Thursday, August 22, 2013

Do I know you?

If I went to kindergarten with you, then, odds are, I will recognize you.  I fall somewhere high along the spectrum of 'super-recognizers', people who never forget a face.  As a person who worked for several years in the service industry, the ability to recognize customers aided me well.  I could usually pair a drink order with a face, and, often times, a name, and that mostly impressed people.  I can't tell you how many times I have heard, 'Wow, I can't believe you remember me!'  I would usually greet people I hadn't seen in many years with a familiar, 'Hi, how ya doin'?'  Because for me, it felt as if it were just yesterday that I had seen that person, the memory of their face forefront in my mind. Sometimes, though, I felt I had to throw in something jokey like: I'm not a stalker, I just have a really good head for faces.  That tag-line being reserved for those who both didn't recognize me back and felt ill-at-ease by my familiarity with them.

I've also 're-met' people, sometimes the same person numerous times, who were not able to remember having already met me.  They'd introduce themselves to me and I'd think, I know.  When I was younger, not being recognized back hurt my feelings.  Now, I know it's certainly nothing personal and that not everyone has the ability to remember faces as well as I do.

I just keyed the term 'super-recognizer' into Google and found a short segment from the news program 60 Minutes featuring a woman who, like me, has the ability to recognize almost every face she's ever seen.  On air she was asked to perform a short recognition test featuring facial images of fairly prominent political and entertainment personalities from both their young adult and childhood years.  The 'super-recognizer' correctly guessed almost all of them.  I'm also fairly able to correctly guess the 'before they were famous' folk.  However, what I find even more interesting is being able to guess the current likenesses of movie and TV people based on my having seen earlier versions of them.  -sort of an 'after they were famous' test.

One night while on shift at my old college bar gig, my attention was immediately drawn to a fully-bearded man with shaggy hair sitting by himself at the bar.  He stuck out not only because he was clearly the only customer over the age of forty sitting at the bar, but because his eyes seemed so familiar to me.  Usually, when I feel I 'know' someone I go down the list of possibilities: Did we go to elementary school or high school together? Did I serve them eggs at one of my many waitressing jobs?  Did we ever go out on a date?  (The last one is a bit iffy, but I did recently see a dude while I was in California on vacation that I had had one date with back in 2002, or so.)   As I was serving the man his cocktail I asked if he were a local.  He said that, actually, he was in town performing at the Berkeley Repertory Theater.  After a bit of conversation, I realized that I had seen this actor in a film called Longtime Companion in 1989.  I was quite sure that I had not seen him since, as he'd then embarked on a long career of stage work.  He was a bit bowled over by my having recognized him, but took it in stride. 

Dermot Mulroney, not the man I saw at the bar.

As a somewhat 'super-recognizer' I have seen, while living in New York, numerous character actors from the TV show Law and Order; then, in London, I saw just about every working actor who has had a gig on Dr. Who; now, living in Zurich, where the pickins' are slim, I have already spotted the female lead in Luzerner Tatort riding her bike around Seefeld.  A recent trip to Copenhagen yielded the superb actor, Bjarne Henriksen, who played Theis in Forbrydelsen aka The Killing.  At this point, I feel I have to add that I'm not a crazed super-fan of anyone acting in TV or film.  I have a passion for film and some TV shows, but I could not give a fig about collecting an autograph or having a conversation with any of the people who I have recognized.  Their faces just, sort of, jump out at me and that's that.

Sometimes, it's not even the face that stimulates recognition.  I was riding the train back from Ticino to Zurich recently, when, at a stop in Bellinzona, an elderly man boarded the train with his wife.  She arrived at their seats before he did, putting her luggage away while talking to the porter about where to stow her husband's wheel chair when the man in question, clad in a wide-brimmed leather hat and matching jacket, ambled by.  I could only see the back of his head, a bit of white hair protruding from underneath the hat, but immediately sensed that it was Sir Christopher Lee who had boarded our carriage.  As soon as the man spoke, a voice of deep richness emanating from a few seats away, I knew that I had been right.  A few cheeky snaps taken of Sir Chris from fellow travelers seated in our carriage was yet further confirmation.

Who will I see next?  Maybe you?  Don't be alarmed if I feel as if I know you.  Odds are I've seen you somewhere before.


  1. Fascinating! I have come across super recogisers in books, but not in the blog world. Nice to meet you. You must also be a super name recogniser, too? To match the names to faces. I seem to be lacking in the names department...

    You've seen my photos on my blog. Do come up to me if you do recognise me in the future. Promise I won't freak out :)

    1. I would probably recognize Pickle, too! :)

  2. So you are saying if one day while I walk down the streets somewhere, don't be alarmed if a woman from afar start charging towards me, waving and yelling my name? ._.

    1. I might not charge as that could be off-putting...:)

  3. Very fascinating post! What a lovely trait to have -- I wish I could recall faces and names easier. I'm sure it makes you come across as charming and authentically interested in other people. Thanks for sharing this and your stories, always a pleasure to read your well thought out posts.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment! Yes, it's an interesting trait to have and I certainly do hope that I come across as 'interested' and not creepy. :)


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