Introductions and Modes of Salutation
One of the features of our lives as social beings that we have come to accept as normal is the fact that we live, work and play close to many thousands of our fellow-men without ever getting to know them. We stand shoulder to shoulder with them in buses and theatre queues; we kneel beside them at Mass; we may live in the same street and yet never even learn their names. Each man is an island, and often the only means of bridging the gap is a formal introduction.
There are times when our own urgent need or that of another requires the immediate removal of all barriers. There is no time for introductions on a sinking ship or when the house is on fire.
The business of making formal introductions is sometimes carried to extremes. There is the story of the polite Englishman who refused to heed a drowning man’s desperate cries for help. When questioned later, his defence was that he had never been introduced to the fellow.
Some general principles
The rules governing introductions may at times appear confusing, but there will be little difficulty if you approach each situation with common sense and some knowledge of the relative importance of the persons being introduced. An important point is to be sure, before making the introduction, that the parties concerned will be happy to meet each other. If you have any reason to think that this is not the case, it is better to let the situation pass without any formal introduction. Nothing is more painful than the sudden icing-up that occurs when an unwanted introduction has been made.
The general rule is to introduce the inferior to the superior. A gentleman is always introduced to a lady, a younger person to an older person, and not vice-versa. However, considerations of rank will sometimes supersede differences of sex or age. Thus you would normally introduce Miss Doe to Mrs Hart, since the married person is considered of higher rank than the unmarried. But if Miss Doe happens to be a famous singer, while Mrs Hart has no special claim to public attention, then the introduction would be made to Miss Doe.
Similarly at functions presided over by host or hostess, guests are introduced to the
presiding person, irrespective of differences of age or rank or sex. It is important to speak clearly when making an introduction. The purpose of social introductions is to establish a common level between people and so put them at their ease in one another’s company. Failure to hear names in mumbled introductions can cause embarrassment to all concerned. It is, of course, quite in order, and often necessary to ask that the name be repeated. This should be done as pleasantly and informally as possible.
If you are yet a child and you bring your personal friends into the home, it is your duty to introduce them to your parents. Even though you may be the host on the occasion, your parents have a right to know who is coming into the home. To fail in this matter would show thoughtlessness and a lack of respect for the authority of your parents. You should be ready also to introduce your friends to the other members of your family. When convenient, this can be done by introducing them as a group, but mentioning each one’s name in the form of introduction. To try to introduce individually the members of two groups of persons is cumbersome and confusing. When introducing a single person to a large group, it is polite to use some such formula as “I would like you all to know Frank Light”, after which the latter may be introduced to one or two members of the group so that he may converse with them at ease until he has an opportunity of meeting others.
Some people find it difficult to remember the names and faces of those introduced to them. It is a definite social virtue to be able to remember the names and other facts concerning those to whom we have been introduced. People feel complimented when they are remembered after an introduction. It is worth the trouble to cultivate this facility of memory.
A man normally stands for an introduction, especially when being introduced to a lady or to a person of higher rank. There are, however, less formal occasions when the three parties to an introduction, of more or less equal rank, might remain seated around a table or on a lounge. As always, it is a matter of appreciating the position quickly and applying common sense.
It is not possible to lay down anything definite on shaking hands at introductions, except the rule that the person higher in rank or dignity has the right of offering or not offering the hand. In practice, this means that if you are being introduced to a lady or any person above you in rank, you should not take the initiative in the matter of hand-shaking. You should, however, be alert to accept the hand-shake when it is offered. Shaking hands at introductions has become the general practice amongst men; it is always a friendly gesture and has the advantage of relieving any tension that might arise.
Meeting in the street
It may happen that you are walking in the street with a friend when you meet an acquaintance who is not known to your friend. In such cases, if you desire to stop and chat, your companion should walk on a few paces and wait for you. Meanwhile you should not prolong the conversation more than a few moments before making the necessary introduction. It would show very bad manners to leave your companion stranded while you carried on a lengthy conversation with the person you have met.
Sometimes you will find it necessary to introduce yourself to a stranger. You may wish, for instance, to make yourself known to a travelling companion in a railway compartment or on board ship. The actual introduction is sometimes preceded by a few casual remarks or small-talk. By this means you can judge whether the other person wants to converse. Above all you should avoid anything suggestive of the “I’m Joe Blow, who are you?” manner.
It is always regarded as an impertinence to introduce oneself to a lady. The initiative, which incidentally she is not likely to take, rests with her. She may listen to you, but she has the right to ignore you. It is better therefore to be careful and not walk into trouble.
Forms of introduction
There are certain set forms for making introductions that need to be learnt. They at least have the merit of always being acceptable and at the same time save us the trouble of trying to be original. Whatever form of words is being used, it is always correct to preface it with the name of the person to whom the introduction is being made. Thus you might say: “Miss Finch, may I introduce Mr Paul Wren?”, or if the occasion is less formal, “Miss Finch, may I introduce Paul Wren?” You then turn towards Mr Wren and say “Miss Finch”, accompanying the words with a slight gesture of the hand or a bow. Mr Wren then says: “How do you do?” to which Miss Finch replies: “How do you do?” or some equivalent phrase.
It is not considered correct to say “Pleased to meet you”. In any case you cannot always use that phrase sincerely. Nor is it correct to say “Miss Finch, meet Mr Paul Wren”. It is to be remembered that in making an introduction you are requesting a favour, not giving an order. However, on less formal occasions custom sanctions the abbreviated form in which the names only are mentioned in the actual words of introduction, thus: “Miss Finch—Paul Wren”.
Do not make double introductions, such as “Miss Herring— Mr Rod Pike. Mr Pike—Miss Herring”. Such forms are clumsy and quite unnecessary. The link is established once you have gone from Pike to Herring. There is no point in going in reverse.
Here now are some forms of introduction that might be used in the more usual cases you are likely to meet: “Mr Grey, may I introduce Mr White?” (Mr Grey is older than Mr White.) “Father, may I introduce my sister.” (A Priest is higher in dignity than a lady.) “Mrs Blunt, may I introduce Miss Sharp?” (The unmarried is introduced to the married person.) “Mr Hansard, may I introduce Mr Booth?” (Mr Hansard is the younger of the two, but he is also the local Member of Parliament.)
“Miss Sealyham, may I introduce Mr Dane?” (A gentleman is introduced to a lady.)