Introductions Deconstructed (Rules and Exceptions) – Part 3: Awkward and Special Situations


This three-part series winds up by focusing on those awkward, unusual, new and special situations.

Who’s that lady?

You’re on vacation with your parents and you see your basketball coach and his wife in your hotel courtyard. Oh, how cute, they’re holding hands! Your parents want to meet them, so you walk over only to discover that the woman with your coach is not his wife, to whom you were introduced at your school’s sports banquet last year.

You say:

a)    Gosh, Coach Tallman, who’s that lady?

b)    Coach Tallman, Ma’am, I’d like you to meet my parents.

c)    Hi, Coach Tallman.  And, uh, um, er…..”

The answer is “b.”  No matter how confused, shocked or outraged you might be, you must maintain your cool and observe decorum. Be polite and brief – you don’t want to prolong everyone’s discomfort. After 30 seconds of small talk, you and your parents should bow out smoothly and quickly. Be assured that your coach will lose some sleep over the encounter!

Don’t Look Now, But Here Comes That Guy!

You’re on the quad. It’s a beautiful summer evening, you’ve just settled in your dorm room, and you’re hanging out with your friends, when along comes that annoying guy who just moved into the room across from yours. You have the urge to run, but find yourself rooted to the spot. You watch helplessly as he approaches.


a)    Grab your friends’ hands and run.

b)    Tell your annoying dorm mate that your new, very attractive RA has been looking for him, and hope that he goes off to find her.

c)    Introduce your friends to him – yes, you say his name first.  And be gracious; it’s a sign of maturity and control:  “Hi, Bentley!  Meet my friends, Jen and Hank.  So, are you all settled in?”

You know the answer is “c,” right?  Regardless of how you feel about this individual, don’t match his boorish behavior.  Practicing civility can diffuse unpleasant situations and enhance your reputation, as well as potentially change other people’s behavior for the better.

Same Sex Couples

According to Steve Petrow, author of, Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Life, the most common question in gay and lesbian etiquette is, “what do I call the significant other of my gay or lesbian friend?”  Mr. Petrow suggests that you “listen to how a couple refers to each other.”

This brings us to the question of how to introduce same sex couples. The best approach to this quandary, as Mr.Petrow suggests, is to ask your friends and colleagues how they wish to be introduced when they are part of a couple, or listen carefully when they refer to each other.

Rachel Maddow, for instance, is reported to refer to her significant other her “girlfriend.” As Ellen DeGeneres is married, Portia de Rossi is referred to as her wife. I’ve read that David Furnish, Elton John’s partner, is referred to as both Mr. John’s husband as well as his partner.

If you don’t have specific information, using the word, “partner,” is pretty safe. If a different designation is preferred, most people will tell you, and if they don’t, ask.

Examples (when you know what the people involved wish to be called):

  • Professor Blake, I’d like to introduce my former college roommate, Barry O’Brien, and his partner, Alan Cohen.
  • We’re all glad to be here to congratulate Maria and her fiancée (female designation) Patti Hanson.
  • John and Brad, please say hello to my parents, Ellen and Dan Crenshaw. Mom, Dad, this is my boss, John McManus and his husband, Bradley Cooper.

Examples (when you’re not sure how the people involved wish to be called):

  • Linda and Maddy, I’m delighted to introduce my partner, Janet Jones. Jan, this is my former college roommate, Linda Stewart, and her partner, Madison Smith.
  • President Coburn and Mr. Landry, I’d like to present my boyfriend, Todd Petry. Todd, please meet Lester Coburn, president of the college, and his partner, Elton Landry.

Elected Officials

With so many students, new graduates and young professionals joining the various 2012 political campaigns, it’s important that we know the protocol of introductions of elected officials. As this subject is extensive, and some of the titles of the lesser officials vary from state to state, I’ll cover just a few of the more common positions in the running this year.

  • The President of the United States:  When making a formal introduction say, “The President” or “The President of the United States.” When making an informal introduction say, “Mr.” or “Madam” President. When addressing the President say, “Mr.” or “Madam” President or “Sir” or “Madam.”  Because of the President’s high rank you  say his name first, except if you are introducing him or her as your parent. Then, you would say, “Ms. Henry, I’m pleased to introduce you to my father, the President. Dad, please meet the principal of my school, Ms. Alice Henry.”
  • The Vice President of the United States: You would address him or her in a similar manner as the President, but instead say, “Vice President.”
  • United States Senator: When introducing say, “Senator” (first / last name); when addressing him or her say, “Senator” (last name).
  • Member of the House of Representatives: When introducing say, “The Honorable” or “Representative” Nita Lowey (of New York, or whichever state the member represents). In less formal situations, and when conversing, introduce and address the member as “Mr.” or “Ms.” or “Mrs.” If you are referring to a member of the House say, “Representative” or “Congressman” or “Congresswoman” (last name).
  • Federal Judge: When introducing, say, “Justice” (first and last name or last name only); when addressing, say, “Mr. / Madame Justice” or “Judge” (last name).
  • Member of the State Assembly: To introduce say, “The Honorable” (first and last name); to address say, “Assemblywoman” or “Assemblyman” (last name).
  • Delegate: To introduce, say “Delegate” (first / last name); to address, say “Delegate” (last name).

When Introductions Are Unnecessary or Subject to a Judgment Call

Some introductions are generally unnecessary or optional, such as:

  • You run into a friend or acquaintance while walking with others and you stop briefly to chat while the others walk on.  Introductions are optional.
  • You’re dining with friends or colleagues and a friend stops by your table to say hello. You needn’t make introductions unless you wish to do so.  For example, you know that one of the people at your table wishes to meet your friend or has something in common with him; otherwise it’s not necessary to make introductions. If you need to speak with your friend, excuse yourself and step away from the table briefly; don’t keep your other friends waiting.

Faux Pas To Avoid When Making Introductions

  • Interrupting a serious or lively conversation; wait for a convenient or appropriate moment.
  • Breaking eye contact or looking around while speaking with someone.
  • Making inappropriate comments about sensitive subjects, such as divorces, job losses, financial situations, illnesses and other personal issues.
  • Bringing up controversial topics such as politics (especially local) and religion.
  • Gushing over or embarrassing people whom you are introduced.
  • Deferring to one person and ignoring another; include both or all parties in any conversation that follows an introduction or greeting.
  • Monopolizing the conversation that follows an introduction or greeting. Resist the temptation to talk too much, especially about yourself, even if others are reluctant to join in the conversation.

There’s even more to this subject, especially when you enter the areas of government protocol. But I think you now have a pretty solid grounding in the art of making introductions!

Until next time,


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