I like to think of myself as a polite person. I say “please,” “thank you,” and even utter the occasional “Gesundheit” in the interest of international relations. Lately, however, I’ve been struggling with another question of manners. When, if ever, can I call my friends’ parents by their first names?
Now, keep in mind that I’m not talking about calling people who I just met by their first names. I’m referring to the parents of friends you’ve known for a long time. You grew up calling them “Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So” and thanking them for driving you to the mall. But now you’re not a kid anymore, and calling them by their formal titles feels, well, a little lame.
I found a like-minded person with a similar question on Yahoo! Answers. Though the asker doesn’t specify his or her age, most responders write one should probably play it safe and stick to the formal title until the parent asks you to “just call me Sharon.”
I looked around for a more official answer to this etiquette riddle and found one courtesy of Miss Manners herself. In a column directed toward a teenager who asked whether or not it’s OK to call the parents of friends by their first names, Miss Manners writes that “The correct choice… is whatever and whenever the elder generation decides.”
In other words, age trumps all. If I’m 75 and my friends’ parents want to be called Mr. and Mrs. Jones instead of Frank and Bernice, I don’t have much of a choice if I want to be polite. They put up with me when I was a kid, so apparently I’m grandfathered in until they say otherwise. Miss Manners does offer a hint if you want to make the switch. “If you want to prod them into voicing a different preference, just keep inserting the formal address into your conversation, thus giving them a chance to invite you to use their first names.”
What do you guys think of this rule? As adults, do you still call the parents of your friends by their formal names? Or did you decide the whole thing is ridiculous and adopt a first name only approach? Please leave a comment below and share your ideas.
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