In China and Chinese universities especially, exchange students from different countries have lots of opportunities to meet Chinese students. I’ve met new friends at school events, English corners, on the bus, on the street, in the canteen etc. When I meet someone for the first time, we usually exchange Wechat accounts as a way to keep in contact [although we won’t always become the best of friends like when I bothered a girl on my first day].
Sometimes I’ll bump into these friends at a later date and they’ll say ‘Hey Leona, 你还记得我吗？’ (Do you still remember me?)
It’s an awkward question to answer, especially for those people I don’t remember. I know it’s probably just a greeting, but the people who ask me seem to people I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while. So I don’t know if I directly answer ‘Yes, I remember you’, it’s like saying ‘yes I remember who you are but I haven’t bothered to get in contact with you because you’re not that important to me’.
So my usual response to those I remember is’yes, I remember you, we met at X, but I can’t remember your name, sorry’, and to those I don’t remember ‘yes, your face is familiar, but I’ve forgotten your name’.
Chinese names are difficult to remember, even for some Chinese students, as I saw when our taekwondo class was split into groups of 6 people and we had to remember everyone’s names. They found it difficult to remember everyone’s names and we had 3 minutes to introduce ourselves. Like my Chinese name, the Li, could be 李、里、理、礼、澧… etc but it’s the first one 【木子李】. The Ou has less options, the 欧 in Europe 欧洲 or the 鸥 in seagull 海鸥。Etc etc, so I think it’s acceptable to forget my Chinese friends’ Chinese names if I haven’t written them down. Many like to use their English names.
Other strange greetings questions include
- 你早饭吃了吗？ Have you eaten breakfast
- 你吃饭了吗？Have you eaten lunch/dinner?
- 你去哪儿？Where are you going?
- 你在干嘛？What are you doing?
I’ve been told that these are just questions and people don’t really care where you’re going or if you ate dinner or not. The same way we often ask ‘How are you?’ but don’t expect to hear anything besides ‘I’m fine, good thanks’.