In the Seinfeld episode probably best remembered for a scandal involving alleged nonfat yogurt and Jerry cursing in front of a child, Elaine suggests that everyone in New York City wear name tags, so that strangers can greet one another by name.
The idea was ridiculed in the sitcom.
I suggest we revisit the concept.
This is the time of year when there are all sorts of new people in our lives. The kids have new teachers and new classmates, all attached to new parents. Cooper’s soccer team has expanded by seven new teammates, all attached to new parents. There are new families on the walk to and from school. New families in Sunday school classes. At Scout events. At gymnastics.
So much newness makes this introvert a little nervous. Just when I get comfortable with the folks around me, there’s a lot of shuffling.
If we were all wearing giant tags marked with “Hi, I’m (fill in the blank),” maybe it would be easier to smile and say hi and find something in common. And remember the names. I’m awful at remembering the names.
Of course, name tags alone won’t do the trick. We all need to work on making the new folks feel welcome, with or without a visual aid.
Children seem to have little trouble with the concept. When we’re at a playground, surrounded by children we don’t know, my kids don’t hesitate to run up to a stranger and say, “Hi! Want to play?”
In a flash, they’re off, climbing and sliding and discussing Star Wars: The Clone Wars or their favorite Smurf.
Cooper reports every day on his tablemates at lunch. Since the first day of school, he’s almost always mentioned “Charlie, my new friend.” Katie knows all the names of the 20 other kids in her class, which teacher they had in kindergarten and which students are new to school altogether.
My track record is spottier.
Cooper’s soccer team has expanded to fill out the roster for the 11-on-11 games that begin next week. At our first team meeting, the boys and assorted siblings played in the coach’s pool. I didn’t spy a single boy on his own or who appeared left out.
The parents gathered under shade by the pool. On the comfy patio sofa and chair were five returning moms, all friends for six years or longer. We didn’t require a bubble of personal space; we didn’t hesitate to squish together. And left standing on the edges were the new moms and dads. Few of them knew one another.
Now, we veteran moms didn’t intend to exclude the new moms. We’re nice — really! After we’ve been separated by a soccer-free summer, though, we are eager to reconnect.
As the coach reviewed expectations and rules, the five of us would nod in unison or shake our heads together. We freely spouted opinions.
I’m afraid we appeared to be an unwelcoming clique.
When the meeting was over, I separated from my soccer sisters and made an effort to mingle. I discovered one mom who I actually knew from years ago, the lone season that Cooper played T-ball. I learned about another family who lives in my neighborhood and home-schools their children.
And at the boys’ first practice last Friday (and with the unabashed friendliness of my own children as a model), I broke out of my comfort zone to visit with those families again.
Now if only I could sneak name tags in to the next practice.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.