It all started with a knock. It was the UPS man with a large package that was not for me. He asked if I would take it since the neighbor (43) down the street wasn’t home. I said sure. This was customary in England (or at least on our street) to take in a neighbor’s package. I had first experienced this when our immediate neighbors to the west had taken in multiple packages for us when we first arrived.
I love the “neighborly-ness” of being the temporary caretaker of someone’s property. The implied trust that comes along with living on the same street. I didn’t know Neighbor 43 so I assumed when they came over to get their package, I would finally meet them.
Later that evening, the mother and child came knocking for the package but it was too large to carry. She was incredibly friendly and said her husband would be back later. She also mentioned that she had picked up some keys in front of our house. What I noticed though was that she never introduced herself. An hour later, her husband came by and grabbed the package. He was also very friendly. My kids waved and said hi. And then he too was gone with no introduction. I was baffled again. In both cases it did feel awkward because I clearly knew their name. It was on the package!
That same day, Brian came home from work and realized he had lost his house keys. I sent him to Neighbor 43. He walked down the street with both kids in tow. When the dad answered the door, Brian put on his midwest charm, gave a big smile and said “Hi, my name is Brian, this is Lincoln and Sienna” and put out his hand for a handshake. The neighbor never replied with his name nor extended his hand. Instead he apologized for being in the middle of cooking and found Brian’s keys while the mother and child waved from the stairs. And that was that.
Later that evening we were discussing the awkward situation and reading excerpts from a book that came highly recommended to us. Watching the English by Kate Fox explores the behavior of the English and their customs. Coincidentally we happened upon this chapter that evening. According to the book:
Introductions and greetings tend to be uncomfortable, clumsy and inelegant. Among established friends there is less awkwardness, although we are often still not quite sure what to do with our hands, or whether to hug or kiss………..In purely social situations, the difficulties are even more acute. There is no universal prescription of handshakes on initial introduction – indeed, they may be regarded as too ‘businesslike’ – and the normal business practice of giving one’s name at this point is also regarded as inappropriate. You do not go up to someone at a party (or in any other social setting where conversation with strangers is permitted, such as a pub bar-counter) and say ‘Hello, I’m John Smith,’ or even ‘Hello, I’m John.’ In fact, the only correct way to introduce yourself in such settings is not to introduce yourself at all, but to find some other way of initiating a conversation – such as a remark about the weather. The brash American approach: ‘Hi, I’m Bill, how are you?’ particularly if accompanied by an outstretched hand and beaming smile, makes the English wince and cringe.
After reading the excerpt from Watching the English, we had a good laugh. Brian was THAT American. I’m sure we will have a few more awkward encounters before a proper introduction is deemed appropriate. Until then, we will try to refrain from introducing ourselves and sticking out our hands.