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Here’s an inquiry from a Facebook Friend

Sometimes when you see someone in person after you haven’t seen them in a long time, you might not recognize them right away. Whether we want to admit it or not, some of us have changed over the years ūüôā

Hair changes. Cheeks change. Jaws change. Teeth change. ¬†Anything can change, hour by hour, day by day ¬†— even without the assistance of a surgeon or a hair-dresser, even without the assistance of a well-meaning :).

A glitter in the eye remains the same, always, as a means of welcome.  A nod or a mild wave across the air can most often cover the reach of an uncomfortable room.

If a gentleman friend appears healthy, and has trimmed down, it’s always right to cheer him on by saying, “Well, Eric, you’re certainly looking fit.” To which he will usually respond by saying, “Thanks. I’ve been working on it.” If such is not the case — and if he has lost weight for some reason he’d rather not talk about — he will say, “Thanks. And how are you?”

If a lady friend has lost weight, or if her hair color has changed, or if her jawline has been joisted up to a point where she is virtually unrecognizable, she is usually aware of that fact, and will go ahead and re-introduce herself, even to some semi-intimate acquaintances. If one is forced into the most discomforted of corners, where there is no possible means of remembering the lady’s name, the only appropriate greeting is a quick kiss followed by, “Don’t you look wonderful?” or “I love you in purple!” or “You’ve got to tell me about that pin!”

“I’m on my way to the bar. Will you come with me?” provides a ready escape from almost any awkward encounter, in passing, with a lady left alone.

Then one can only pray for another person to come along — a person with a name one actually knows — so that one can say to his lady-friend, “I want you to meet my friend Bobo Highsworth.” To which one can only pray that the re-done lady will pitch in and say, as she would appropriately do in any social situation, “Hello, Bobo. I’m Angela Taughtely. It’s so nice to meet you.” If the introducer is left foundering in absolutely desperate straits, his last resort (or his first resort, if he sees trouble brewing, from afar) is to chat amongst the three of them, for just the space of a breath, and then say, “I’m sure you know each other.”

In the most potentially awkward of situations, a gentleman’s only out is to say,¬†“You’re going to have to forgive me. I fear you’re going to have to introduce yourselves.”

But a gentleman can only do that once in a lifetime, with any one pair of acquaintances.

Otherwise, he will have to find a corner where he can stand by himself, until his friend Angela Taughtely draws him into the room and says, “You do know my friend Bobo Highsworth. Don’t you?”




I had absolutely no idea who you were, the other night at a cocktail party.

It was probably my mother’s fault.

Sometime last week, NPR reported “the results of a recent scientific study” indicating that the gift for recognizing the faces of others, at cocktail parties and elsewhere, may be inherited.¬†In that study — if I understood it correctly — some relatively newborn babies were presented with a chart consisting of a square, a triangle, and a smiley face. First time around, nothing much happened. Second time around, the selfsame babies slapped on the smiley face.

I wish I could be as lucky as those babies. And I wish I could politely slap your face at a cocktail party, as well, if it would help me remember your name.

Reconnecting with faces may be a gift, but remembering the names to go with them is a craft.

Once you’ve been introduced to a person, repeating that person’s name, over the course of the conversation, early on, usually helps. (As in, “Yes, Jared, I was wondering, Jared, what you were doing with your poodles, Jared”; or ” Yes, Jeannette, I was wondering how you, Jeannette, made that happen with your hair, Jeannette”; or “Yes, Morcum, I was wondering whatever happened to my 401K, Morcum. I thought you, Morcum, were taking care of it.)

Mnemonics (the trick of memory games) may help.¬†For example: It helps if I remember that “David,” of a couple, is “dark,” as opposed to Michael, who is “mild.” It also helps if I look at my friend Callie and remember that she and her husband live on Bittersweet. (Bittersweet is a flower; so is a calla lilly; every connection boosts.)

But if a face and a name don’t click — particularly if the face has been reworked or the hair has been re-colored — there’s no embarrassment in saying what my good friend Henschel usually says to people he may have met before : “I’m sorry; but I fear you have the advantage of me.”

Worse things might have happened.  The research reported on NPR also involved chimpanzees, and their handlers, most of whom were wearing masks. No faces were ever recognized.

I’ve been to that party, too. Haven’t you?



Here’s a modern-life situation that arrived, a couple of days ago, via Facebook:

The other night, my wife and I stopped in at a local night club. It’s a place where the clientele is predominately gay, but it’s a place where [Suzy] and I have a lot of friends. The other night, as we were leaving the club, we ran into a longtime friend of mine, a former business associate — somebody I’d always assumed was gay — so I stuck out my hand for a handshake. Immediately, I felt he was reflexively uncomfortable, and he didn’t even respond to the handshake. I said, “You know [Suzy], don’t you?” He said, “Hello.” But that was all he said. Despite the fact that he had a friend at his side, no further introductions were offered. I tried to make conversation, but it went nowhere. It was a bad, bad moment. ¬†How could I have fixed it?

— Anonymous

Nobody can ever “fix” this sort of clumsy encounter. It sounds as if you, [Suzy], and your friend — not to mention your friend’s friend — were all caught in an out-of-context moment. They didn’t expect to encounter you on the sidewalk outside a “predominately gay” night club; and they probably weren’t the first people you were expecting to meet, either, waiting in the queue for a cab outside Kasa Koniption.

In our modern, shaken-not-stirred cocktail mix of a world, awkward, off-kilter moments are well-nigh inescapable. (Twenty years ago, the question wouldn’t have been, what was your friend doing at a gay bar? The more likely question would have been, what were you and [Suzy] doing there?)

You and a friend — even a best friend — can be caught off guard in the most seemingly innocent of moments. For example, you encounter a business colleague at a corner table in a fine restaurant, and the woman with whom he’s dining is definitely not his wife. Or you mis-remember the name of a longtime friend when you’re trying to make an introduction at a cocktail party. Or you ask a friend how things are going with her husband — from whom she’s been divorced for a year and a half. Such moments fleet away, ever so quickly, if we simply let them go. There’s very seldom any cause to proffer an apology, except maybe to say, “Jack actually is one of my closest friends; you’d think I could come up with his name,” or “Sorry for not remembering about the divorce. How are things with you?”

In any case, it is never wrong to say hello, or if proximity permits, to extend a handshake. If the response to the handshake seems “reflexively uncomfortable,” the problem probably stems from the handshakee — not from the handshaker, unless the handshakee has some good reason to suspect that the handshaker will be revving up his iPhone, the minute he hits the cab, calling all his old fraternity brothers and saying, “Hey. Guess where I just ran into Floyd Bosko tonight?”

That sort of small talk suggests a very small, and rather out-moded, mind. If a gentleman becomes known for this sort of untrustworthiness, his reputation is long overdue for an overhaul.

— John/


Far too much of the time, it’s hard being friendly.

I know an extraordinarily wide range of people; but I’m sure this has happened to you, as well:¬†Sometimes, when I meet people at a cocktail party, at a buffet supper, at a church service, at a political fundraiser, at the reception after a wedding, or in the visitation line at a funeral — a place where all of us must have at least one thing in common — my mind goes blank.

The faces may be familiar, but the name simply will not rouse itself. (This happens particularly often with women who have changed their hair color, and with men who have grown mustaches.) If we seem to make eye contact, and if there is some innocent glimpse of recognition, I am prone to safety-introduce myself, saying, “Hello,” saying my name and extending my hand for a handshake.

The appropriate response to my extended hand is, “Good to see you. I’m Gustave Mullins.” Far too often, however, the response is, “Yeah. We met before.”

The handshakee must never take unfair advantage. Whenever an introduction is being made, or a handshake is being proffered, everyone involved in the transaction has the responsibility of saying his or her name as clearly and as frequently as possible.

Classic etiquette demands that a gentleman be introduced to a lady, as in “Millicent, I’d like you to meet my friend, Gustave.” Nevertheless, if Millicent is very kind, and very lady-like, she will respond by saying, “Hello, Gustave. I’m Millicent Godsenough. How nice to see you.” (If names are repeated often enough, over the course of a conversation, they are more likely to become imprinted in everybody’s brains.)

Here’s a terribly egregious example of wrongness:

Leaving a restaurant the other night, an acquaintance paused to introduce me to a friend of his. Since the lighting was dim, I said, “Good to see you. I believe we’ve met before.” The friend’s response was, “I’ve never seen you before in my life.” (What’s a gentleman to do? Except to say, “Well, it’s nice to meet you. No matter what.”)

Here, on the other hand, is an example of the most sublimely helpful, most friendly behavior:

On my way out the door after a haircut this past afternoon, a good friend, fresh from the shampoo basin, called out my name. I turned and stared at her, benumbed of recognition. “It’s Genevieve,” she said.

I said, “Omigod, I didn’t know you with a wet head.”

“That’s why I said my name,” Genevieve said. “How else would you know me with a wet head?”

Even among close friends, manners do not get any nicer than this.




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