The other day I walked into the nail salon in my town and was greeted with enthusiastic grins and salutations. As I sat down to get a manicure and catch up on People, I chitchatted with the lovely woman holding my hands in hers. We spoke about our kids and the abundance of customers that day, and all I kept thinking was “What the hell is her name?”
I’ve been frequenting that salon since I moved here nearly 12 years ago. They’ve seen me pregnant, in work clothes, and in yoga pants with no makeup. I’ve visited them on the eve of many special occasions: vacations, parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and shared the details when I returned.
I’m too frazzled to make a regular appointment so I just take whomever I get when I walk in. I know all of their faces, but very few of their names.
I know their stories too. There’s the lady who recently had a baby, another who took a trip back home, and one whose son just graduated. Sometimes they wear name tags and I can cheat, but their names never stick in my head long enough to give me the confidence to say them out loud.
It’s a two-way street. I’ve brought my 8-year-old, Eli, in there since he was an infant. He’s my outgoing, flirty son so they all adore him and only refer to me as “Eli’s mom.” For 8 years, I walk in the door and they say “Hi Eli’s mom!” I’ve tried to tell them my name but they never remember it either.
It’s too late to go back, no? I can’t now introduce myself 12 years later, can I?
It’s not just the nail salon. My 14-year-old has been on the same sports teams for years. I’ve sat in the stands with the other players’ parents for scores of games but I could not tell you half of their names, nor could they tell you mine.
We greet each other with smiles and comment on how the siblings have grown or the crazy weather. We cheer for each other’s kids. But darned if I couldn’t shout at them to come down for dinner. I’ve tried to match the emails with the faces, but everyone has different last names these days so it’s not a foolproof system.
There are many people in my daily life whose names I could not spit out, even if I had a gun to my head: the guy at the local fish store, people at work who sit two pods down, parents at school, fellow sweaty yogis….you get the picture.
I’ve asked many of them their names in the past but in my old age, could not conjure it up the next time I saw them and felt sheepish asking again. Then you exchange a smile and a nod for a while, until enough time passes that it becomes uncomfortable to admit you have no earthly idea what they’re called.
Is there a proper etiquette for this dilemma?
I swear I’m a friendly, sociable person who tries to use manners whenever possible. I’m an extrovert who seeks out interaction with friends and strangers. I look people in the eye when I speak to them and remember their stories.
It’s just the names that elude me.
And then I get embarrassed and feel like a dope. And then more time passes. And then it’s just weird.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a national “this is my name day” where every able person on the planet wore name tags for a day? I’d keep a notebook handy and promise to memorize them for keeps.
Until then, I shall remain… nameless.