Who are you? Why putting a name to a face is a regular headache

Crowded room

I don’t like to use this blog to air my own dirty washing, but couldn’t resist this topic. It’s something that has led to many awkward and embarrassing moments for me in the past and I’m curious to find out if others have the same problem or whether it is indeed just me.

I’m rubbish at remembering faces. I don’t just mean I occasionally fail to recognise someone I’ve met briefly at a social event; I mean I’m really useless at putting a name to a face. The other day someone stopped me in the supermarket and said hi – I looked at him and for the life of me couldn’t work out where I’d seen him before. He didn’t look remotely familiar to me, yet he was asking me how my writing is going and what I’ve been up to. Of course I did what anyone would do and continued the conversation, asking neutral questions such as ‘what have you been up to?’ hoping to work out who it was. After a minute that shed no light on this man’s identity I made my excuses and escaped with my trolley behind the breakfast cereal aisle.

My most embarrassing moment was back in my days as an optometrist when I’d spent around half an hour with a patient before putting drops in their eyes and telling them to come back in 20 minutes. They went out to do some shopping and when they came back as directed and walked up to me, I greeted them as newcomers with a cheery “Good morning, how can I help you?” – hardly the best way to make a good impression.

It happens on our travels too, but thankfully my wife usually comes to the rescue. When I stare cluelessly at the couple waving towards us (I even look behind me to check if they are waving to someone else) Sam will prod me and point out that we spent an hour the previous evening chatting with the people who I am now snubbing. Perhaps it would be easier to carry a thick pair of glasses around and make out that it’s my eye sight and not my brain that’s faulty.

Sometimes I can recognise people surprisingly quickly. I might remember a brightly coloured shirt or a strange hat. It could be a distinctive voice that has me picking out ‘that man from the shuttle bus who wouldn’t shut up’. But for much of the time I have to accept that in any crowd I might easily walk past someone who has a right to expect some acknowledgement.

So if you see me at a social event or walking through the streets of London or St Albans, please don’t leave me guessing at who you are. Even we know each other well I might walk right past you. If that happens please don’t take it personally; you’re not the first person I’ve failed to notice and you certainly won’t be the last.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so please share your stories here – it would make me feel a whole lot better to know that others suffer the same embarrassments.

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Freelance travel writer

5 Responses to “Who are you? Why putting a name to a face is a regular headache”

  1. My aunt went out without her glasses. She was walking across a car park when she could see someone waving in her direction. Embarrased that she could not make out who it was from a distance, she kept on, head down without stopping. She found out who it was a couple of hours later after an angry call from… her daughter!

    August 28, 2012 at 12:40 pm
  2. This is also a problem for me and I have been humiliated many times. Once I introduced myself to a woman who informed me that she knew who I was as my daughter had just spent the night with hers and we had met then – just a few days before!

    August 28, 2012 at 10:51 pm
  3. Tony Kerr #

    Learning faces is a social skill learnt at a very young age. In my case my mother was over-protective and until I went to school I met only my family’s friends and relatives. Consequently, I grew up with insufficient recognition skills. I have partially gained these skills over the years, but it has been a struggle! It also took me over fifty years to finally learn the art of having a chat!

    September 23, 2012 at 4:39 pm
  4. A rather spooky thing happened yesterday, when a woman stopped me in the street, and asked ‘When did you shave your beard off? You look much better without it!

    The thing is a) I have never, ever had a beard and b) I’m sure I know her from somewhere, but can’t for the life of me think where.

    Maybe there is such a thing as a parallel universe? 😀

    December 29, 2012 at 3:46 pm
    • Ha! At least you’ll know better if you’re ever tempted to sprout some facial hair!

      December 29, 2012 at 9:57 pm