Whatever happened to “Mr. De Leon, may I call you Fernando?” That may seem stuffy, but the whole part of needing permission to use a first name was that it implied intimacy. We all use first names more than we used to, but we still have surnames for strangers and first names for friends. It’s no wonder I’m always irritated by a grocery store clerk, waiter, or office receptionist presuming to sound like a friend. But do they really think we’re touched by their “friendliness?” In fact, it’s more likely to be the opposite.

In Germany, addressing a stranger by his or her first name is considered rude; yet, some German’s think it’s perfectly acceptable to address Americans by their first name and everybody else by their surnames. It’s one of those cultural differences that drives me crazy. I know people mean well, but it would be nice for people to understand social boundaries.