WHEN I was new in the media business, I used to feel a bit slighted when a subject didn’t recognize me sometime after our interview. After having spent an hour or two with me talking about their advocacies, interests and even personal lives, I felt that the least these famous people could do was to smile back and acknowledge me the next time we bump into each other in public.
Some of them did recognize and say hello to me, while most of them, perhaps, not out of malice but out of sheer forgetfulness, didn’t. I used to think that it was rude, no matter how hot or accomplished these subjects were, not to say a short and sincere thank you or even a warm hello to journalists like me.
That was until I started unwittingly doing the very same things I hated. In the course of my job as a journalist, it was inevitable that I began encountering all sorts of people whom, no matter how hard I try, I couldn’t recall having met or dealt with at all.
Am I any better?
Empathy, indeed, has a way of making you understand others, even supposedly famous and accomplished snobs. God, since I’m now doing the very same things they’re doing, what makes me any better?
And how did I know I was becoming as forgetful and seemingly oblivious as some of the subjects I once interviewed?
The moment people, whose faces I couldn’t place, smiled or tried to engage me in small talk whenever I was in public areas like hotel lobbies, malls, airports and even during coverages.
Some people are poor at remembering names, while some have trouble recalling faces. It’s just my luck that as a lifestyle reporter I’m a major failure at both.
After a 5- to 10-second delay, I did manage to recognize some of them (don’t bother to ask me their names, though). But there have been quite a few cases where it was as if memories of our supposed meeting never took place in my mind.
They seemed friendly and blessed with smiling faces, but I couldn’t readily smile back because I didn’t know who the hell they were. And if I did manage to be cordial, my attempts at making small talk were at best tentative. I tell you, it was awkward and embarrassing.
I was so poor at faking it that most of the time, based on the other person’s face and body language, I was soon found out. Not a few of them were quite helpful in trying to refresh my memory. As soon as it came back to me, I simply break into a sheepish smile before saying a sincere apology. I’m pretty sure you’ve also been in a similar situation.
I bring this subject up as a follow-up to the previous entry I wrote about how TV journalists are more readily recognizable in public compared to their unseen colleagues in the print medium.
Public figures, too
Yet despite this reality, print journalists like myself are public figures, too. We may escape being recognized by the general public, but not by the people in circles we regularly move in. And like me, some of these people are also better than others in terms of name and face recall.
To save myself from further embarrassment and disappointment, I now assume that all the subjects I’ve interviewed before have either forgotten me or in need of a memory boost should our paths cross again during an event or interview. I no longer expect them to know my name or even remember my face.
After all, these people, especially celebrities, politicians and businessmen, have a million and one things going through their heads.
They meet hundreds of people every week. Who am I, no matter how famous and accomplished I fancy myself to be, to continuously occupy a small corner of their brains after a fleeting encounter or even an hour-long interview? Unless I deal with them regularly or did something terribly bad during our first meeting, there’s simply no way they could remember me.
My colleague Cheche shared with me an ideal way of dealing with such a valid concern. She never assumes a subject knows or remembers her from a previous interview they did unless they bump into each other often. To save herself and the subject the trouble, she makes it a point to introduce herself and the paper she works for first to the person even if they’ve already met once before.
Such a practice does make a lot of sense in light of what happened to two rather presumptuous print journalists I know. Making fun of them is farthest from my mind. But their experiences could provide people, even non-journalists, with cautionary tales on the folly of being too presumptuous or overly familiar with another person.
I heard this story years ago from a PR practitioner who went with this print journalist to the restroom of a five-star hotel. While there, the two allegedly bumped into Pops Fernandez, the “Concert Queen” herself.
Presumptuous print journalist (PPJ) 1 didn’t waste any time saying hi to Pops as if she were some long lost friend. Pops, one of the most gracious public figures I know, was said to have smiled back before making her way for the door.
Instead of leaving it at that, PPJ1 attempted to engage her in small talk. Worst, she even succeeded in putting Pops on the spot by making her recall the time they supposedly had a one-on-one interview during one of those press cons.
Leave her alone
Despite PPJ1’s detailed and animated attempts to refresh Pops’ memory, even to the point of bringing up the outfit the actress-singer wore on the day of the supposed encounter, the poor woman couldn’t remember a thing, including perhaps who PPJ1 was.
Can you blame Pops? As a celebrity, she does press cons, grants interviews and deals with total strangers, including journalists, with routine regularity.
Sensing how awkward the scene was beginning to turn out, the PR pulled PPJ1 gently aside to allow Pops to exit the scene. In short, she saved PPJ1 from further making an ass of herself.
PPJ2’s case was a bit different, but it’s also a classic case of how not to deal with a famous subject.
After telling her readers, who probably didn’t care the least bit, that broadcast journalist X (BJX), the subject of her feature, was a classmate of hers during certain subjects in college (in short, they were tight), PPJ2 bumped into her a few months later during a social event.
Known in both print and broadcast media circles for her reputation as a talking airhead who survives on sheer bravado, BJX didn’t disappoint. She was everything her detractors said she was, and more.
Upon seeing PPJ2, BJX stared at her and said something along these lines: “Wait, I know you. We’ve met before, right?”
So much for being college classmates! PPJ2, who spent several hours interviewing and shooting BJX in her home, was shocked beyond words. (We Filipinos say it best: Parang binuhusan ng tubig!)
As soon as BJX turned her back after being distracted perhaps by a friend, PPJ2 was heard muttering something like this: “F—k, she doesn’t know me! She just doesn’t know me.”
I need not tell you what the moral of these two stories are. You can also go ahead and supply the likely endings for me. 🙂