Like countless other couples in the U.S., my partner and I have been to a myriad of parties this holiday season.
Generally, I thrive at holiday gatherings. I’ve got a collection of sharp winter suits, I’m adept at small talk, and I don’t shy away from a whiskey with a cinnamon twist. But these events tend to highlight my biggest social flaw: remembering names.
That woman from the ballet, my partner’s colleague from the previous holiday party, that couple we occasionally see – and so many Jacobs! It’s a struggle.
Spending Christmas in Virginia with my boyfriend and his family, I’m surrounded by people I’ve only met a few times. So, I turned to etiquette experts for advice on how to gracefully handle forgetting names without offending anyone.
Sara Jane Ho, a Harvard-educated etiquette expert and host of Netflix’s “Mind Your Manners,” advises, “If you’ve met someone several times but can’t recall their name, it’s crucial not to let on that you’ve forgotten.”
Here’s her alternative strategy.
Add Them to Your Contacts
Your phone can be your savior in potentially awkward situations, etiquette professionals suggest.
Ho’s tactic is straightforward: “I say, ‘I recently got a new phone and lost all my contacts. Could you put your number in again?’” This approach works well, especially with new acquaintances – just ask for their number or Instagram handle to keep in touch.
My boyfriend, who’s adept at social media, employs a similar strategy. It not only saves him in social situations but also helps him remember names for future encounters.
Enlist the Help of a Partner
As the only gay person in the D.C. area without an Instagram, I often rely on my boyfriend for assistance at gatherings – a tactic endorsed by etiquette experts.
Ho suggests, “At a party, introduce the person to someone else. They’ll likely introduce themselves then.”
If my boyfriend knows the person whose name I can’t recall, I discreetly seek his aid: “What’s the name of the guy in the tank top?”
Diane Gottsman, founder of the Protocol School of Texas and an etiquette expert, agrees: “Set up a system with your partner. If you see someone you can’t remember, ask a friend or the host for a reminder. Preparation is key.”
Sometimes You Have to Take the L
Hosting a party with a diverse group? Name tags can be a great solution, Gottsman suggests. “It’s an effective way to avoid awkward moments.”
But if name tags aren’t an option and you draw a blank, tricks like introductions or handing over your phone might seem insincere. Avoid using vague terms like “Hi, honey,” or “Hey, you.”
Gottsman advises honesty: “Say, ‘I’m sorry, I know we’ve met before. Could you remind me of your name?’ It shows genuine interest and authenticity, as opposed to sounding fake, which people can easily detect.”