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The name game The name game
by Asa Butcher
2006-09-23 17:38:04
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While I was watching my daughter happily playing in the sandpit in front of our apartment building, a Finnish neighbour decided to strike up some conversation, "You're English aren't you?" I pleaded guilty to the accusation and the chat moved into second gear, "How long have you lived in Finland?" I answered honestly once again and he moved in for an extensive questioning session.

After a pleasant neighbourly chat about Finland, children, the weather and football, I scoop up my sandy child and head back home. "I just had a nice conversation with one of our neighbours," I reveal to my waiting wife, who responds with the question that triggered this article, "What was his name?" I shrug my shoulders and head to the fridge to find something for dinner.

What was his name? Why didn't he tell me? I guess he never had the chance once he had opened with, "You're English aren't you?" He had blown any chance of asking me my name because the conversation would have taken on the sinister form of an interrogation: "You're English aren't you?" "What's your name?" "Why are you here" "Show me your papers!"

The name game has rules and should they be broken we find ourselves walking in no man's land, carefully listening for somebody to shout his name or maybe the chance to sneak a look inside his wallet. If the name does not get a mention in the opening few sentences it becomes increasingly more awkward to ask and if you decide to take the plunge and actually ask it just sounds nosy, "Err, by the way, just out of curiosity, sorry for intruding and everything, but what did your parents name you?"

There are many occasions when the opportunity to ask never comes up during the first meeting, so you when you bump into them for a second time the situation is unbearable, especially if they know yours. How the hell did they get the upper hand? Of course, you had a name badge pinned to your jacket, you are the foreigner in the apartment buildings and everybody knows your name or maybe he managed to check my wallet.

During that second meeting, you start to think they are playing a sick game as they seem to know your child's favourite toy, your wife's bra size and the name of your hairdresser, plus they really rub salt in the wound by introducing you to somebody else. Bastard! The conspiracy grows when the stranger decides his first response to me will be: "You're English aren't you?" Hold on, hold on, what is your name? Great, now I am stood here with two anonymous Finns.

What's the solution? The first escape route you can try is, "How do you pronounce your name?" However, if they reply 'Tom' you are rumbled, unless you can laugh it off and pretend it was a joke. The next is to talk about the strange spellings of names and innocently ask, "How do you spell your name?" The final option you have is to engineer a conversation about why your parents picked your name and then ask them, "Who were you named after?" If they answer, "My Grandad!", then just come clean and say, "Look, you never told me your sodding name, so hand it over now!"

However, you do realise that you will have forgotten it by the next time you meet.

   
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