Addressing people by their names is one way to show them my esteem and consideration for them and it usually makes them feel good. Addressing them by a wrong name however, always drives me into the depths of mortification and of self-worthlessness.

I used to be quite good at this practice (addressing people by their right names) until I reached a certain age.
  • Last weekend at my dear father in law’s funeral, I kept mixing up my mother in law’s and her twin sister’s first names. One is Juliette and the other is Paulette. And they’re not even identical twins. (I don’t even have the excuse of being a newlywed as I’ve been married to her son ZH for 26 years.)
  • On Monday, I went up to a co-worker whom I had met only once to thank him for a writing a helpful email. I said, “Stephen, thanks so much for your message. It really helped resolve bla bla bla…” After a polite silence he said, “I’m sorry, but my name is David.” Oh the hazard of working in a multinational corporation.
  • It’s a long-standing habit of mine to call all my close male friends (and some female) “Darling”. It’s an affectionate term of endearment that conveys my fondness for them while my brain attempts to remember their names. Yesterday, I inadvertently called ZH “Darling”. He said, “But don’t you remember that I’m ‘Chéri’?”
Sometimes it’s best just to call everybody “Um.”
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Place Monge. Tuesday morning back to work after a long weekend. Dashed down the métro stairs in good spirits and spotted a poor schmuck in the glass cubicle wearing an RATP shirt and a hang dog look. He must have the most ungrateful job in the world. This forlorn metro station in the 5th arrondissement sees tourists and students and old people but hardly anybody ever gives the guy a glance unless they’re lost or pissed off or both. So I slowed down at the turnstile and flashed him a winning smile and called out “Bonjour!” Just then I tripped and stumbled — then looked up to see him grinning from ear to ear.

And probably thinking I was flirting with him…