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I was waiting for the elevator to arrive at the ground floor and a man called my name. I turned to him and saw him looking at me but I could not recognize him. I was surprised because I did not know him. I stayed calm and tried to smile, and then pretended to be very busy typing words on my phone.

I know there should be some polite ways to respond to him, please teach me some.

Is this one ok?

Hi, have we met somewhere before?

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    Excuse me can be taken to mean that you are unhappy to have been addressed, when used in a reply. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 3 '17 at 15:01
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    Giving advice on how to handle this situation is really beyond the scope of this site. We assume you are on the ground floor waiting for the elevator to descend, and that the man called your name across the lobby of the building. Whatever you might say, it would have to be called loudly across the lobby, right? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 3 '17 at 16:07
  • Isn't this question more about manners or etiquette than English language learning? – insanity Jul 4 '17 at 9:43
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There are many ways to handle this situation, more than I could list. As with any language, if you are good with words you can think of new, clever expressions. Some common examples:

Hi, I feel like we've met before but I'm afraid I don't remember your name.

I'm sorry, but have we met?

Hello, excuse me, but I can't recall where we might have met.

Hello, I thought you looked familiar! Remind me (of) how we know each other?

Personally, I'm not very good with names, so my favorite tactic when I should (but don't) remember someone's name, or how we met, is to introduce them to my wife:

Me: Hi, so good to see you! Have you met my wife?
My wife: Hi, I'm D-. How do you know my husband?

This way they volunteer the information so I can pretend I didn't forget.

I have a teacher who, when he can't recall a student's name, just says "My friend." He's pretty skillful at it so you never feel like he's forgotten who you are:

Hello, my friend, how are you today! It's been a while, hasn't it? When was the last time we saw each other?

As I said, clever.

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    Smart tactics, I should do the same. – SovereignSun Jul 3 '17 at 15:40
  • Thanks Andrew for your answer. Just another question, what does D- mean ? Is it a hidden name or some slang? – kitty Jul 3 '17 at 15:53
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    I don't want to write my wife's full name, to keep her privacy. – Andrew Jul 3 '17 at 15:55
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    My dad asked that whenever someone came up to talk to him that I introduce myself and ask their name, so that if he had forgotten he would now know it. Happened a lot. – Henry Jul 3 '17 at 18:59
  • The "My friend" type of greeting is especially common in the North of England. I'll refer to most people as "mate" or similar, even when I do remember their name. – Jon Story Jul 4 '17 at 13:26
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As Andrew mentioned, there's lots of ways to handle this, but one thing to keep in mind is the slight nuances in phrasing between some options.

If you just really don't recognize the person at all and are wondering how they know you, you might phrase your response as a question, such as

I'm sorry, have we met before?

This is a fairly polite way of saying you don't think you know the person since you are at least starting with an apology, even if you're not really sure you should be apologizing for anything. That probably would have been fine in the case you describe.

But sometimes you recognize the face but can't remember the name, or you're in a situation where even though you don't recognize the person you're pretty sure they might be someone important that you should know and don't want to be rude to. In those cases you can be extra polite:

Hey, how's it going? Remind me, when did we last meet?

This way, if you don't ask when you've met but use the imperative (in a polite voice) to have them tell you, you're pretending to remember that you did meet before but just saying you forgot what you were doing then.

Another tactic is to not even give away that you don't recognize the person at all. It's not at all uncommon to never address someone by name in conversation, even if they address you by name first, so you could just play along.

Hey! How have you been?

This works well if you're just passing on the street or something where you probably won't talk long and probably won't see the person again any time soon. And if you're lucky, you'll remember who they are by what they start talking about. But if you're at a conference or even just at the bar – some situation where you might run into them again later and have them start introducing you to people – this strategy could backfire on you when someone else asks "So how do you two know each other?"

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    If they know your name from another source and you didn't meet them before, "How have you been?" tips them off you're pretending. You can just say, "Hi there!" Simple. – Wildcard Jul 4 '17 at 0:31
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    Yeah, maybe sometimes. I think it depends on who you're talking to and where you live and maybe some other things that would determine the specific wording. But at least in the United States, half the time if someone asks "how have you been" they're not expecting a real answer anyway. You just say "good" and move on. I was just giving a random example of a greeting that doesn't involve acknowledging that you don't remember the person b/c it was the concept rather than the specific words that were the point. – cjl750 Jul 4 '17 at 2:15

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