Do other cultures also do this?

My absence from blogging these last few days was because I went to Toronto to attend the funeral of my cousin who died suddenly. I am of the age when the big gatherings I go to are the weddings of children of friends and relatives, and funerals. Since I have been living in the US for over three decades, on these occasions, I meet a large number of Sri Lankans with whom I have not been in contact with for many, many years. This is especially the case in Toronto which has a massive expatriate Sri Lankan population.

While it is nice to meet with them again, Sri Lankans have an extremely annoying habit that drives me up the wall. At these occasions, people will come up to me and the very first words out of their mouths will be: “Do you remember me?”. They will then wait hopefully for a positive response. They all do this without fail. I am not exaggerating. Remember, these may be people that I last saw in high school or during the time when I lived in Sri Lanka. Many decades have passed since then and many of the people have naturally aged and changed a lot. And yet they expect me to remember them instantaneously and are disappointed when I cannot.

This puts me in an extremely awkward position because since they clearly remember me, my not remembering them is seen by them as almost an insult, that they were not important enough to register deeply in my memory banks. While this is of course true, my causing this feeling used to bother me a lot and when younger. I used to stall for time, hoping that some flash of insight would strike and their name and relationship to me would flow back into my consciousness. But that rarely happened and I would feel embarrassed and confess sheepishly that I could not recall them. Now that I am older, I don’t give a damn and say flatly, “No” and wait for them to identify themselves and their relationship. I feel that if they want to put themselves in that position, they have to be willing to accept any answer. It is not my concern if they feel insulted, which some seem to feel.

Conversely, when I initiate the conversation with someone whom I have not met for a long time, I always begin by saying, “Hi, you probably don’t remember me but I am Mano Singham and (I then insert the nature of family relationship or previous encounters here).” This way, even if they had no clue who I am, they can gracefully lie and say yes and we can continue the conversation.

But my question is whether this is awful habit is unique to Sri Lankans or if it happens in other cultures as well.

Any thoughts?


  1. coragyps says

    I’ve had that happen – and I’m not terribly good at facial recall. I also am cursed with looking much like I looked fifty years ago (but lots greyer), so I’m more recognizable than some folks. You have a good approach-

  2. kestrel says

    This has happened to me a LOT. I’m an artist and over the years I’ve done lots of shows where I’ve sold as a vendor. In addition, I apparently have a face that is quite common, so people ALWAYS think they know me.

    So yes, I get people saying to me, “I was at Arts Festival in Park City, you know, the one with the green shoes!” or “Oh I know you, you work at the 7/11 in Jackson Hole!” (said to me as I was working in the ticket booth at Park City Ski Area, did they think a person who worked at the 7/11 commuted to another state???!). For the record, there are (or were, back in the day) typically 20,000 attendees at the Park City Arts Festival. Nowadays I guess it’s more like 55,000… and you really expect I’m going to remember you? After looking at thousands upon thousands of other people??

    So, while there is a very small chance the person really has seen me before, for the most part I have absolutely no clue who they are. I smile, say I’m very bad at faces and they are going to have to remind me. And most of the time… they have never seen me in their life before. So there is absolutely no reason why I am going to know them.

    You are not alone. Sympathies.

  3. Onamission5 says

    That couldn’t happen with members of my family of origin who I’ve known since childhood because there’s only like eight of them so alack of recognition on my part would mean a cognitive issue, but it does sort of happen with non-family people I haven’t seen in a long time. Caveat there is the “do you know who I am/remember me” is usually followed up by the person identifying themselves and providing context “I’m your great aunt Sally we met at the reunion when you were 12” unless the relationship was particularly close in the past and thus there is a reasonable expectation that one would be remembered. In the unspoken etiquette of my wannabe WASP-ish upbringing it would be impolite to leave a person hanging like that. Not that everyone is polite, mind. Far from it.

  4. deepak shetty says

    “Do you remember me?”

    Definitely a common occurrence in India especially when one is younger and meet all kind of distant relatives in functions
    I was asked it and almost always had to answer “No” to a lot of Tsk Tsking.
    I asked my similarly aged cousin what to do ? and he said whether you remember the person or not , Answer confidently , Yes .
    So the next time I said “Yes” , the response was so Who am I ? and from that day onwards I went back to my customary No.

  5. deepak shetty says

    oh also the responses to No would be
    I am so and so’s brothers uncles spouses neighbour . Which would have been fine if I remembered so and so.

  6. says

    First of all my condolences.
    I’d say the direct question is rare, but people expecting you to know them is not. My maternal grandmother had 9 siblings and her parents had siblings and my grandpa’s mum as well and the “granny network” would keep each other updated, which meant that the kind of knew me and expected me to know them.

  7. EigenSprocketUK says

    I go for this: “I’ve had a hectic few years; been away from the family news and issues for far too long: you’re going to have to remind me and my poor memory”
    Transl: (No, your rude challenge is not going to score any points with me. I will graciously give you an excuse to think it’s my memory that’s at fault, though it’s not my fault either as I’ve been more busy than you can possibly imagine. This way, neither of us loses face.)

  8. says

    I wonder whether they remember you, and their question is to cover up the fact that they don’t. Maybe the response to their question should be, “Well, do you remember me?”

  9. says

    Similarly, people who discover that you live in a particular city or country of over 1 million people, ask you if you then know X who lives somewhere in the same city/country. And sometimes to your annoyance you realise that you actually do know the person mentioned.

    I suspect the question is a paraphrase of the age old question “What is your position in my tribe?”

  10. chigau (違う) says

    I like Japan.
    Everyone bows.
    There exist a plethora of websites that will edumate you on all the nuancifications but
    mostly, there is no touching.

  11. Reginald Selkirk says

    “Of course I recognize you. It’s great to see that you’re finally out of prison.”

  12. mnb0 says

    “But my question is …”
    No, neither in The Netherlands nor in Suriname. It happens occasionally, but only when the person who asks it feels there is a good chance that the answer will be positive. Still if the answer is no it will not be a disappointment, but only an excuse to reminisce – and wait for your reaction “Ah, yes! Of course! Now I remember!”. A healthy dosis of pretending is allowed.

  13. file thirteen says

    I typically say something like “I never remember anyone. It takes everything I have just to remember who I am! Please remind me.”

  14. mountainbob says

    I seem to be close to “face blind.” Good thing my bride of more than 50 years wears the same hair-style and clothes that I’m familiar with! Others – especially women – change glasses, makeup, hair color and style, and then question why they aren’t remembered. I occasionally glance at the Today Show and am struck by the fact that all the ladies look exactly alike. If they were standing shoulder to shoulder I might be able to differentiate Hoda Kotbe and Savanna Guthrie (Hoda is a little older, I think), but that’s it. I ask that all show a bit more tolerance for the inability of some of us to remember.

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