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Introductions 101: This one's for the kids

Dear Mr. Smith: Is it just me or do young people not know how to be introduced these days? Many don't seem to know how to give a firm handshake and look you in the eye or what to say when they are introduced.

I have noticed at university graduation ceremonies that there is a certain diffidence on display when young graduates accept their diploma and a handshake. And there is now a whole variety of things that people say when you introduce them, from "How are you?" to "Nice to meet you." These are all acceptable now, as contemporary society values friendliness over rules.

But if you are ever in doubt about what to do, old conventions are your friend. Here, for what they are worth, is the traditional etiquette on introductions:

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If you are the host, you do the introductions. If you are with someone and you meet someone else you know, you do the introductions. Introduce the younger person to the older person, the junior person to the senior person (in other words, you say, "Colonel Mustard, this is Bingo Little," not the other way around). Introduce men to women ("Eleanor, this is Bingo"). Introduce the group to an individual first ("Bingo, this is Rahim, Christina and Bianca") and then the group to the individual ("Everyone, this is Bingo").

It helps sometimes to say something about how you met the person you are introducing ("Bingo and I play polo together"), but it is absolutely not necessary to label everyone by their occupation ("Christina is a hedge-fund manager, Bingo works at Starbucks but is putting together a modelling portfolio") nor to give a detailed rundown of your friend's recent accomplishments.

It is very common these days, particularly in status-obsessed places like Toronto, to ask someone right away what he or she does for a living, but traditionally this is seen as gauche, as sensitive people do not define others by their vocations.

On being introduced, you give a firm but not crushing handshake that lasts a second or so and includes one or two pumps up and down. On doing this, you look the person in the eye. Try to avoid other physical contact - even the simultaneous elbow grab that is so common among alpha males - if you are meeting someone for the first time.

Now the thorny issue of what to say. If you are of British or anglophilic ancestry or simply from the old-money establishment, you were probably taught to say "How do you do?" on being introduced. This is not, contrary to common belief, a question with an answer: The proper response is to repeat, "How do you do?" This can sound quite stiff and formal in North America and so it is always acceptable to simply say, "Hello." In formal surroundings, I find the most common phrase now is "Nice to meet you," but it is not necessary. And bear in mind that "How's it going?" is a question that, while friendly, doesn't really expect an answer and so may unnecessarily prolong these formulaic greetings.

Russell Smith's new novel, Girl Crazy, was recently released.

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