In my last “SL for newbies” post, I advised you not to worry too much about picking your avatar design during the registration process. Nothing wrong with going around in a newbie shape at first, but before long, you will want to personalize your appearance a bit. And this really ties in to how you want to shape your identity in SL.
Speaking of identity, let me share with you the first bit of SL etiquette that you should learn. Many people prefer to keep their RL (real life) and SL identity completely separate. For that reason, when you first meet someone, do NOT launch into a lot of questions about their RL identity. Even seemingly innocent questions such as “where are you in RL?” can make some people uncomfortable. Respect this. You can usually ask general questions, such as “what country are you in?,” but if they hesitate or ignore the question, back off and respect their wish for privacy. This does NOT necessarily mean that they have “something to hide.” It is really just a common desire in SL to keep their virtual experience separate from their day-to-day one.
You can choose to assume any sort of identity or appearance in SL that strikes your fancy. You can create a look that mirrors your RL identity, or go for something completely different. You are not bound by gender nor species. You can be animal, vegetable or mineral here. As a result, naturally, you can not make any assumptions about people based on their appearance. This can be a very liberating experience for all concerned. People tend to be very socialable in SL, and many report that they are more so in SL than in RL. They are less self conscious about their appearance when they can fine tune it to project how they wish to be perceived. This environment can also make other people are less intimidating to approach as well. It really levels the social playing field, and opens up all sorts of opportunities to meet people that you might not have gotten an chance to meet in the non-virtual world.