I don’t recognise (most) faces. It’s a real condition (prosopagnosia) and this author summed it up perfectly in The New York Times.
I am luckier than some, because I do recognise some faces. For example, 60 minutes (CBS) have an online video that is a test to see if you suffer from face blindness. They show you famous faces, an ask whether you know who they are. Aside from the fact that I cannot imagine how you can suffer from face blindness and not know it, I do have to point out that I passed the test with flying colours. For some reason, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie and Prince Charles are recognised by my brain.
On the other hand, my kid’s pre-school had posted on a wall about 150 casual photos of the kids on the playground and in the classroom, and asked parents to find their kid and order copies of the photos by number. It turns out that three years olds all look the same on photographs. I couldn’t be one hundred percent sure which kid was mine. Even trying to identify the clothes did not help for some reason. I ordered no photos.
Unless you have a weird hairdo, or specific voice, I am 99% sure that if we spend a three hour lunch exchanging the most intimate of stories and then you got up, left the table, changed your clothes and returned to the table I would not give you a second glance. I would not know who you are.
I have developed some survival skills. I memorise voices, accents, gaits, heights, fashion style etc. Change any of those, and I am screwed. For example, it is much easier for me to recognise people in the context in which I know them (and almost impossible to do so otherwise). So if I know you from the gym, and you are IN the gym, chances are I will be okay. But if you walk past me in a mall and smile, I will think that you are just being friendly.
One of my survival skills is to always be friendly when opportunity presents itself. I was in a Woolies queue the other day with my very very cute son, and the woman behind me gave me this very friendly smile, which I interpreted as “Your kid is so cute!” smile. So I smiled back, but didn’t engage in conversation. It was my three year old who recognised her five year old from the pre-school. As soon as I realised what was going on (we had obviously met in the school many times) I launched into a conversation as if I had always known who she was. It worked that time. But, had Zac NOT recognised her boy, she would have simply thought I was a stuck up bitch.
No doubt, prosopagnosia is a huge problem for me. I almost never make eye contact with anyone unless I am engaged in a conversation with them, because if I do make eye contact but don’t acknowledge people I know, I am seen as rude and aloof. So I will settle for being seen as withdrawn.
Movies are a nightmare. I never recognise characters from one scene to the next. Those cliffhangers where a camera slowly reveals that the person under the hood who wants to kill Betty is actually Betty’s brother? Completely lost on me.
My family and friends are well trained to help me. They know that if a person approaches us and starts to speak, they are to include their name and context in the conversation FAST. They explain movie plots to me. But of course, they are not always around.
My biggest survival trick? I have decided to explain this to as many people as I can, so that they know that if I ignore them, it is not intentional. So if you know me, and you are reading this, the next time you see me just introduce yourself casually. People have gotten very smart as to how they do this around me – as in “Eve! Awesome to see you. I was just saying to myself, ‘JOnathan, you MUST call Eve about that Safex project’, and here you are!”.
Works like a charm.
This was written as part of the 30 day writing challenge, @writersbootcmp). Read my other Writing Prompt posts here.