Friends Come and Go–Mostly Go

Posted on September 6, 2011


Living in Shanghai has conditioned me not to get too attached to people.  A large percentage of the foreigners here are sent over on one or two year contracts, so a significant portion of our social outings are spent at farewell parties.  After seven years in Shanghai, I’ve become pretty efficient at meeting new people and quickly determining whether we’re likely to become friends and whether I can see myself attending that new friend’s farewell party.  Don’t be surprised if the first time we meet I ask you the following questions to determine our friendship compatibility:

How much money do you make?  Are you good at keeping track of money or would you never notice if money seemed to go missing every time you used the bathroom and left your bag with me?

How many parties do you throw every month?  Have you ever pressed charges against a guest for breaking/stealing items while at your party?

Do you ask party guests to bring their own food and drinks?  If the party starts at 7:00, at what point in the evening might you be too inebriated to notice if a guest arrives without bringing any food or drinks and leaves almost immediately with an armful of food and drinks?

Are you married?  Can I see a picture of your wife?  Can I keep this picture?

If you can answer these questions to my satisfaction, we have an excellent chance of being friends.  The next challenge is for me to learn your name.

A new crop of Shanghai greenies has arrived, and my wife and I will go to some dinners and parties to get to know these people, but I’ll have a remarkably difficult time remembering names and backgrounds even thirty seconds after we shake hands.  I remembered all of the names just fine for the first three years.  Then I started forgetting, so I began writing them down in a big Excel spreadsheet during years four and five.  Now I only hear white noise when they give their names.

I don’t mean to sound like a snob, as though I can’t be bothered to remember names, but this is a decision my brain made on its own.  It realized learning twenty-five names  of people who would leave in one year was a complete waste of storage space and preferred to use this area of the brain to ponder new recipes to share with Nigella, so it started kicking out those names.

If you want to be friends, here are some tips to increase your chances of being branded in my memory:

Have the same name as one of my friends who left last spring.  It would also be helpful if you looked exactly like this friend.  It would be even more helpful if you actually were this friend and could keep reminding me you never moved, but simply took a vacation over the summer.

Do you have any tattoos you could show me as a visual device to attach to your name?  If not, have you considered getting a tattoo?  If you are considering getting a tattoo, might I suggest a tattoo of your name?  Maybe on your neck or forehead?

Do something really impressive the first time I meet you, like save my life or give me a major award.

Let me borrow some money; every time I see you I’ll remember your name because I’ll have to whisper to my wife, “Todd just showed up and he’s going to ask about his money, so I’m going to slip out the back entrance.”

Be a good looking, drug free, single guy with a job.  Not for me but for my ten single girl friends.  My wife and I enjoy secretly setting up people without their knowledge, but I’m often short on eligible guys.  I guarantee I’ll remember your name because you’ll be on a date you didn’t know was a date with one of my friends within a week.

If you can’t manage one of these methods of catching my attention, and you really have your heart set on my remembering your name, you can always try being really, really attractive and following that up by giving me lots of compliments.

Posted in: Columns