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.