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February 11, 2020


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Lina Scarpellini

I totally agree with you. Humans like to be treated like humans.

Bart Rosenberg

Has anyone noticed you get a dog's attention by saying its name? Same with humans. Just sayin'


I agree, especially you are going for the most humble human donation; greetings, saying your name repeatedly...m will confort you and make a good memory of the scene .

George Raymond

Then there's the question of what name to use. In Europe, this is tricky. In Germany, I have known people I couldn't imagine calling anything but Herr Schmidt in German but whom I had to call Hans when meeting with them in English with Americans. Once the Americans had left, I went back to German and Herr Schmidt. Over the decades I've been visiting France, the Monsieur Dupont (or no name at all) I once used in non-familiar relationships has morphed into Jacques - but only partially. The French now tend to open their emails with a nameless "Bonjour" but, as Lynn recommends, I write "Bonjour Monsieur Dupont" or "Bonjour Jacques" to better engage the reader.


And then there is the question of using first names instead of Mr., Mrs., Miss., . . . lastname. (I'm sure I butchered the punctuation there). Should we be more formal or is the use of a first name now so common that using the first name with a stranger is just acceptable? I prefer to use the formal Mr./Mrs./Miss xxx until granted permission to use the first name - or is that old school :)

Martha Ray

Thanks for donating blood, Lynn! I do it a couple of times a year as well. It's not fun but it makes me feel good to give a secret gift to someone. I'm sorry to hear that they treated you so coldly.
It's true, being greeted by name sends a warm welcome.
I wonder if you could provide some feedback to the folks in Seattle about your experience, just like you wrote in your blog. It's written without emotion - and is an astute observation that may provide benefit to their organization.
Here in Portland and Vancouver (WA), I donate to Bloodworks NW and they have always been friendly and kind, no matter if we're in a bloodmobile or in a building. I feel fortunate now that I've heard your story. I just thought that blood donors were always treated warmly.
All the best!

Business Writing Blog

Thank you, Lina, Bart, RAM, George, Lionel, and Martha! I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

Lina, I like the way you expressed your point--it's clear and catchy.

Bart, at first I thought you were comparing me to a dog! But, of course, you weren't. Thanks for making that logical, interesting point.

RAM, I like your thought on making a good memory of the experience.

George, what an interesting anecdote--the one about Herr Schmidt. Switching to Hans and then back to Herr Schmidt shows a clear understanding of and respect for what is appropriate in a particular context. Thanks for telling us about it.

Lionel, your choice is not old school. If people want you to be more familiar, they will let you know. I live in the very familiar Pacific Northwest of the United States, where we typically use first names. But when I meet Black people of middle age or older, I always address them with a courtesy title (for example, Mr. Garrett, Miss Eloise, Pastor Patricia) to show respect. I assume that if our relationship develops, our way of addressing each other will change.

Martha, you make a good point. I don't want any of the team to get into trouble, but maybe I can find a way to communicate discreetly. Interestingly, the organization emailed me a survey to complete, but it didn't include any way to comment. Not much of a feedback mechanism! In any case, thanks for the suggestion.


Maria S

Hi, Lynn!

I find the different levels of formality between languages really interesting. Finland is a fairly informal country. We're a bit more formal than, say, Sweden, but I have addressed my teachers by their first name since preschool/kindergarten, anything else would have been unthinkable. That said, when I went on student exchange to France as a slightly older student, I found it completely impossible to address a young professor who was more or less my age (I was a few years older than most of my peers) as anything other than Madame X. Even when she found it awkward and would have preferred me to do it! The only person in authority that I was able to address with the informal tu instead of the formal vous was one of the student office admins who had a some connection to Finland and spoke a few words of the language. Even then, I could only do it when I was talking to her in private or there were only other Finns around. She seemed to understand that we Finns didn't want to make our non-Finnish peers feel weird because they were on more formal terms with the admin.

At the start of the millennium, an American sit-down restaurant chain got a lot of pushback from customers when they wanted their waitstaff to visit the tables and ask customers if they were enjoying their meal. Totally normal, you'd think, but here a lot of people found it intrusive. It's becoming a lot more common in other restaurants, too, but certainly few people would feel their service was lacking without that question. (A crucial difference is that waitstaff, while not well-paid by any means, are paid a more-or-less living wage, so anything that gives a vibe of fishing for tips is a no-no. Tipping is not expected, and in most places staff aren't even allowed to keep any tips themselves. Decent places share any tips with their staff, but it's completely legal for the owner to keep any extra cash that comes in.)


Hi Lynn,

I've often read here and there that people love to hear their name - I reckon this applies to reading it, too. Even to those who don't admit it!

It recently happened to me to receive a cold email from the admin dept of the town police, it started with "Good day, bla bla bla". The whole back-and-forth communication that followed was catastrofic, but I'll keep it for another time, since it would be off-topic here.

It really put me off, because the person perfectly knew my name: I had sent them a form to get a parking permit. It felt rude.

As a result, my reply to that message was even colder, but I at least had the decency to start with the name of the person.

Business Writing Blog

Maria, thanks so much for sharing your story of the use of names in Finland. I had no idea that Finland and Sweden used first names so widely. I am intrigued by your story of code-switching in France when talking with the admin. It reminded me of George's story of talking with Heir Schmidt and changing names depending on the audience.

I also enjoyed reading about the service in restaurants in Finland. As you know, waitstaff rely on tips in the US. It's interesting to learn how the rest of the world works.

Thank you!


Business Writing Blog

Deborah, thank you for your example. It sounds as though the police department could have easily warmed up the message by responding to you by name. Instead, someone made the situation worse and engaged you in an offputting way.

A little warmth and kindness can go far.


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