (aka, situations where I have said the ‘wrong’ thing when introducing people), to correct my shocking manners once and for all. Here’s how to introduce people, and more importantly, how to NOT introduce people. Lesson learned!
Your New Date
Don’t say: “This is Josh, we met at a bar and are on our second date.”
Do say: “Kristy, this is Josh. He’s just been telling me how he loves skiing…”
Guilty as charged. I am too honest for my own good sometimes, but luckily for me when I openly introduced my now ‘partner’ of three years, Josh, to a friend and explained all the wine and dancing involved when we met just weeks earlier, he saw the funny side. And my friend expected nothing less!
“If you’ve only dated a couple of times and you refer to him as your ‘boyfriend’ you might frighten him off, so stick to his name!” warns Patsy. “Also, it isn’t necessary to explain when or where you met a date. A better introduction would be to mention something about Josh which will morph into a conversation. For example, ‘This is Josh, he’s just moved up from Melbourne,’ which leads neatly into, ‘Oh, what made you move?’”
Read it: Patsy’s tips on How To Manage Rude Children
Your ‘Other Half’ – who is over the age of 30
Don’t say: “This is my boyfriend.”
Do say: “This is my partner.”
How many dates does it take before you are officially a ‘couple’? And is it ok to call someone in their 30s a ‘girlfriend’? I was dating my partner for three months before we decided to make it official, but I cringed at the term ‘girlfriend’, which I associated with kids. And Patsy agrees. Phew!
“Girlfriend is more suited to young people and teenagers and implies a longer relationship,” explains Patsy. “Introducing them as your ‘partner’ is more appropriate if you are in your thirties or older, but since this could be a partner in business it’s extremely important to use a tag such as, ‘This is my partner, Paul, we’ve just been looking at apartments/booking a trip to Bali/meeting my parents.’ Anything that indicates you are a loved-up couple. The rationale behind an introduction is to give each person the name of the other; to use a ‘tag’ to hint at something about them that would initiate conversation and to avoid embarrassing situations.” Point taken.
The Couple Who Met Online
Don’t say: “Oh, wow! Paul and Natalie met on an online dating site just like you and your partner!”
Do say: “I met Paul and Natalie through tennis.”
OK this one I did not do, but the thought did enter my mind while introducing a couple and trying to find a common ground – and online dating was the only common thing that sprung to mind!
“It’s indiscreet to comment on how or where others met, particularly if they met online as for some there is still some sensitivity about actively searching for a partner on the internet,” explains Patsy. “By adding, ‘Just like you and your partner,’ you’re committing a double whammy in revealing how they met too!” Drink, anyone?!”
Don’t say: “This is my nanna.”
Do say: “This is my nanna, Ivy.”
I kick myself every time I do this, but continue to introduce family as my nanna/dad/mum – with no given name. “The person being introduced can hardly say, ‘Hi nanna,’ can they?” Patsy points out. “However, if you’ve ranted and raved about your stickybeak nanna for months on end, you’d better make it clear that this is her before your friend says: ‘Julie, is that dreadful nanna of yours coming tonight?’”
Don’t say: “This is Jane.”
Do say: “This is my boss, Jane. She is in charge of all the content on our website.”
There will be no climbing the corporate ladder if you balls up this one, buy you most certainly can include ‘boss’ in the introduction, as Patsy explains. “It is absolutely fine to introduce them as your boss with a tag and their name, particularly with a woman, as some people still expect the boss to be a man,” says Patsy. “Always use the single tag and her name first, because we need to know something about the person we’re speaking to. For example, ‘Michael, this is my boss, Ms Martin. I’ve been working for Ms Martin now for six months since she moved here from our opposition.” Using her last name indicates immediately that Ms Martin prefers that and avoids the embarrassment of him saying, ‘Hi Belinda!’ Also, including ‘boss’ avoids your boss having to announce, ‘I thought I should mention I’m Geraldine’s boss.’ Not only is this awkward, but it certainly doesn’t lead into any comfortable conversation from there.”
Your Dad’s New Girlfriend
Don’t Say: “This is dad’s new girlfriend.”
Do say: “I’d like you to meet Fiona, she and dad have been going out since Christmas.”
When I introduced my father’s new ‘partner’ as his ‘girlfriend’, he was just a tad mortified. It’s not like him to reprimand me, but he did offer a few sage words of advice about referring to people of a certain age as ‘girlfriend’, to which now, many years later, I completely agree.
“Girlfriend is inappropriate for an older woman, and ‘new’ suggests there’s been a line of girlfriends, which he may well have had – but it’s not your business to let her know this!” explains Patsy. “However, introducing her by name and giving some context to the situation helps the other person gauge that the relationship is still fairly new.”
The Semi Stepmother (but your parent has now passed away)
Don’t Say: “I’d like to introduce Monica. She was dad’s girlfriend before he passed away.”
Do say: “I’d like to introduce Monica. She and dad were together for years before he passed away. We all regard her as our step-mum.”
It’s always traumatic when a parent passes, but it can be even more confusing for the partner left behind. She may have regarded herself as a stepmother but having never officially tied the knot, she can be left confused about what her role is in the family when her immediate connection has passed away. So when she comes to visit you, how should you introduce her? According to Patsy, it’s important to give Monica the official ‘title’ she had unofficially. “Referring to her as your ‘stepmother’, especially if you say it with pride, will make her feel treasured,” says Patsy.
“And, as previously mentioned, ‘girlfriend’ is an inappropriate description for a woman of 60+ and secondly, ‘girlfriend’ suggests a very light-hearted romance rather than the one Monica clearly shared with the father, where she came to regard his children as her own.”
Patsy Rowe, author of ‘Elbows off the Table’, ‘Manners Magic for Children’, ‘The Little Book of Etiquette’ and a host of other books. Check out her books here. Main image: American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.