How I've learned to play the name game

Last Friday, I went to a party where I didn't know anyone except the person I came with. Here is a sample of the introductions that followed: A square block of man introduced himself with a wet kiss on my hand; a lovely French woman fumbled her double bisou and said, "Nize to mit you." Near the food table, a man in gray sweats stared at me for a full minute before approaching me with this one: "Hi, I just got a ticket for being in a bus lane. I'm not really a bus-lane kind of guy."

I remembered two of three names but ran into the third (bus-lane guy) yesterday at the grocery store. It was a bit awkward, since he did remember my name. I escaped by remembering I was late for an appointment.

In college, this sort of thing happened frequently, so my best friend and I developed a system that eliminated the problem. Since we were often together, when someone we didn't remember approached us, we would introduce each other to the name-unknown party first. Jackie would say, "Have you met my friend Felice?" and I would say, "Hi, nice to meet you. What was your name?" as if Jackie had said it, but I hadn't caught it.

This tactic worked seamlessly. Jackie would continue to chat, using the reacquired name as if she had always known it. We did this for each other hundreds of times.

I also had a system to help people who had forgotten my name but were too embarrassed to ask. I'd pretend to stub my toe and say, "Good one, Felice!" or "Come on, Felice, get with it." If they didn't catch on, I'd talk about how many times people have sung the "Feliz Navidad" song to me, or about the time I met someone with the same name as I have, and how I'd met her again in a different city 12 years later.

You might think that I'm pretty smooth, but it was not always so. I first began experimenting with different methods of introduction in the second grade. Prior to that, parents or teachers introduced me to my friends. This was how I met Olivia, who lived next door to me on Hoffman Street. Olivia and I played together every day.

One day, a new family moved in down the street. Olivia and I saw a girl about our age playing in the front yard while her parents unloaded the U-haul. We watched her from a distance. We wanted to play with her but weren't sure how to go about it.

We figured that we couldn't play with her unless we knew her name, so we tried to guess it. I thought she was definitely a Jennifer, but Olivia was equally sure she was Ashley. Thus arose our next course of action: We decided that we would walk by her front yard, say hello, call her the name we thought was hers, and see what happened.

As we walked slowly past her house I gave Olivia the signal.

"Hi, Jennifer."

"Hi, Ashley," we said at the same time.

The girl looked up from her doll with a look of total confusion. She didn't respond. She stared at us as we continued to walk awkwardly down the sidewalk as if nothing had happened.

Olivia and I spent the rest of the day in our back yards, out of sight.

A few years later, I learned the "Hi, my name is Felice, what's yours?" method. From then on, things went much more smoothly. In fact, it is still my standby greeting, when I am not feeling up to anything fancy.

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