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What your English teacher never told you - Nice to meet you!

Febbraio 2015
Oltre le regole di grammatica che si trovano sui libri di testo c’è un mondo: il mondo della lingua vera, parlata, delle piccole grandi ‘regole non scritte’ che non si imparano a scuola ma che sono infinitamente più importanti per evitare le brutte figure. Rachel Roberts ci guiderà alla scoperta di questo mondo. Iniziamo facendo tutti un passo indietro: presentiamoci!

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

One of the first things you learn when studying English is how to present yourself and most people learn phrases such as “How do you do?” or “Hi, my name is...” However, one thing that language teachers don’t explain is that British people very rarely use these expressions. Kate Fox’s book, Watching the English is a good place to find out how we actually greet each other. According to Fox, British people are not very good at introductions in informal situations. They are not sure what to say or what to do with their hands. Whereas Italians or Americans will confidently extend their hands to people they meet at parties or social situations, English people prefer just to smile.


Fox also describes what she calls the “No-name rule.” “You do not,” she says, “go up to someone at a party (or in any other social situation) and say,’“Hello, I’m John Smith.’” Expressions like this, or “Hi, my name’s…” are only used when we have to identify ourselves; for example when we go to an appointment at the dentist’s or the hairdresser’s, or if we’re telephoning someone to ask for information about ourselves. Dialogues in school books where English teenagers present themselves to each other on the first day of school are pure fantasy.
In informal social situations, British people prefer to start chatting about something neutral like the weather, or else they use humour to break the ice. When the conversation has progressed, or even just before leaving, you can say, “I’m Ann, by the way,” or “I didn’t catch your name.” If you meet the person again you can say, “Hello again” or, more colloquially, “Hi ya,’ which stands for ‘Hello, nice to see you again.”


In the case of formal meetings or business situations, many language courses teach the expression “How do you do?” –  to which you should answer “How do you do?” This phrase is also recommended by the website ediplomat.com and Debrett’s, the famous specialist publisher that has a range of guides on British etiquette.
I have never said “How do you do” in  my entire life and no one has ever said that to me! In today’s Britain this expression is best reserved for extremely formal situations. It is, however, something that people over 60 might say, so if your elderly boss or professor uses this expression with you, then it’s polite to answer in the same way.


“Nice to meet you” is always a safe choice. It’s polite and appropriate for a first-time meeting with anyone from your new boss to friend’s mother. You can answer “Nice to meet you, too” or “Nice to meet you!” On these occasions you can shake hands – usually only for the first meeting – and the handshake should be firm but brief. British people are not very tactile with people they don’t know. If you are told the person’s first name you should use it. Brits don’t really like formal titles.
Young people have found the perfect substitute for “How do you do?” which is “All right?” Like “How do you do?” it’s not a real question and you can answer in the same way. Young people usually shorten the expression to ‘“A’righ?” and they use it for first and subsequent meetings.


There is one thing you must always avoid – talking about yourself too much! British people hate boasting. If you’re lucky enough to have an interesting job, then try and make it sound uninteresting at first. Just say, “I’m here to study’” not “I’m doing a doctorate in astrophysics.” Boasting about your income or career is also considered extremely bad taste, so don’t do it, even if you have spent hours learning the correct vocabulary!
If all that sounds complicated, don’t worry. Being foreign helps; no one would expect an Italian to behave exactly like a British person. Most of all, remember that the key to getting it right in any social situation is listening carefully to what other people around you are saying and copying them.

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