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How does one address a stranger in a casual conversation when name is unknown? For example, I had a conversation with an older Japanese lady and I wanted to compliment her on her English (but in Japanese, for some reason). Usually in such situations I might've gone something like

○○さんは英語上手です。 or ○○さんの英語は上手です。 

But without the name it is quite difficult for me at this point. Using あなた feels really rude, neither I'm comfortable relying on zero-pronoun and going 英語は上手です without any context.

Should I inquire about person's name in such situations? (obviously, not right before I have a sentence to use the name in).

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As YangMuye explained, honorifics can be used to clarify first and second person without ever needing to use a first or second person pronoun. In that, usage of 謙譲語{けんじょうご} implies I'm talking about me. Usage of 尊敬語{そんけいご} implies I am talking about you.

An extended discussion about this topic can be read on the thread titled そちら as a second person pronoun. As far as I can understand, that thread can fully explain your question.

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  • Thank you, it's the first time I've thought of politeness levels in that light, and it makes total sense.
    – Dmitriy
    Jul 9, 2014 at 15:10

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