I am at my ease arriving places solo. Not only are there usually employees willing enough to let me engage them in conversation and thus shave a few minutes off their workday, but I also quite enjoy striking up interactions with strangers. This is usually unexpected, as my purposeful determination to interrupt their solitude and/or smartphone attentions is accompanied by a big smile, and me of course likely to be wearing something dressy and/or outlandish. Also, whatever observation I conversationally offer is likely to be fairly random and perhaps at first glimpse confusing. But always almost always maneuvering to elicit a laugh.
It is invariably satisfying to achieve banter so quickly as often is the case, and quite reassuring to observe how humans can prove so well adept at stoking one another’s cleverness. Often after a few cyclings through of lively give and take, we can part ways, duly fulfilled by the light of lightness. That’s the ideal result for me, and most often achieved when I’m the party initiating the initial exchange.
Alas, all this buoyancy is all too easily deflated by the dread default inquiry I most often meet when confronted by the outstretched hand of a stranger: “What’s your name? I’m (a name highly unlikely to be recalled).”
I know, I know this overture is well-meaning, and probably thought of as baseline polite. But I truly believe it is an utter energy-killer, and undoes any likelihood that we will come to even a small inkling of one another’s personality or humor. It makes me feel as if they’ve gathered the information necessary to neatly check a box that somehow means I’ve been acknowledged as existing because yes I have a name and it’s been asked and, well, now what?
This convention admittedly bothers me in part because when it’s males asking, I do not appreciate feeling obliged to make physical contact with them, wholly uninitiated or invited. Wasn’t it once a thing that you waited for a lady to offer her hand? Plus, perhaps there’s a slight whiff of officialdom to the inquiry that seems a bit too reminiscent of the information gathering that goes with, say, treaty-making or freedom papers. Traumatic historical memory can be surprisingly influential and I’m maybe not even partway kidding.
Also, interestingly, I’ve often read that giving one’s name is not a traditional cultural norm in my own tribe or that of many others. It’s considered intimate information, and thus only of appropriate interest once a deeper knowledge of someone has been attained through repeated contact and familiarity. Which pans out in my experience, as there are several severals of very awesome people whom I’ve gotten to know progressively : by face recognition, on to brief jokey banter, on to conversation, on to dancing, and so forth until one day it is natural and fun for us to realize in the midst of again enjoying company, “say, what is your name by the way?” It’s fodder for a charmed laugh, and to be sure, our names are mutually remembered thereafter, because matched to an already familiar and actuated individual.
Because what is the result of all those immediate exchanges of names? I’m certain I’m not alone in saying I can never remember a single one.