Holly’s Cultural Podcast: English and Politeness

This week, while writing an email to someone I’ve never met, I came up against a thorny question: What’s the best way to address someone you don’t personally know? He’s another American, roughly my age. And an artist. I was contacting him with a work question. So, after some debate, I opened the email with, ‘Dear Mr. Smith.’

I was surprised when Mr. Smith wrote back and said, ‘Hello Holly. Mr Smith is my dad, my name is Joel!’

My first thought after this faux pas, was, will we ever be able to do business together? Was he insulted? Was I being stuffy and old fashioned? Or am I just that out of the cultural loop?

In the end, I decided I hadn’t been too old fashioned, and I probably didn’t insult him. Artist or not, it would have been very rude to write ‘Dear Joel.’

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