Author Topic: Addressing people in America  (Read 6210 times)

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lollylegs

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Addressing people in America
« on: November 28, 2011, 07:05:05 PM »
My partner and I are visiting a relative of his in the States next year. His relative will also be introducing him to some potential clients so it's sort of a working holiday.

This is probably a silly questions, but in Australia we address pretty much everyone by first name (except for, of course, teachers, police officers, judges, etc) and it would be very strange, when introduced to Bob Jones, to say, "Nice to meet you Mr Jones."  But in America, I believe the norm is to address people as Mr/Mrs Lastname until they say it's okay to use their first name, is that right?  These will be business contacts and obviously we want to make a good first impression.

Not sure if it makes any difference, but we'll be in Oregon.

Brentwood

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2011, 07:07:03 PM »
Actually, I'm not sure that is the norm. No one ever addresses me as Mrs. Lastname except some children. No adults do.

In a business setting, you may want to err on the side of more conservative by using Mr. or Ms. Lastname until told to do otherwise, but my guess is you'll get, "Oh, call me Bob," right away.

Oregon is likely to be pretty laid back.

Wonderflonium

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2011, 07:25:27 PM »
I'm on the East Coast, which has a different culture than the Pacific Northwest. In business situations, if the person is a client or way up the food chain, I default to Mr./Mrs. In peer-to-peer settings, I go by first name.
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lilfox

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2011, 07:30:39 PM »
I think it depends a lot on the type of client/business as well.   Tech work is usually more casual than, say, banking or finance where it may be less common to be on a first-name basis immediately with someone you just met.

Since the relative will be introducing you, if they use a title in the introduction, go with that title unless the new person says otherwise:

"I'd like you to meet Mr. Jones/Mr. Bob Jones"  (Stick with Mr. unless the guy immediately says "Oh call me Bob")

or "I'd like you to meet Bob Jones" (he's probably cool with Bob)

Or skip it altogether - I have only rarely had reason to use someone's name in a conversation with them and it's perfectly acceptable to leave off their name entirely when returning a greeting or when addressing them.  I've had many conversations with people only to realize much later that I couldn't remember their name at all because it was never used after the initial introduction.  (Not a good thing for remembering names but I would say it's pretty common)

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2011, 07:32:05 PM »
While modern manners are more relaxed than in generations past, you will never offend someone by referring to them as Mr./Mrs./Miss-they may say "Please, call me Penelope!" But if they don't, you will know that they prefer the more formal form of address. This would be especially true of someone a bit older or much higher on the food chain.

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MrsJWine

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2011, 07:42:17 PM »
I find it's safest to just ask, "What do you prefer I call you?" There's so much variation. I know people who want to be called by their first names, by Title Lastname (or Firstname), by Mr./Miss Firstname, by Mr./Ms/Miss/Mrs. Lastname, and more. When I was little, all adults were Mr./Miss/Mrs. Lastname, but that now seems to weird a lot of people out.


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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2011, 07:43:20 PM »
Ok, so I have to ask now!  At every company I've worked at over here, the CEO is referred to by his first name. It's "Dan" or "Ted" or "Michelle".    On the US TV shows I see it's always "Mr. Trump" or whoever, said in a respectful tone.  Is that just a thing for television to make them sound more important, or in reality would most company CEOs be referred to as Mr. X or Ms. X by employees?   Even in job interviews here, I've never addressed an interviewer, or been addressed by an interviewee, by anything other than first name. (And there's no formal process of "please call me ceallach" either).   Curious as to what the norm is over there in most people's experience?  Would you walk into an interview and immediately assume you can use their first name?  (Which is an inherent assumption made here that I didn't even realise until now!)
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jmarvellous

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2011, 07:49:33 PM »
The only time I refer to someone by an honorific and their surname is if he or she is my medical doctor or if I'm appealing to the person for a job. Peers and bosses are always referred to by first name in my industry and social life.

Sharnita

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2011, 07:50:31 PM »
While modern manners are more relaxed than in generations past, you will never offend someone by referring to them as Mr./Mrs./Miss-they may say "Please, call me Penelope!" But if they don't, you will know that they prefer the more formal form of address. This would be especially true of someone a bit older or much higher on the food chain.

I agree.

lollylegs

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #9 on: November 29, 2011, 12:31:07 AM »
Interesting. Somewhere I've picked up the idea that it's the height of rude to call people by their first name in American unless they say it's okay. I'm thinking that it's probably best to err on the side of caution. Thanks for the different perspectives.

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #10 on: November 29, 2011, 06:02:14 AM »
Interesting. Somewhere I've picked up the idea that it's the height of rude to call people by their first name in American unless they say it's okay. I'm thinking that it's probably best to err on the side of caution. Thanks for the different perspectives.

Totally depends on the circumstances.  Most adults use first names with each other, but there are some exceptions:

- adults whom you have known since you were a child (I still call my parents' friends "Mr. and Mrs. Lastname")
- ranking military members
- people who are much older than you are (sometimes)
- people in major positions of authority (a judge while in court, a doctor while at the office, etc.)
- the media - newspaper articles will almost always say "Firstname Lastname" the first mention and then "Mr./Ms. Lastname" for the rest of the article, and same goes for TV or radio interviews
- strangers or almost-strangers in professional positions of power.

This last one is tough because it's not black and white - some salespeople will call you "Mr. Lastname" and others will try to skip straight to "Firstname" as soon as possible.  Most medical professionals will refer to you by your last name when you're a patient, but if you see your doctor in a social situation outside the office you could call each other by first names, you might call him Dr. Lastname, or you might just call him "Doctor."  Some clergy go by "Reverend Lastname" while others prefer "Pastor Firstname" instead (and this varies by congregation).  The CEO of a small tech business is likely to go by his/her firstname to the employees, but the CEO of a larger company is probably "Mr./Ms. Lastname" from most of the underlings and in the third person.

There's really no way to tell until you get there and see what everyone else is doing.  If all else fails, ask your partner's relative  what your business contacts prefer to be called.

WestAussieGirl

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #11 on: November 29, 2011, 06:39:29 AM »
I worked in Portland for 6 months and I found it to be extremely casual.  I worked with the government and no-one ever used last names.  The dress was also a lot more casual (both at work and socially) than I'm used to.  I wore the same work clothes I wear here and was easily the most formally dressed every day.  Even at the nicest restaurants there were a lot of people in jeans.

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2011, 06:44:33 AM »
Ok, so I have to ask now!  At every company I've worked at over here, the CEO is referred to by his first name. It's "Dan" or "Ted" or "Michelle".    On the US TV shows I see it's always "Mr. Trump" or whoever, said in a respectful tone.  Is that just a thing for television to make them sound more important, or in reality would most company CEOs be referred to as Mr. X or Ms. X by employees? 

it probably depends on the CEO and, in this case, television. Also, remember on The Apprentice these people are vying for a job; most people are going to call the the head of the company they'd like to be hired by by their surname in the US especially when it is an upper-level job.  I doubt many people go into a job interview and say "yes, Sally, I have 5 years experience making widgets and customizing them, often with venomous fangs"  - they'd say "Yes Ma'am/TitleLastName/nothing [if they are unsure]."

Certainly I have never worked anywhere where you are expected to call your bosses by title last names. Some bosses only ever get called by their last names- "Hey, Reynolds, the widgetmaker just arrived" and I had a job where you always had to specify when talking about a boss by using the first and last name as there were two men with the same first name.

Just Lori

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #13 on: November 29, 2011, 07:03:21 AM »
Ok, so I have to ask now!  At every company I've worked at over here, the CEO is referred to by his first name. It's "Dan" or "Ted" or "Michelle".    On the US TV shows I see it's always "Mr. Trump" or whoever, said in a respectful tone.  Is that just a thing for television to make them sound more important, or in reality would most company CEOs be referred to as Mr. X or Ms. X by employees?   Even in job interviews here, I've never addressed an interviewer, or been addressed by an interviewee, by anything other than first name. (And there's no formal process of "please call me ceallach" either).   Curious as to what the norm is over there in most people's experience?  Would you walk into an interview and immediately assume you can use their first name?  (Which is an inherent assumption made here that I didn't even realise until now!)

I have only one experience with a major corporation (35k employees, international company).  In my experience, people who actually worked with the CEO addressed him by his first name.  People who did not work directly with him called him Mr.

When I worked at the headquarters of a small bank, we addressed the president as Mr.  Everyone else was on a first-name basis.

When I worked at a KMart as a teen-ager, the manager and his assistants were all addressed as Mr, Mrs or Miss.  (This was the '80s and Ms. had not yet caught on in the area.)  There was definitely a pecking order in the store, and you never crossed someone who was addressed by a courtesy title.

Shores

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Re: Addressing people in America
« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2011, 10:01:18 AM »
Interesting. Somewhere I've picked up the idea that it's the height of rude to call people by their first name in American unless they say it's okay. I'm thinking that it's probably best to err on the side of caution. Thanks for the different perspectives.
I'm pretty surprised by some of these responses, to be honest! Just goes to show how many different cultures there are within the US. Where I live (Southern east coast), we call all "superior" or newly introduced business contacts by Mr./Ms. In the situation you described, I would absolutely use "Mr./Ms." So I guess it varies like crazy  in different areas.

Heck, I refer to my STUDENTS as Mr./Ms. last name half the time. :P

The only time I refer to someone by an honorific and their surname is if he or she is my medical doctor or if I'm appealing to the person for a job. Peers and bosses are always referred to by first name in my industry and social life.
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