Early this morning I faced an interesting email-etiquette puzzle. Novelty in this realm isn’t something that I face often, 25 years after I sent my first email, so I felt this absolutely worth exploring further.

A Russian IF fan wrote with some thoughtful critiques of the IFComp website. The letter’s text involved English no less confident than I could ever compose, built with my beloved 26 friends of the LATIN-1 character set. However, the only indication of the author’s name was contained in the email’s From: header, reading “Вадим”, followed by a valid but whimsical email address that clearly didn’t contain anyone’s name.

I like to greet people at the top of emailed replies: “Howdy Mary,” or whatnot. But I found myself wholly unsure how to handle this case! Plugging Вадим into Google Translate transliterated it into “Vadim”, which I recognized as a Russian male name. (Slavic, Wikipedia corrects me.) So now I had three options, and none really felt right:

  • Opening with “Howdy, Вадим!” before carrying on in English would have involved a clunky sort of quasi-code-switch. It would have looked like I just copy-and-pasted my correspondent’s name without caring to comprehend it. (When in fact I copy-and-pasted his name with a fair amount of fretting, which all rather plays into my point here.)

  • “Howdy, Vadim!”, on the other hand, would have seemed quite presumptuous, using a name related to but not matching the one this person presented to me. It would have felt akin, perhaps, to calling someone “Jim” immediately after they introduced themselves as “James”. But twisting it even further into potential condescension: Here, let me fix those funny letters for you, there’s a good lad.

  • Skipping the greeting entirely just to dodge this problem would have felt cowardly and untrue to myself, and would have no doubt thrown the whole tone of my response off in subtle ways that would bother me for weeks.

Thinking out loud about this conundrum this morning resulted in my friend Denis suggesting a marriage of the first two ideas, and I liked it instantly: “Howdy, Вадим! (May I call you Vadim?)” Perfect! A show of both respect for the name I was given and recognition for how it fit into my own (and only, alas) linguistic context. I did indeed lead my response with it, and some hours later felt unsurprised to receive a friendly and affirmative reply in turn.

I can only hope to continue crossing paths with like-minded users of higher-numbered UTF-8 tables than my own; I look forward to deploying this hybrid greeting again!


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