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I sometimes get emails (e.g. from professional contacts or people I don't know well) which simply start with

FirstName,

[ ... letter body ... ]

They don't use "Dear FirstName," or "Hello FirstName," just "FirstName,".

This always feels quite harsh to me. (Omitting the opening completely in a quick email wouldn't feel that way, but using the name only does.)

Can this be considered impolite? Is it bad form? Is it usual? What should I read into this (about the attitude of the writer)?

I realize that these things can depend more on the culture than the language. I usually get these letters from Americans. Is it the most usual way of opening an informal email in the U.S.?

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Funny, I sometimes use that when writing to people in English speaking countries, but would never use it (aside maybe for close friends) if I were to write, for instance, to someone in Italy, let alone in France... –  nico Jun 15 '12 at 9:02
    
@nico I never use this, even in English. In my own language it would be considered impolite. I was wondering if there's a "hidden meaning" when someone addresses me like this in an email in English. I have never lived in an English speaking country and I don't have the cultural sensibility to distinguish between nuances... –  Szabolcs Jun 15 '12 at 9:12
    
My impression would be: "Let's have a very serious talk. Normally, I like you, but this time it seems you screwed up bad. What do you have to say for yourself?" –  SF. Jun 15 '12 at 9:46
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@SF.: My boss writes me emails every week. Almost always, he starts with a simple first name, – that's it. If he were to add some word in front, I might think I was in trouble! I suppose it all depends on what you're accustomed to seeing. –  J.R. Jun 15 '12 at 10:50
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@nico: I'm not saying it's impolite! I'm saying that suddenly the person decides to skip a customary nicety; they are still perfectly polite, but also dead serious; as unpleasant as only possible while still adhering to rules of savior-vivre. –  SF. Jun 15 '12 at 14:39
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2 Answers

Szabolcs,

It is considered an acceptable way of opening an email. I found an online guideline that explained it like this:

enter image description here

So, some writers may think that the use of Dear sounds unnecessarily formal (or perhaps even affectionate). I'm rather sure that no rudeness is meant, nor should the construct be interpreted as subtle rudeness.

As for how I opened my answer to you: no hidden meaning there – I only used that as for illustrative purposes. I assure you, I meant it in the most polite sense, as I think you've asked a very fair and legitimate question.

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Avoidance of shows of affection is a good point. –  Qube Jun 15 '12 at 9:54
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It is difficult to say. It could convey: nothing; that the writer is unsure of the salutation convention (a hypercorrect use of formality?); be a direct way of addressing you (if you are on familiar terms or well-known to each other in a playful sense -maybe in the same way that good friends sometimes use family names to address each other: 'Smith,' 'Jones,' etc); or could be suggestive of displeasure with you or your conduct.

As a rule, a 'dear' or 'hello' would seem to mitigate against negative inference. However, some consider salutations as unnecessary in e-mails as the 'To:' field fulfils the stating of the name. Despite that view, I think a greeting is nice and would always use one.

Are there any languages where there is no salutation in written correspondence?

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