When you hear of letters of introduction, you may imagine something from yesteryear. But if you have ever received a letter of recommendation, you have actually received a letter of introduction. The name has changed, but the purpose has remained the same – to certify a person’s high moral standards, respectability, honour, kindness, and etc.
Letters of introduction were an important part of polite society in the 18th and 19th centuries. They helped people meet, create business partnerships, obtain escorts and travel guides in foreign cities. They even helped to arrange marriages.
“When Benjamin Franklin served as Ambassador to France (1776–1785) he was besieged by those traveling to America who desired letters of introduction. With his inimitable sense of style and humor, Ambassador Franklin drafted the following letter:
The bearer of this, who is going to America, presses me to give him a letter of recommendation, though I know nothing of him, not even his name. This may seem extraordinary, but I assure you that it is not uncommon here. Sometimes, indeed, one unknown person brings another, equally unknown, to recommend him; and sometimes they recommend one another. As to this gentleman, I must refer you to himself for his character and merits, with which he is certainly better acquainted than I can possibly be. I recommend him, however, to those civilities which every stranger of whom one knows no harm has a right to; and I request you will do him all good offices. (wikipedia.org)
Today, letters of introduction are mostly used for employment, financing, procurement, and academic applications. There are also a few old-fashioned ladies remaining who enjoy using feather pens and plain stationery to introduce friends.
Whether written with a feather pen or the keys on a laptop, know that you have been honoured to receive such a letter. So, before using them, please consider these five rules of etiquette:
- When provided a letter of introduction, always send your letter to whom it is addressed before you arrive. Never deliver a letter of introduction in person. It is highly awkward to stand in front of someone while they read your letter. Sending a letter ahead of your visit also gives the reader time to decide how she wants to receive you. You do not want to force her into an action she does not desire. You especially do not want her to receive you when she has no desire to do so.
- Always be on your best behaviour. Your acquaintance has put his or her reputation on the line to write a letter of introduction for you. It would be in bad taste and a waste to behave in a manner unbefitting of the situation and company.
- Always arrive on time for any invitation received because of the letter of introduction. It is a favor being given to you. You are not owed an introduction or a follow-up. So, treat any invitation as a favor and be grateful.
- Always dress appropriately for the first few meetings. Always look your best. You are virtually representing your acquaintance. Do not shame your friend and embarrass your new contact by appearing in clothing inappropriate or too shabby for the occasion.
- Do not insist on the location of the first meetings with your new contact. Let the new contact decide where he or she would like to meet you. Since the meet is a favor to you, it’s best to leave the decision in your new contact’s hands.