Dear Drew, It’s winter term, am I cool yet? -Optimistic Freshmen in OrmsbyIt’s a complicated issue, Optimistic, especially given that some freshmen will simply never be cool. The short answer is “not quite, but you’re on your way,” but it might help if we look a little closer at the reasons why. One of the most important reasons is the simple passage of time. Upperclassmen should be a little more used to seeing you now, so they are less likely to notice your obnoxious habits. This also means you’re a little more accustomed to the way things work, so you’re actually less likely to do obnoxious things in the first place. Another important reason is the general awfulness of winter term. Everything else is worse – the weather, the quality of vegetables available, everybody’s mood – so the freshmen just kind of look better by comparison. Living through winter term also gives freshmen a kind of shared adversity with upperclassmen, making you almost seem like a peer. Almost. The stresses of winter term should also simply wear you down to the point where you are much more easily ignored, a plus for any freshman. I suspect that another significant reason could be the fact that we’re all too bundled up now to differentiate between classes. We’ve now become giant coats with scarves for faces and hats for hair, and stopping to figure out who’s who just doesn’t seem worth the time. I suspect that our inability to recognize each other causes a lot of casual-acquaintance-level relationships to suffer, which I suppose also helps freshman gain relative social significance. Together, these factors may not actually make you cool, but they certainly help to make you less uncool, which is really all you can ask for at this point.
Dear Drew, The long break was relaxing, but now I can’t remember anyone’s name. Do you have any tips for gracefully handling a run-in with an acquaintance you can’t place, but who keeps using your name? -Forgetful Freshman
Actually, Forgetful, I have a pretty solid way of avoiding any embarrassment in these situations, but it may not work for everyone, and you have to keep in mind that ideas like grace and embarrassment are relative. Let me start by saying that I have a terrible memory for names. I’ve forgotten the names of close childhood friends, coworkers I see everyday, and have made a habit of not asking any questions in class until about fourth week, when I actually learn the professor’s name. I forget people’s names as soon as I hear them, which I can only chalk up to not finding names particularly interesting. That probably sounds like a wild justification, but when you think about it, it really is strange that we tie so much of our identities up in a few proper nouns that we didn’t really have any hand in determining anyway. I think we could all do better to not take it so personally when our names are forgotten – there are so many of us, and we all have different names, the chances of forgetting a few is pretty high. Somebody forgetting your name doesn’t mean that you’re uninteresting or forgettable, just that they neglected to attach your name to you in their mind. That doesn’t seem like such a huge crime, so it’s probably best not to be so tense about it. Back to your question, and my foolproof solution: Avoid using people’s names altogether. It’s pretty shocking how easily you can get by only greeting people with “Hey” and “How’s it going?” I even picked up some jarringly non-native surfer slang just to expand the potential greetings to include name stand-ins like “dude” and “man.” I know it sounds too simple to possibly be effective, but if anyone ever notices, they’ll just assume that you’re weird, not that you’ve forgotten their name. Chances are, you’re already pretty weird, so an odd speech pattern or two will really only be a drop in the bucket. I’ve found this to be more acceptable than constantly apologizing for forgetting people’s names, but I guess you’ll have to find the solution that works for you.