Do you recognise a face?

by Sylvia

Do you recognise a face

Last week Suzy Bubble of Style bubble had a mild rant on her blog about a journalist mixing her up with another woman in a magazine. While there is no excuse for a journalist not checking his facts, she also goes on to say that many people mistake her for someone else all the time and that she gets rather annoyed by that. While I can surely sympathise with her feelings, I like to offer a point of view from the other side. From someone who can never recognise anyone, which of course is ME.

It’s been a problem since childhood and I’m not totally sure what causes it. It certainly does not help that I have bad eyesight (which cannot be corrected with glasses) but I’m sure that is not the only issue, as my husband and son seem to cope with the same issue (although less extreme as mine).

Let me tell you, it is extremely annoying. Not only will people always be offended when they find out I don’t recognise them, I can also never be spontaneous at parties and walk up to someone I met once or twice before. Either those people will have to come to me, or I’m just being labeled as arrogant or a snob. It’s cost me numerous friendships and opportunities.

When people do come up to me and start talking to me in a way that clearly signals that they know me, I start searching my brain for clues. Where do I know this person from? I usually nod politely and let them talk in the hope that they touch on a topic which I will recognise and establish the link. Sometimes that tactic works and sometimes it does not and I have to embarrass myself again to ask who she / he is or the conversation just stops and either of us will move on.

What to do?

Now, when I meet new people I often give them a warning. “Please don’t think I’m rude when I don’t recognise you next time; I can never recognise a face”. They smile and say “sure”, but the reality is that when that next time happens, they don’t understand it and can barely hide their annoyance. I guess it’s difficult to understand for someone who can still recognise the face from someone they last saw in childhood. It’s hard for them to grasp the concept that I can’t even recognise a face I saw the week before.

I have also installed a little app on my phone Evernote Hello, which is a tool that helps you to record the name, image and details of the person you meet and the event where you met them. Of course that would only help if I really start studying all those contacts and their faces before I attend a meeting where I may see any of them.

It’s one of those things that I will just have to live with and I just have to hope for the understanding of others. So please don’t be offended when I don’t say hello when I see you on the street. Chances are I had no idea I just passed someone I know….

Do you recognises faces easily? How do you react to someone who does not recognise you?


{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christina

Hi Sylvia,
Have you ever heard of Prosopagnosia? It is a relatively mild neurological disorder, involving face recognition. This is disorder that can affect up to 2.5 percent of the population. Not all cases are congenital, but it can be inherited too, with numerous cases in the same family. A few weeks ago, I listened to a radio talk show, that featured this issue. Is it possible you have a milder version of this? Some afflicted people, cannot even distinguish very close family members!


2 Sylvia

Very possible Christine. I do recognise people after seeing them a few time (unless they completely change their hairstyle or look…). I love people with a distinguishable look, like purple hair.


3 Greetje

We have a shopkeeper in our neighbourhood who has this disorder severly. He cannot recognize somebody who returns to his shop half an hour later. Imagine how difficult that is in his profession. He owns a bicycle shop and people can take a bicycle for a test ride… When they come back, he doesn’t know what they want from him.


4 Lorraine

Ha! ha! that is so funny – he’s in the wrong job!


5 Rita

Having worked in a field dominated my males, I would often have someone just start talking to me in a meeting/office/conference setting that I didn’t recognize. They had the advantage…not as many women as men so we were easier to remember. Like you, I’d just chit chat, waiting for clues until I could piece it together, and often, I had a colleague nearby that could help me out. I’m not terribly social in my free time, so I don’t have as much of a problem there.

In cases where someone doesn’t recognize me, I don’t get offend. I just reintroduce myself and remind them of where we met, or I might just pretend I’m meeting them for the first time so as not to make them feel bad.

In either case, I avoid phrases like “nice to meet you” in case I’ve met the person before. I”ll say “Nice to see you”, which is safer.


6 Rita

Oh, and I’m always being mistaken for someone else…I just have one of those Plain Jane, generic faces that everyone thinks they’ve seen before. I just say, “Sorry, you’ve mistaken me for someone else.” No harm, no foul.


7 Sylvia

I wish everyone was like that…..


8 Tangobabe

Btw: who made the drawings of the faces? You yourself, Sylvia?


9 Sylvia

Yes, my first work of art in Paper 🙂


10 Tangobabe

Wow, how cool, Sylvia!!! Looking forward to seeing more of your hand! Very nice drawings indeed!


11 Greetje

Anja, this woman is becoming a jack of all trades, isn’t she? I thought she had commissioned you again.


12 Greetje

Sorry Sylvia, I looked up the meaning of “jack of all trades” and that is not what I meant. I meant you are a woman of many skills.


13 Sylvia

Haha girls. I don’t think I’m any good… Certainly not at Anja’s level. But it’s fun to create my own graphics for some articles…


14 aileen

Firstly, the drawings are lovely, Sylvia. It would be great to see more of your drawing skills.
I can understand why this would be so upsetting for you and it has happened to me. In fact I’ve actually said to the person ‘Ah, yes I remember we met at …….’ They have then say ‘No, it wasn’t there’. I don’t know what is worse, not to recognise the person at all, or mistake them for someone else entirely.
In fact I did a truly terrible thing once and on meeting two women in the street, one who I did recognise, I said to her ‘Ah, this must be your mother’. I don’t know why I said that or even thought it, but they both recoiled in shock. It wasn’t her mother, it was just a friend who wasn’t much older than her. How embarrassing is that! I’ve never forgotten the shock, and upset I felt making such a horrendous mistake.
Another annoying thing I find is that I do recognise a face but haven’t a clue where I met that person before. The face then haunts me for years afterwards but the circumstance of meeting them never comes back to me. I find that really annoying and have tried to ‘dream’ my way into recognising them, but to no avail.
My only solution is to go with it and when someone recognises you and says hello, just say hello back and chat away with them in the hope something will be said and you’ll remember who they are and where you first met them. I may be wrong, but I think this is fairly common and can cause people to become withdrawn in society in case they cause offence by not recognising people they have met only briefly.
If during a conversation you never remember where you met them or who they are, if you pretend you do then nothing is lost and they will think you do remember them. However, if it is one of you followers on the blog we all love you and would forgive you anything xxxa


15 Greetje

Oh Aileen, I so sympathize with you with those women in the street. I have said terrible things like that as well. They come out of your mouth and you think “WHY???”Why did I say that? That was not even what I was thinking. It just came out.”


16 aileen

Thanks goodness it’s not just me Greetje. I still blush when I think about it. Recently, after 20 years, I again met the woman I had said ‘This must be your mother’ to, and the whole thing came flooding back into my head.


17 Sylvia

What stories Aileen. Yes this surely happens to all of us and I’m also glad to read that I’m not the only one not remembering anything. Now of course in Singapore some people recognize me from the blog, which makes it even worse. Luckily most of them will quickly say that they saw me on 40PlusStyle….


18 Lorraine

I don’t think I am too bad, having worked in a PR environment (although I am probably better at remembering the Latin names of plants!) but I do find that whole social scene stressful for names. If I am introduced to somebody I forget their name immediately, despite knowing all the tricks for remembering (yet if you told me the name of a plant it would be in my head forever). Also, I can be talking to a whole group of people who I know, yet if I have to introduce them to a stranger their names go immediately……Embarrassing!
My husband has a terrible habit of watching TV and saying “Oh look, there’s thingamijig, whojamaflip, whatjamacallit”, ie he recognises the person but cannot recall their name. He know that I usually know the name (and has come to rely on me) but I now get so annoyed with him that I don’t tell him and let him suffer all evening! (I know, I am soooooo lovely!). I feel that his brain will shrivel up if he doesn’t try to remember!


19 Greetje

hahaha, I think this is very funny. And I finally know how to write thingamijig and whatjamacallit. Never heard of whojamaflip. LOL


20 Lorraine

They are very technical terms but the spelling is flexible!


21 Sylvia

haha Lorraine very funny. Keep that brain active!


22 Highland Fashionista

This is actually a hot topic in the field of neurology that you have touched-on. There are all sorts of theories out there about cortical stimulation in the developing brain and perception. Wikipedia breaks it down nicely in their “face perception” entry. That is not to say, however, that everyone who can’t remember a face has a neurological tick, deficit, or whatever. Just an interesting theory. I do not share your sentiment towards that journalist. As a journalist, it is your job to know more than a little something about the subject you are interviewing. The journalist was unprepared and unprofessional, and she called him (her?) out. Good for her.


23 Sylvia

Totally agree! That is also what I said “there is no excuse for the journalist”. They should definitely check their facts.


24 Greetje

I am somewhere in the middle I suppose.
If I have not interacted with a person for a while, it is hard for me to remember his or her name, but I do recognize most faces. Put a familiar face in a completely different setting and I am lost. Don’t know who that person is anymore. I recognize the person but cannot place him or her or come up with a name.
As I am quite “there”, quite noticeably (….) in meetings and such, people tend to know rather quickly who I am. So if those people pass me in the corridor and say “Hi Greetje” I am lost as I have not interacted with them enough.
Unlike most of you, I immediately say at the beginning of a conversation: “I am very, very sorry and it is very inconsiderate of me, but I don’t know your name /who you are anymore. Please refresh my memory.” I can say that in such an apologizing and sweet way that hardy anybody gets cross with me. I do this because people get really upset if you let them believe you know who they are and after 10 minutes you are found out…. imagine…. found out. You look like a fool and they are upset.
So I play the honest card. Mind you, people’s patience is running out after you have apologized for the third time (… so embarrasing).


25 Sylvia

Great tactic Greetje. I do that sometimes too, it’s just hard to do when you know you really should know this person….


26 Marie S

Sylvia I love your drawings. I hope you will do more. I have found that I am struggling more these days as my eyesight is getting worse. I have been short sighted since I was a small child but now I am getting more long sighted and I have been having problems getting the right balance with contact lenses and glasses. Normally I never forget a face but probably won’t remember the name if I haven’t seen that person for a long time.


27 Sylvia

Thanks for your kind words about my drawings. I will try but art was really never my strongest point…


28 Lorraine

I was thinking about this topic this afternoon and I actually think I have a problem – but not quite the same – Sylvia! When I worked in London I was based in Soho, which apart from being the red light district (no, I didn’t work there!), was also the centre for a lot of agencies that represented celebrities. As a result there were often famous people around and I would regularly say ‘hi’ to somebody off the TV, thinking they were a friend! Doh!


29 Sylvia

Fun! Did you get some good responses?


30 Greetje

Glad you didn’t work there haha. Similar story: I have been a hostess at the first Northsea Jazz Festival in The Hague (at that time) because I worked at the organization. And it was my task to guide the very famous jazz artists to their dressing room. I did not know the first thing about jazz. As a matter of fact I hated it (I was only 22), so could not recognize a single celebrity. My tactics worked very well though. I would go up to a very big black man with a lot of glitter clothes over his arm and say: ‘scuse me… are you going to perform here tonight?
Which was usually answered by: “I certainly hope so darling”. And I would have found another one. LOL


31 aileen

Ho! ho! ho! Greetje, what a clever thing to say. You never stop amazing me both with your stylish outfits and great tactics of dealing with life situations xa


32 Lorraine

Greetje – you could write a book of anecdotes! I would buy it.


33 Trina Grandinetti

I would buy it too.


34 Lorraine

The funny thing is they usually said ‘hi’ back and were presumably left wondering who I was! Meanwhile it dawned on me that they didn’t know who I was….


35 Nanne

I love your drawings:) I’m pretty good at remembering faces, but I’m terrible when it comes to names. It doesn’t bother me a lot though, and so far I don’t think I’ve offended anyone. I’m usually just open about it and tell people that I’m not good with names. Regarding Prosopagnosia, I read that the Crown Princess of Sweden suffers from this, which must be a great disadvantage in her position.


36 Trina Grandinetti

first of all, I too, love your drawings. For not being an artist, you sure did a great job. This was a very insightful for me. I’m one of those lucky or fortunate individuals who have a gift of remembering names and faces so I’m on the other end. I hadn’t realized how difficult it could be for others. You have made me realize the importance of being more patient and not being offended when others may not remember me or my name. I’ll just take the heat off and remind them casually how we first met and my name. Thanks for the info.


37 Sylvia

Great Trina. That makes all the difference!


38 Maria Allen

I think I share your problem. I’ve always had difficulty recognizing faces, and I only stumbled onto information identifying a possible neurological explanation a couple of years ago. I do recognize about twenty-five people’s (mostly family or very famous) photos, but I can’t even call up a picture of my only and dearly beloved son in my mind. I am good at remembering names, and I can recognize voices fairly easily. And, I’ve learned to recognize general body shapes, clothing, and mannerisms. Like you, I often fake it until the other person gives me a verbal clue. And, like you, I don’t see well; so others often assume it’s just a problem with my vision, but the truth is I would probably never recognize many people no matter how close I get or how strong my glasses are. Still, I am lucky enough to have recently retired from a wonderful career as a teacher and librarian. For the last 40 years, it seems to have been a problem that other people seem more than willing to overlook and that worried me much more than anyone else.


39 Katty

oh boy! Are you talking about me? Uhmm, no? About my mom perhaps? I would swear you were because we’re just like that! When I see people where I regularly see them, that is not a problem. Now, coming across them on the street or at any place where I don’t regularly meet with them, that’s a nightmare! My mind starts spinning out of control trying to figure out who this is! And when they call me by my name, I just lose it! Anyway, I take it lightly. As you, I tell people I may not be able to recognise them on the street and to please say hi anyway. And I keep waving back or smiling back, just in case I know the person that waved or smiled at me. It’s funny in most cases. I thought it was just us, and now I see there’s more of us out there, and there’s even a condition! Thanks for this post Sylvia. Even if it amuses me most of the time, it was good to read about this from another’s person point of view.


40 Heather Fonseca

Oh Sylvia that must be so upsetting for you! I recognize faces, but can’t remember names to save my life.


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