I work and live in Scandinavia, and by culture we use a person's first name when speaking to someone, colleagues, clients and so on. In general we use the second-person singular when addressing someone, we are very informal and being formal can be seen as if someone is a bit of a stuck-up. I have been told on more than one occation that I am very polite.

I work in an international setting in design engineering, with my supervisor being German and contact with clients who are both European and American. I have the habit of always addressing my clients in mails and so on with their title, if I know it, or with Mr/Mrs/Ms etc. and their last name.

When in contact with clients they sometimes reply with my first name in mail or telephone conversations, whereas I stick with Mr and so on.

Would it be considered rude not to say their first name after this kind of an invite? I have nothing against it, but it feels somewhat forced to have a jovial conversation calling eachother Mike and Eddy one day and the next time they contact me they can be completely livid because the product does'nt work as they expect. They usually don't call me by my first name at these times...

6 Answers 6


There are people who think everything should be done in the way they are used to. And there are other people who realise that the world is a large place, with lots of different cultures, and lots of different ways to do things.

You can't know everything. Whatever you do, you will step on the toes of some of the first type of people. It's their problem. The second type of people, they won't be offended by anything. If you do something that could get you into trouble (which is unlikely), they will tell you, that's it.

  • 4
    I'd just add "If in doubt, go with the formal". No culture in Europe or America gets offended by someone being too formal. At worst, they'll think it's a bit eccentric. If you get too familiar (address a German with the word "du" and watch him hit the ceiling!) you could offend, but too formal is at worst mildly amusing. May 24, 2016 at 17:07
  • 2
    And if someone ever feels you are being too formal, they will usually just say "Please, call me Mike" (or whatever their first name happens to be).
    – David K
    May 24, 2016 at 17:23

When dealing with someone from another culture, I generally follow their lead. If he calls me "Mr Smith", then I'll call him "Mr Jones". If he calls me "Bob", I'll call him "Fred". If he calls me "sir", etc. I'd stop short of obvious regionalisms. Like if I was working with an Australian and he called me "hey mate", it would just sound weird for me to say the same. But I might call him "buddy" or some other comparable Americanism.

Actually I follow this same rule when I start a job with a new company or join a new club, as every group can have its own "culture" -- culture isn't just a national thing.

If something the other person says offends you, well, my first rule is to be very slow to be offended, especially if there is no indication that offense was intended. If everybody in their office routinely refers to each other as "fatso" and "dorkface" and the like and they started calling me "baldy", I'd just laugh along with it. But if it really did offend you, I'd try to just politely say, "Hey, please call me Charlie". 9 times out of 10 people will comply. Etc. But I don't think that's the issue here so I won't go into that further.

If someone indicates they're offended by something you call them, I'd just say, "Oh, I'm sorry, what do you want me to call you?" Barring them saying they want to be called "your lord high majesty master of the universe", I'd go along with whatever they said.

For initial contact, I generally avoid calling people anything. I just say, "Hi". Usually the person will say, "Hi, I'm Bob", or "Hi, I'm Mrs Jones", and you can take your cue from there.

If you're writing a letter or something where you need some address, it never hurts to be formal on first contact. Call them "Mr Fred Jones" or whatever.

  • I'd like you to call me "you lord high majesty master of the universe".
    – Myles
    May 25, 2016 at 16:02

From a North American perspective very few people will think it rude to use their first name, very few people will find a title uncomfortable, and almost everyone won't deeply care one way or the other.

There is no one correct universal answer, so stick to what you are comfortable with.


If in doubt, it will almost never be considered rude to ask how people would prefer to be addressed, or how to say or ask something politely.


I have lived and worked in the US, Germany, and Japan. I have also done international business with contacts in about 15 additional countries. In my experience, it's best to cater to the individual person you are dealing with.

When I work with Americans, I use their first names, even if we don't know each other very well. When I work with Germans, I use Herr/Frau followed by their family names, because this seemed to be the way of doing it in the office I worked in while I was in Germany. In Japan, I address people as family name - san, because that is the culture there.

So, I think you need to just do some simple research on the country you're dealing with and figure out the cultural norm for that country. When in doubt, ask. I have never encountered any problems when simply asking somebody how they would like to be addressed.


In the United States different standards apply depending on who and where it is. For example, in "casual" places like California, Washington and the southwest, people move to a first name pretty fast. In more formal places, like the south and rural northeast (Maine, New Hampshire), Mr. is the rule. In fact, in the south, young people will often not even call me by name, but say "sir".

The easiest thing to do is let the other party make the first move. Just imitate whatever they do. If they call you by first name, do the same, and vice versa, as long as it is a peer. If it is a client, it is more tricky. If you are a peer of the client (do you make as much money as they do), then imitate. If you are a subordinate, stick with Mr. or Dr. as the case may be.

It's a lot better to be stuck up, than to be rude. Delivery and manner of speech is a lot more important than use of titles in determining whether you seem "stuck up". If a title is used in the right way and tone of voice, it can be just as comforting as using a first name. Usually, if somebody seems stuck up, it is due to a lot more than using a proper title.

Personally, I find people who call me by first name to be presumptuous. If a junior person addresses me in a casual way I consider that highly disrespectful and I arrange things so I am not in contact with that person again.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .