Hilary and her husband are giving a summer party. She'd like everyone to wear name-tags because she's always left to do the introductions while he has a good time. He says `name-tags are an awful idea and adults can introduce themselves.
"This is Phillipa, she's got a shih-tzu just like yours - and this is Bruce, he lives down the road and is a genius with a curtain rail ... ha, ha, ha!" I find it pretty astonishing that we still live in an age where introductions are necessary at parties. There's the problem of never knowing when to break up couples who appear deep in conversation - are they stuck, or glued, very different things - there's the anxiety that those who sit down to talk to a deaf old neighbour must be kept circulating, for fear of never being able to get up; there's the fear that at the end of the evening two people who you've been dying to meet for years never team up. Parties that have a focus make self-introduction much easier. If it's someone's birthday, the question "How long have you known Andrea?" or whatever is an easy way to start a conversation, and if it's a street party, the fact that you're all neighbours gives you instant subjects in common. I recently gave a neighbours party and stuck stickers showing the numbers of their houses and flats on them as they came in - it was one of those optional, peer-pressure jobs - and just that broke the ice and made people approach each other on "members of the same community" levels rather than professional levels, always a bit of an inhibitor.
But I am shocked that Hilary's husband never introduces people at his parties. It is the number one rule for hosts and hostesses: they must never, ever enjoy themselves at their own parties. Hosts and hostesses should and must be drained with exhaustion from handing things round, pouring wine, making sure the children are entertained, and, of course, introducing, introducing, introducing. At the end of the best party, a host and hostess should be resolving never to give another party again. A host and hostess's role is to give, not to take, and if you enjoy yourself, you will be like those actors who self-indulge during plays. I think it was John Osborne who said that the least complimentary thing you can say to an actor when you go backstage is, "You looked as if you were enjoying yourself." The same applies to hosts and hostesses, who should treat parties, even the most informal, like stage productions, rather than mish-mashes of old strangers who can just get on with it.
Hilary's husband is right - name-tags are too odd and convention-like, and I don't think they'd work. But even though their friends are adults, that doesn't mean for a moment that they have no fear of introducing themselves. Even I, quite an old party hand, find it difficult to turn to a complete stranger and stick out my hand. I force myself to do it, but I don't like it. We are still a long way from the civilised atmosphere in the United States, where strangers start up amusing conversations in lifts and even on the street.
If I were Hilary I'd forget about the name-tags, tell her husband that he's got to pull his weight a bit more; pay a couple of children to do the handing round, and make a focus for her party. Her dog's birthday, the christening of a newly decorated sitting-room (or a wake for the old one, if it's peeling), the passing of an exam, the ending of summertime ...there's always something to be dredged up. However tiny is the sense of occasion, it really does add that bit of oil which makes self-introduction that much easier.
What readers say
Name-tags don't have to be Goofy
I have been to and hosted parties where name-tags are ok! Names of characters from sport, politics, TV programmes, cartoons and many other sources are written on sticky labels and placed on guests' backs-with guests having no knowledge of the name. The "ice-breaking" game entails guests asking each other questions in order to identify the name.
This party game is ideal for talking with many guests and serves to get acquainted with each other.
Turn tags into a groovy party game
Tags do look too like a business convention. May I suggest pinning tags on the backs of guests which would read certain objects which have a relative connection. For instance the host would whisper to each person what their own tag was, say, "violin" and he or she must search to find the opposite number, say "'cello or "trombone". The host could suggest many connections and pair up the females with the males. This is a relaxed and humorous way to start a party.
Forget the tags, forget the party
Hilary, your problem is not the name-tags. It is that you are involved, in any shape or form, with the organisation of a "summer party". I think we're all aware this is a euphemism for people standing around in a garden trying to be witty or "dancing" to a dreary succession of Fleetwood Mac and Abba records.
I think you need to examine your priorities. You, and other members of the bourgeoisie, need to be made aware that the money you spent on cocktail sausages would be better spent on feeding starving children in Africa. The only possible advantage to name-tags is that we have a good idea who it is that will be up against the wall come the revolution. Hilary, get a life.
There's more to introductions than names
Name-tags would not replace the need to introduce people. The important part of an introduction is not "Meet Susan", but "Susan and I used to go to school together" or "play badminton together". This kick-starts the conversation. The most important part of a badge a t a convention is not the name, but the organisation the person is from - this enables people to start conversations with the people they want to speak to without being normally introduced. So drop the name tags, spend the first hour or so introducing people like good hostess, and after that they will all get on with it themselves. Have a good party.
I'll be name-tagging, too
In a word GOFORIT! I am determined to have name-tags for a gathering I am planning for the autumn of family and friends from far and wide. Some will know each other well and others will be strangers.
Apart from the name (part of which will be written very black and large enough to be read without having to peer through a magnifying glass - none of this pallid, puny print). I have worked out a number of symbols giving a small clue to each guest's occupation or interests. This has taken a bit of research. The interpretation of the symbols may take some working out but that in itself should provide a starting point for a chat.
So Hilary, take courage, there is at least one other hostess who is going to name tag her guests and be blowed to the etiquette.
Next week's problem: `cruelty' in an old people's home
My father is in an old people's home and in a fairly muddled state, but when I get up to leave from visiting he gets very upset, saying that there's one nurse he sees in the morning who bullies and teases him about his incontinence pads. I feel this is so incredibly cruel, and I've mentioned it to the woman who runs the nursing home, but she says he's inventing the problem and he's one of the most cheerful people here, and that he's always game for a joke. However, I feel anxious. Should I mention it again, or would it make him get picked on even more? Yours sincerely, Juliet
Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293-2182) by Tuesday morning. If you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.
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