Wednesday 20 November 2019

I'm Sarah. Now, who are you?

A political career is not an option for Sarah Carey, as she draws a blank at faces. Even if she knows you

People have always told me that I should go into politics. I come up with various excuses as to why I can't, but the truth is I have a disease that would make it impossible. Officially, it's called prosopagnosia. But I don't have it officially, so when I say 'disease', it's more like having an intolerance as opposed to an allergy. It's the inability to recognise faces.

When you combine this with my other handicap, anomic aphasia - the inability to remember names - you begin to understand. Politicians need many qualities, but above all they must be able to warmly greet people like old friends, even if they only met them for five seconds, 20 years ago.

I cannot do this. In fact, I do the opposite. Sometimes a guest will come into the studio for my Newstalk show, and I'll jump up, warmly shaking their hand, and say, "Hi! I can't believe we haven't met before!" Then they'll say, "Yes, we have." I'll pretend to remember, but it's too late. They already know they got filed under "forgettable" and hold it against me. Who could blame them?

You wouldn't catch Donie Cassidy out like that. In 2009, my mother and I had been visiting relations in Cavan and stopped off at the Castlepollard hotel for a cup of tea. I know it was 2009, because the local elections were on and my Fine Gael-councillor father was running. When we walked in, who was sitting at the first table inside the door, eating his dinner in the middle of the day, only Donie Cassidy.

We clocked him. He clocked us. For about a half a second I saw an "access file" flash in his eye and then out it came. "Betty, how are you? Sarah! Welcome to Westmeath! How is Willie getting on?" We shook hands and expressed our fears that the Da's council seat was at risk, but he wasn't having any of it. "Haven't ye the wind at your backs? He'll be grand!" (Which he was.) We shot the breeze for a few minutes and shuffled off for our tea, and to express amazement at his recall.

OK, I'd be on the telly from time to time, but I wasn't exactly Miriam in terms of recognition. My mother said she might have met Donie once, 30 years ago, at a social function with hundreds of other people. And there are hundreds of county councillors in the country. My father was only one, and wasn't even in the same party. We were so impressed. Honestly, if I'd lived in Westmeath, I'd have voted for Donie next time out. But that's why I can't run. How can I go around telling people I've never met them before, when there are Donies out there with their miraculous gift, which is impossible to either replicate or fake.

But the fault is not all mine. You see, I don't expect people to remember me. So when I meet someone, even if I know I've met them before, I always say my name when shaking hands. "Hi, great to see you. Sarah Carey." Then they can say, "Of course I remember you, Sarah" and everyone feels warm and good.

In particular, I make sure to do this if I'm with my husband, and he bumps into an old college buddy or former colleague in the street. I can tell instantly that a social nightmare is unfolding when he doesn't introduce me. He's forgotten the name of the old pal. So I thrust forward my hand, declaring, "Hi, I'm Sarah". At this point, it is the clear obligation of the person to whom I am helpfully introducing myself to that they introduce themselves back. But you wouldn't believe the number of people who fail to respond to this social cue. Say your name! I have no idea who you are!

Now, which is the worse social crime? Forgetting a face or presuming oneself unforgettable? Is it bad manners or rampant egotism to assume that people know who you are? Perhaps I've read too much Jane Austen, but it makes me yearn for an era when formal introductions were a social imperative. In the absence of such social formalities, what's one to do? Here's my advice. The only person in the country who doesn't have to introduce herself is Miriam. For everyone else, have pity, and tell us who you are.

Sunday Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life