First Impressions (Part 4)

6. Remembering names: An old proverb says, “The sweetest sound to the human ear is that of one's own name.”  If you are able to recall a name later in the conversation or in future meetings, you signal to the other person that you value knowing him/her and have made the effort to remember his/her name.  For this purpose, insert the name in the conversation several times before saying goodbye.  For example, "How long have you lived in Hong Kong, Rebecca?"  Making a comment: "Wow, Doug, that's a great tie.  Did you find it here in the city?"

If the person comes from a different background, the name may be unusual.  If you don't understand the name upon introduction, immediately ask for help since repetition is crucial.  "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that.  Could you say that name again?"  If you don't catch it a second time, apologize for not hearing it and ask the person to spell it.  This may lead to an interesting conversation about the person's name and background.  For example, "I've never heard the name Headbloom before.  Is it common in the U.S.?"

 7. Saying goodbye: Farewells provide one last chance to practice the new person's name.  Be sure to include it: "It was so nice to meet you, Samuel.  I look forward to seeing you again soon."  If there was something particularly interesting in the conversation, you may close with, "Sarah, I look forward to continuing our conversation about [say, World Cup soccer]."  or "I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on [say, student scholarships]."

Americans may not shake hands on subsequent greeting, especially if they meet fairly often.  However, it is appropriate to shake hands in farewell after the first meeting.  If the conversation has gone particularly well or a special warmth was felt, the handshake may be accompanied by one or two pats of the left palm on the person's shoulder or upper arm when saying goodbye.  If you feel a particular closeness to the other person, the double-handed handshake can communicate special warmth.

So, there you have it: 7 tips on making a good first impression.  If you have other questions on interacting with Americans, send them to us via our website, Facebook, or Twitter.  Who knows?  Perhaps we will feature your question in a future segment.  Take care, now! 

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.