I'm a sociable guy. I smile when I greet people even when they can't remember my name for the third time in three meetings. ("Chuck? You look more like a Lars.")
I used to get annoyed by this, but these days I can understand how someone forgets your name. We're bombarded by first names. Everyone we encounter provides them – maybe because we are living in a "friendly" country. Notice, I'm not saying "happy" but "friendly." After all, can you think of any other country where waiters tell you their first names?
I haven't been introduced to a lot of Pierres or Giorgios on my visits to overseas restaurants. But I have spent many dinners here with a Tiffany.
Even teachers are adopting the familiar approach. It's not "Mr. Arnold" anymore. It's "Bill." How that would make a student remember the dates of the Hundred Years War any better baffles me. The way I look at it, Bill might forgive me for thinking the war only lasted 99 years, but "Mr. Arnold" would give me an F.
Car dealers may be the friendliest of all. Trying to distract you from a truculent transmission, they remind you just how friendly their salesmen – Ernie and Bobby – are. If that's not chummy enough, wait till you meet their sales manager, Jake, who's happy to be called Butch.
Telemarketers play the genial game by introducing themselves with a big, "Hello, my name is Wendell, but you can call me Steve," before they mention the 20 percent interest rate on the credit card. Actually, they never mention the interest rate.
Parents are no longer Mr. and Mrs., or sir and ma'am, but Buffy and Binky. Airline reservation agents think that by calling themselves Kim or Lance we're going to believe that they are just around the corner and not in Calcutta or Bombay. But this affability even extends to people with nothing to sell you. I'm not sure why flight attendants feel a need to tell you their first names. In all my travels, I have never heard any passenger call out, "Betsy, can you help me open my cashews?" Or, "Can Captain Bob come back so I can discuss his choice of runway?"
So, isn't it time we put a friendly stop to being so friendly? With everyone trying to amend the Constitution these days, perhaps we should sneak one in between bans on flag burning and letting illegal immigrants pick apples. This amendment would outlaw the use of first names between people who have known each other for less than two hours. After that, people are permitted to call each other by first names, but only if both parties agree, in writing.
My name is Mr. Cohen. Thanks for reading.
• Chuck Cohen (Chuck if you've known him more than two hours) is a writer in Mill Valley, Calif.