Turmoil: Who's on your D.N.A. list?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 5:18pm

John the barista knows me pretty darn well.

“Tall mocha with a double shot of raspberry,” he says every time I approach the counter at my local Starbucks. It never fails to impress me that he remembers my favorite drink, although I’ve been in and out of there enough to have exchanged pleasantries with John hundreds of times.

So when I saw him waiting in my daughter’s school pick-up line a few weeks ago, I smiled in surprise and gave him a little wave.

John stared back at me blankly and kept driving.

And that’s how it’s been ever since. Each time we pass each other in the pick-up line, I smile hopefully, looking more and more each time like a puppy who wonders if he’ll finally get that pat on the head. But whenever John’s eyes meet mine, he quickly looks away with an expression better suited for Mt. Rushmore.

Clearly, I’m on John’s Do Not Acknowledge list — outside of the coffee shop, anyway. I wonder if things would be different if he could carry that Starbucks tip jar around with him wherever he goes.

Not that I’m bitter.

I find myself trying to decipher the Do Not Acknowledge lists of those I know and used to know on a fairly regular basis. Not long ago, I was added to the D.N.A. list of some neighbors who moved to a pricier subdivision a mile down the road. I learned about it after they began to no longer recognize me when we saw each other around town.

And you can always tell a teacher’s true feelings about your child by whether she puts you on her D.N.A. list once the school year has ended. We tried everything to appease a certain difficult teacher one year, bringing her fruit baskets, donating to her causes and showering her with praise. She was civil enough when I’d see her out and about, but the real truth came out two days into summer vacation, after I ran into her at Kroger. As usual, I paused, smiled and said, “Hel-….”

The dame kept right on going. My mouth dropped open as I realized what had just happened.

Do. Not. Acknowledge.

“Freaking biddy,” I muttered under my breath, remembering the Snowbird Cookie Jar I went to great pains to deliver to her desk after she mentioned she was trying to win one on Channel 4. Briefly, I thought of marching into her classroom and demanding it back once school resumed. But I didn’t have the counter space for the thing, anyway.

For a while, I morosely thought the problem was me. Maybe I was just one of those people who others couldn’t stand to be around, and all the smiling and carpooling and volunteering-for-jobs-nobody-else-wanted couldn’t make up for it.

But a few weeks ago, I spent time with a friend who admitted that the same thing happened to her all the time. I talked to a few more people and realized that not only are we all on someone’s Do Not Acknowledge list, but we also all have D.N.A. lists of our own. I can think of a few people on mine right now, if I’m honest.

I’ve learned over the years, though, that it’s best to keep your Do Not Acknowledge list short and sweet if you live in Nashville. This city is small enough that people who leave your immediate circle are likely to cycle right back into it without warning.

In particular, I’m thinking of Edna Snoutgrood*, the woman who coached my stepdaughter in gymnastics for five straight years. Despite the parties we attended at her house and the many, many chats we had on everything from coupons to local restaurants, as soon as my stepdaughter left her studio, my name went straight onto Mrs. Snoutgrood’s Do Not Acknowledge list.

I didn’t find this out until Mrs. Snoutgrood began answering phones at my pediatrician’s office a year or so later. Each time I came in with my kids, she’d act as if she had no idea who we were, even correcting me once when I called her “Edna.”

“I prefer Mrs. Snoutgrood!” she said haughtily.

“Oh!” I said, wrinkling my brow in confusion. “Er. Sorry!”

Fast forward to a few months ago, when I showed up at a bookstore’s storytime with my son, only to find that Mrs. Snoutgrood had a new job heading up the event. There, the cloud of amnesia mysteriously lifted and Mrs. Snoutgrood knew me once again. She even asked about my children by name.

Of course, when that happened, I did what I’d hope any of you would have done.

“I’m sorry,” I said politely. “Do I know you?”

I think I’m finally figuring out this Do Not Acknowledge thing.

*Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Read more at suburbanturmoil.com

24 Comments on this post:

By: sidneyames on 9/10/09 at 6:45

Actually I don't think the coffee guy was being mean. He probably recognized you in the coffee shop because he was used to seeing you there. When he saw you at school, he probably didn't make the connection. I've done that. Not intentionally, but just because I see hundreds of people a month. If I go into their business I recognize them, but if I see them out, I can't remember them. Maybe mine is old agee, but I've been this way all my life. Your article was great and I enjoyed it.

By: werled on 9/10/09 at 10:39

I agree about the "out of context" thing - it takes me a minute to recognize people when I see them in unexpected places.

Still...about four years ago I left a church - long story, but in conjunction with, though not actually "with" another group who left. Because my circle of friends is fairly large, it was inevitable that I run into almost the entire elder board - and their families - at a wedding last January. Every.single.one of the men turned around and walked away anytime I was anywhere near them. The wives, on the other hand, were perfectly cordial.

Fast forward to another wedding, this in July, at which one of the aforementioned elders - someone who works at the same university for whom I work - and his family also appeared. This time, however, the entire family spent a very pleasant HOUR chatting with me.

I blame peer pressure.

Anyway, I at least try to be pleasant to everyone, even the people I really don't want to see. Not out of any true Christian charity, I'll admit, but simply because I can then have that smug, "I'm the better person" feeling afterward. I'm working on my attitude...

By: mindy6540 on 9/10/09 at 10:50

I am on half the towns DNA list......I divorced someone from a prominent family in my small town and they went as far as to insinuate I had an affair.
Ironically my ex married his girlfriend he had before me.....we were married 15 years.....I think their is a clue there. lol

By: Amanda of Shame... on 9/10/09 at 10:50

Oh, the D.N.A list. I don't know that I have anyone specifically on mine. However, I think this list exists largely online. You know, someone might email you or reply to a comment or email, yet ignore a direct question or conversation on Twitter. But anyway, I think the Do Not Acknowledge list is making it bit time on the world wide web. That's for sure.

By: LindsayFerrier on 9/10/09 at 10:58

Uh oh. I ignore questions on Twitter all the time, mostly because I forget to check Tweets directed at me. I've been DNA'ing people and not even realizing it!!

By: SoMo on 9/10/09 at 11:38

I think I am on everyone's D.N.A.
-My daughter's first grade teacher was all over me when she wanted to see the new baby, but when I waved or smiled at her while in carpool she looked away. What the hell is that?
-Parents that I have seen for the 5 years that my daughter has been at her school and had classes with their children seem to have forgotten I even exist. I am sure they will remember me when they need something done for one of the class parties. Heck, I was even homeroom moms with one of the moms.
-And pretty much on every blog I comment on and every @ reply I put out on Twitter, but that it is just the Internet or so I tell myself.

I will admit that sometimes I may seem to not be acknowledging people, but really it is that I can't remember you, especially in my current sleep deprived state.

I do admire my husband because he is very persistant when he knows someone. He may even actually run after you, if you make a break for it. I figure, meh, not worth me running.

By: clarasax on 9/10/09 at 12:41

Yes, the DNA list stinks. I think that intentionally ignoring someone's "Hello" is a very dehumanizing act.

I will admit, however, to having a very long "avoid" list. I'll acknowledge someone on the list who says hello, but I'll try to stay on the other side of the room so that doesn't become necessary.

Clearly, that is a morally superior way to handle things. Um, something like that. :-)


By: ComfyMom on 9/10/09 at 1:09

I have a DNA list sort of. More of an Acknowledge List. It's like to a certain extent there are a finite number of people I am capable of keeping track of at any given point. People I am interacting with on a regular basis now take a certain precedence over people I no longer see that much. For example my kids started karate & suddenly there are about a dozen or so moms I see twice a week and to make room for them in what is apparently my limited 'ACQUAINTANCES' mental file, I have to drop a dozen or so women I used to know from when I was in MOPS 2 years ago. I don't do it deliberately but it just seems to happen that suddenly I am drawing a blank when people speak to me. I don't ignore them, but I don't prolong the contact either.


By: marywritersblock on 9/10/09 at 3:46


Many years ago, we attended a large church in the city. My husband and I went to the same Sunday school class every week, the same worship service. Sat in the general vicinity, socialized with the same people.

So, we would meet young couples and chat awhile. The next week, we'd go through the same motions and be re-introduced and have similar conversations. I swear, it would go on and on with some of the same people.

Finally, when someone would want to introduce us to someone we had already met, I would just say, "yes. we've met. Like three times. Don't you remember we talked all about such and so?"

We just figured we were too "unimportant" to be remembered since we went to church with a lot of folks in the Christian music industry.

Mary@The Writer's Block

By: Lessa on 9/10/09 at 4:08

I'm on a tone of DNA lists. I tend to speak my mind a bit too much not to be... heh.

Here's an example - when I was growing up, we spent a lot of time at the church across the street - services 3 times a week + youth group, etc. The youth pastor there eventually took over his own church, and we fast forward about 10 years, when my husband and I began attending there.

You see where this is going, right? This man knew me most of my life, and I saw him and spoke to him 3x a week for several years. After our first week, where he'd JUST MET my husband, he would introduce me to other people - this man I'd knowing for over a decade - as "Kevin's wife..."

Like he couldn't remember my name.
I was SO annoyed! I finally called him out on it, and he swore he knew my name, just get it more proper. I told him it'd be proper for me to kick his ass too if he didn't stop it. We left the church soon after.

Now? He doesn't even acknowledge my existence at ALL when I see him around town. I figure it's his loss, not mine! :)


By: ShanaOB on 9/10/09 at 7:45

Church secretary. Two out of three times that I see her outside of church context, she honest to God does not appear to know who I am. That magical third time, she greets me warmly, asks about my children by name, goes out of her way to engage me. Frankly, it freaks me out.


By: LindsayFerrier on 9/10/09 at 8:49

Ha. You just reminded me of a mom I used to know who on some occasions was very, very friendly and on others, would look at me like I had run over her puppy. On purpose.

It happened so many times, with no rhyme or reason, that I decided she had some sort of social disorder.

By: knewman4 on 9/10/09 at 9:20

Wow, this column was so eerie for me! When I read it earlier this morning I had just run into a colleague from another department in the hall and we both averted our gazes, and I thought, oohhh, that's weird, since when did Professor so-and-so and I stop acknowledging each other? This is a common phenomenon in my job, which is at a medium sized university in Pittsburgh, and students and colleagues drift in and out of my life. I've been at this job for 12 years! I frequently forget the names of less than memorable students that I taught as little as a semester before! Could DNA be, partly, an "I forgot your name" phenomenon? Anyway, great column, disturbing social reality. http://jacoblawrencenewman.blogspot.com/

By: Steph. on 9/10/09 at 10:28

I despise the DNA list. I think people do that to feel somehow superior and it bugs the crap out of me. However, some may think I do that at times. I actually assume someone won't remember me and then I'm too shy to go and say hello unless I see some indication of recognition. But, pretending you don't know who someone is...that's just bitchy.

By: sidneyames on 9/11/09 at 7:03

Maybe it's not DNA; maybe it JD - Jack Daniels. When people don't recognize me or acknowledge me, I don't get offended. I figure it's even-steven for me not recognizing someone else. A guy in Connecticut proposed to me after 3 months. He has a problem with my name and instead of Sidney, called me "cindy" sometimes. I declined his proposal saying "Bob, I can't marry you". He said "why" and I said "because you don't even know my name". I hurt his feelings but not without a good laugh. (he laughed later)

By: Kylie on 9/11/09 at 8:58

I just always thought I was forget-able! And that's why people I had met dozens of times didn't say hello in public! Sometime I DNA when I know someone who I don't think will know me (years of being conditioned by people not remembering me). I don't want to feel stupid after saying hello and them looking at me blankly. So I will purposefully go down the other grocery isle... anyway, I'm getting better at this as I get older and will smile politely whether I get a smile back or not and can finally laugh at this instead of feeling badly about myself! ha!

By: AliciaD_DrMom on 9/11/09 at 10:31

are you KIDDING me?!?! thats really... wow. I cant say ive been snubbed like that. maybe bc im always in a big ole fog and dont recognize anyone from anywhere unless they speak to me first. And, people usually steer clear of me bc i have too many crazy little kids with me and probably appear as if im going to gnaw someones arm off if they dare approach me.

im definately going to pay more attention to this interesting DNA phenomenon over in jersey. i only have one person i try to 'ignore' but if she makes eye contact with me i always do smile and talk with her. i cant imagine NOT. its just - RUDE!! ;)

this was completely HILARIOUS. thanks for another good laugh. you always crack me up!!

By: OperaReed on 9/11/09 at 10:40

I agree with all of those who sited the dreaded "out of context" issue of recalling people from settings other than where I generally interact with them. I do believe, however, that some of this phenomena is a result of this new digital lifestyle. Since we are all just too busy to really know one another, we politely "chat," and substitute an email or a tweet for real substantive relationships.

By: daisymay328 on 9/11/09 at 3:21

I am pretty bad at remembering faces and names- and it is especially hard when it is out of normal context (it got me blackballed from some sororities in college because the girls thought I was blowing them off when I didn't say "Hi" in the mail hall or between classes). Maybe the next time you go to Starbucks you should introduce yourself to John, and mention that you have seen him in the carpool line at school. Then you will truly know if you are on his DNA list. He may just be looking away because he thinks you are a crazy lady trying to flirt with him in carpool!

By: mmmyatt on 9/12/09 at 12:53

maybe instead of a dna list, i have a "try to avoid if possible list." but i hope that i am more subtle about it than this guy! sorry you had to experience that...

i think even worse than being on someone's dna list is having them say they don't want your child to play with their child. i still burn from being told that by a former friend. i think i would rather be burned than have my child hurt like that...


By: aliciabeth on 9/13/09 at 3:57

I don't *think* I do this, but maybe I do. I do try to avoid some people, and I sometimes pretend I'm completely enthralled with one of my children to avoid looking in the direction of a particular person. Once I'm caught, though, I always acknowledge. And mine is more the worry that *they* won't acknowledge me. So humiliating.


By: atervin on 9/15/09 at 1:35

I really don't have a DNA list - I might really want to refuse to acknowledge someone, but I always do - if they are on my internal DNA list I just make it short and sweet. But I know that I must be on one peson's DNA list - you know who you are...but to be honest - while it's frustrating that they think they have a reason to ignore me...I prefer to having to actually talk to them!

By: atervin on 9/15/09 at 1:38

On second thought I know there are at least 2 people who have me on their DNA list. Now that I think about it - that really peeves me!


By: chainsofyesterday on 9/17/09 at 3:46

I wonder... is it always D.N.A., or is it sometimes that people just don't recognize each other outside of a certain environment/element? I have people that I know from school, that I wouldn't recognize if I tripped over them in the mall. People that I see at Walmart, knowing damn well that I KNOW them from somewhere, but not sure where, only to realize the next day that it's the guy who gets my coffee - I seem to compartmentalize people into the places/situations I'm used to seeing them in, and get thrown when I see them elsewhere.

Or, it could just be that they're snobby :)

Kelly @ chainsofyesterday.com