April 12th, 2005

Do I Know You?

I have a real problem with recognizing people. More specifically, I have a real problem attaching a name to a face. I was just getting used to the teachers at my old schools when I moved to this one and had to start all over again.

It’s the worst when I kind of recognize them and they act like they know me.

“Hi, Mark!” they say.
“Hey!” I reply. “How are you?”

It seems to me they can see right through my lack of remembering, but most folks don’t say anything. Maybe they’re polite, maybe they don’t care.

The first month, month and a half I had license to say, “I’m sorry, but remind me who you are.” Nobody had a problem with it and they mostly said, “It’s no problem – you’ve got 70+ names and faces to learn.” Now, though, if I were to say that to someone (especially someone I have seen several times), it would be embarrassing and probably a bit offensive.

I discovered a couple of tricks, though. When asked to come fix so-and-so’s computer, I ask what room number they’re in. I have a list that tells me what teacher is in what room, so I can work backwards from there. Also, and this is the best one, outside the main office, there is a yearbook page-like poster showing all the teachers with their names. If I get an email from a teacher I can’t bring up a mental picture for, I just stop by the picture board before going to their room. See, you can’t always assume that the person in front of the class is the teacher. We’ve got so many student teachers hopping around that they’re in front of the class a lot of the time. Add in subs and I’d be lost quicker than … well, me in downtown Chicago.

If people wore the same clothes every day (but different clothes than their neighbor), that’d help, too. I’d have a bigger picture to attach mentally to the name. This is actually a problem for me in movies and TV shows. If a character changes their clothes or hairstyle, I might not recognize them when they show back up. If it’s someone really famous it’s not a problem, of course, but your more minor players get lost in the shuffle all the time.

The other way I get to recognizing people quicker is if they have constant problems. I learned three or four names within a week of being at my new school.

Other mental connections don’t work as well as I might want them to. That guy who looks a little like Tom Poston? I’ll most likely call him “Tom” sometime and then have to try to explain my way out of it. I’m afraid to make up little nicknames like that for people in general because I’m afraid it’ll be found out somewhere down the road.

Of course, my problem extends far out of my workplace. Someone I haven’t seen in years? If they don’t look pretty much exactly the same, I’m done for. This might also be the best time for me to make this plea:

Ladies, please stop dyeing your hair. I’m begging you. Yes, it looks very nice. Great, even. Wonderful. It might even look better than your last color, but I get confused easily. One of my dear friends has given me the nickname “bear of little brain” (after Winnie the Pooh) and I have earned the nickname a thousand times over. So, please, for me: stop it.

I feel guilty about all of this, of course. It’s my fault if I don’t recognize a person I’ve seen once before. I should take the time to invest something in the conversation so that the face is locked in my memory. It says I’m not valuing them if I don’t do it. At least, that’s what I think. But, I don’t think that about someone else who doesn’t remember me. Guilt is a one-way street, my friends, and there’s no turn on red.

(That last part made no sense at all.)

I think that’s part of the reason I like e-communication so well. I see the name on the IM or the email and I instantly remember the person…even if the person is someone I concocted a visual for. Most folks I communicate with online have some sort of recognizable avatar or I’ve seen a picture of them. For some reason, that sticks with me better than actually having met the person. Weird.

I think the best way to be remembered is to be memorable. I’m not suggesting you continue doing that magic trick where you pull a dollar bill out of someone’s nose, though (you know who you are). I’m thinking you should aim for some sort of positive impression.

I hope I’m memorable in a positive way. More, though, I wish I could remember other people.

5 Comments on “Do I Know You?”

  1. Pixel says:

    I dyed my hair brown so that I could get away from fying my hair. I figured four diffrent color variations before college was enough.

    Sorry you get so confused with faces… man. That must be killer. I'm an average person at it, what kills me is on the telephone. I am constantly getting calls from my friends, me asking who it is, because I just cannot tell voices apart. It's killer.

  2. The Obscure says:

    I excel at shaking someone's hand, looking them right in the eye, giving my name, hearing theirs, saying, 'Hi _____, pleased to meet you.' and then 1.17 minutes later having no clue what their name was. In a business setting this is unbelievably stressful.

    So now I ask them for their card and as we sit at the conference table I arrange the cards in front of me in the same order that everyone is seated at the table.

    Lame, but better than, "I'm sorry, do I know you?"

  3. HP says:

    I find I'm OK unless I see people out of the usual context. Shopping at the local mall I might get 2 or three people waving and smiling at me and I'll wave and smile back and wonder who they are. Usually takes me a while to realise they're borrowers from work.

    People do get uppity if they're regular borrowers and you ask their name, but the positive impression rule is in order – if I like a patron, I'll remember their name. If I don't like them, my brain doesn't bother noting their name.

    I was about to consider a drastic haircut, but just for you Mup, I'll skip it.

  4. bd says:

    Everyone should wear name tags!

  5. MadMup says:

    Name tags are the best idea ever. So it didn't work on Seinfeld! So what!

Leave a Reply