"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Memorable or Unmemorable?

What makes a person memorable or unmemorable? Two recent encounters got me thinking about this:

In the first encounter, I was in a store shopping for clothing. The sales associate at the register, who appeared to be around my age, was chatty. As she was finishing the sale, she remarked: "You look familiar. Did you ever work at Such-and-Such Store in Georgetown?"

Me: "Why, yes, I did. But that was like 15 years ago! And I wasn't there for very long. Why do you ask?"

Sales Associate: "I was working at Blah-de-Blah Store, next door to Such-and Such. I remember you. You were always so bright and friendly with the customers. And you have an unforgettable face."

Me, somewhat dumbfounded: "Thank you, I think. I thought I was just doing my job!"

I wasn't quite sure how to take that last part, but it seemed like a compliment. But ... really ... I'm not sure what to make of it. One doesn't remember the proverbial "pretty face" for 15 years, and I don't have that kind of face, anyway. In the three-drinks-into-happy-hour game of "What celebrity do you most look like?" I have been told at different times by different people that I bear some resemblance to Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, and Anne Heche (Tilda is probably most similar, IMHO), but I do NOT have their movie star polish. And without that, what's memorable?

We chatted a little more. She said she wanted to get out of retail. I said, yeah, I was glad I had left years ago. And then she tried to get me to sign up for their customer mailing list, which I politely declined.

In the second encounter, the girlfriend of the drummer of the more or less defunct band I more or less no longer play with ran into me outside of the context in which I have typically interacted with her. Typically, I have interacted with her in social settings -- band happy hour hangout, band rehearsal, drinks at someone's house -- but she never talks much. She's always fallen into the role more of Drummer Boy's arm candy than anything else. But she also bears some resemblance to those same actresses (though more Anne than Tilda, IMO). So, I ran into her in a work-a-day office setting, and she walks over to me says, "Hi, recent Ph.D.! Nice to see you! Blah blah blah."

Me: "Hello ... um .... .... ...... um ... I'm sorry, help me out here! Where do I know you from?" For the life of me, I could not place her face or remember her name.

Her: "Really, you don't recognize me? I'm Drummer Boy's girlfriend!"

Me, totally embarrassed: "Doh! I'm so sorry! This is so embarrassing. I'm really bad with names and faces!!"

For the record, she had changed her hair color since the last time I'd seen her, which was probably two months ago at least, but still ... I should have recognized her and did genuinely feel bad.

What makes someone memorable or unmemorable for you?


  1. Comradde PhysioProffeJune 12, 2013 at 6:32 PM

    People always claim I look like Gary Oldman. There is even this one newsstand proprietor that for years every time I buy anything at his newsstand, he is all like, "Hey! You're that actor! You're Gary Oldman!" And every time I'm all like, "Dude! How many times I gotta tell you? I'm not Gary Oldman!" And he's all like, "You are! Yes, you are!"

  2. We should find us a David Bowie look-alike and make a video!



  3. i have a terrible memory for names and faces. just terrible. does that mean people aren't memorable to me at all? it really is a social handicap for me, because it comes across that I don't care. If only they knew how I'm trying! anyway, every once in a while someone sticks - name or face (or both - lucky day!). i have no idea why, but i'm so happy when it happens. that doesn't help you out here at all - but it's just my two cents. :)

  4. Yeah, I'm also just terrible with names and faces. I believe it's more a memory problem than a memorability one. When I was teaching, I strategized about how to remember students' names. It worked, but I don't actively do that in day to encounters. Maybe I should start. I've heard that people who are really, really good with names and faces aren't born that way -- it's a conscious activity and one you can get better at with conscious practice. Supposedly ...