The first time that you meet the parents of your new boy or girlfriend is always an awkward moment. Not only are you in essence admitting that there are parts of you that you wish to have in contact with parts of their offspring, parts which your putative in-laws would probably rather forget that anyone under their age actually had, but you have to deal with the dilemma of what to actually call them.
Does ‘Mr Jones’ sound unduly formal (and a bit stupid if you are not dating someone named ‘Jones’)? Does ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ sound unduly creepy? Where on earth is someone to stand?
I had a very different problem with Helen’s family, though. Meeting her parents wasn’t a problem and when I called them by something vaguely respectful like ‘Mr…’ or ‘Mrs…’ they immediately corrected me, telling me to call them ‘William’ and ‘Audrey’ respectively.
That, though, was the problem, because no-one else used those names. You see, everyone in Helen’s family called each other by a nickname. William was ‘Chums’, Audrey ‘Wombs’ (as in ‘Womble’), Helen ‘Balloo’, Karen ‘Boo’ and Stephen ‘Bugs’. Which makes it very difficult to decide how to refer to them. As an outsider, are such familial names too familiar?
I found an easy way around the problem in the end. I stopped referring to anyone by any kind of name. It was just less confusing for me.
Then again, after Karen had all of her wisdom teeth out and came home looking like a chipmunk I did nickname her ‘Chips’ – but I couldn’t use that at family gatherings because only she and I knew what I was on about.