There goes the ping of my email inbox.
I open a message from someone I've never previously met, spoken to, are corresponded with, and the email begins: “Hi Simon, how are you today?”. Sometimes, there is a variant which expresses an equally vacuous sentiment: “I hope your (sic) well”. I thought it was my being a misery guts, or an old fart, or northern (or indeed all three) that enraged me about this over-familiar approach from a complete stranger - the grammatical infelicity is another matter entirely - but it appears that I am by no means alone.
Apparently, people all over the country are exasperated about the phenomenon known as “cold-caller chumminess”, and resent getting personalised emails from companies contacting them at random. What's wrong the simple formalities of inter-personal communication? When did Mr, Mrs or Ms fall out of fashion?
Perhaps it is an age thing, but when I get a phone call from my credit card company, or my mobile phone provider, and the person at the other ends starts addressing me by my first name, I find it rather off-putting. A survey conducted by the online company Ask Jeeves confirms that this is indeed a generational issue. Older people seek a return to what they consider the proprieties of formal exchanges, while those who have grown up with the general familiarity of Twitter, and have Facebook “friends” that they've never even met before, have no problem with a server at Starbucks calling out their first name when their skinny latte is ready.
Perhaps it is another example of American cultural imperialism. Every worker in a service industry in the States wears a name badge. And I've noticed a growing trend towards over-familiarity among waiters in restaurants here, and this is something definitely imported from the US. “Hi, my name's Carrie, and I'm your server,” they'll say, setting the tone of casual intimacy, and then ask, rhetorically: “How are you today?” I always have to stop myself answering that I'm fine today, but yesterday I had a terrible headache. (I realise just in time that this would make me appear to be a stuck-up, British, literal-minded bore.)
For sure, we want those with whom we come into contact to take an interest in us, but we Brits are sufficiently emotionally evolved to understand the big difference between behaviour that is respectfully solicitous and that which is inappropriately forward. The dilemma is what to do about it. It's easy to ignore emails, but can you really tell Dean from a call centre in Lincolnshire that you'd rather he called you Mr or Mrs than used your first name? Or explain to a waitress that you'd prefer it if she didn't sit at your table while taking an order?
Of course not. It would sound terrible, and might give the impression that you were hostile and aloof (you may consider this, in fact, to be an advantage of such an approach). In the end, I suppose it's another manifestation of modern world communication to which we'll just have to acclimatise. Or suck it up, to use appropriately contemporary language. Hey, what do you think? Drop me a line. But please remember to call me Mr Kelner.
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