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Waxwinged
09-27-2010, 03:49 PM
So, I've got an accent. You wouldn't think that that would be a problem in the melting pot of the US, and with friends/acquaintances, it really isn't.

But after the first 12 years or so, having complete strangers asking where I'm from has gotten pretty old. Likewise, hearing about their brother's roommate's cousins that dated a person of my nationality once/being asked to say something in my native language/hearing horribly mangled words and sadly stereotypical views.

So far, 've had the pleasure of using..
"From the planet Earth/Venus/Jupiter/etc".

That generally got blank looks and a very slow, loud restatement of the question.

The only other thing I can think of is "None of your business", which sounds a bit rude. Any other ideas?

blondebear
09-27-2010, 03:51 PM
"Over the hills and far away."

Bosstone
09-27-2010, 03:52 PM
Atlantis.

Waxwinged
09-27-2010, 03:53 PM
"Over the hills and far away."

By Nightwish!? This calls for an accompanying ring-tone!

Teacake
09-27-2010, 03:53 PM
Somewhere else.

Onomatopoeia
09-27-2010, 04:16 PM
I get that question too, and I was born and raised in the US. I'm told that upon meeting me for the first time you'd think I'd have some kind of non American accent. I usually give one of the following responses.

A. My mother's womb
B. Thataway (while pointing my thumb over my shoulder)
C. Earth (I see you've used that one too :))

I also get the question "what are you?" which I find extremely annoying, almost insulting. Less frequently, I'll get "what nationality are you?" When I say I'm American, the usual response is "no, I mean what country is your family from?" to which, when I say America, the questioner usually either becomes annoyed and shuts up, or annoyed and changes the subject.

I've found that I have little patience for these questions as I've gotten older.

control-z
09-27-2010, 04:33 PM
"Somewhere you've never heard of" sounds nice and mysterious.

Or you could just answer, many people are accent aficionados ya know. Is it that big of an imposition?

Zsofia
09-27-2010, 04:36 PM
"A preposition is not a thing to be ending a sentence with."

Gagundathar
09-27-2010, 04:37 PM
I used to say, 'the most beautiful city in the world, because the most beautiful women in the world live there.'

But since my dear bride was born elsewhere, then I stopped saying that.

descamisado
09-27-2010, 04:52 PM
Over there, over there . . .

OR

East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

foolsguinea
09-27-2010, 04:58 PM
"Lots of different places."

Peter Morris
09-27-2010, 05:07 PM
From The Magnificent Seven

Steve McQueen: Where do you come from?
Yul Brynner: points vaguely backwards over his shoulder with his thumb
Steve McQueen: Where are you headed?
Yul Brynner: points vaguely forwards.

SciFiSam
09-27-2010, 05:20 PM
Make up a place and then act all offended that they haven't heard of it. 'But Dongoria is the world's largest manufacturer of tin-openers! How can you not have heard of us?'

DooWahDiddy
09-27-2010, 05:27 PM
How 'bout just, "Your mom"?

palindromemordnilap
09-27-2010, 05:38 PM
"Well, I was born in Hawaii, so I guess that makes me Kenyan."

palindromemordnilap
09-27-2010, 05:40 PM
How 'bout just, "Your mom"?

Or, "I spent some time in Yomama."

msmith537
09-27-2010, 05:48 PM
I was from Uranus. They changed the name because people kept making jokes about it. Now we call it Urectum.

pravnik
09-27-2010, 05:53 PM
"Mommy said I came from Heaven."

put down the sabre
09-27-2010, 06:15 PM
Or you could just answer, many people are accent aficionados ya know. Is it that big of an imposition?

This attitude is one reason why it's so hard to formulate an answer to the 'where are you from' question... each person asking means no harm, and it's just a little thing, right? Well, it's not such a little thing 5 times a day, and it can be especially jarring when you are just trying to live your life or buy some coffee -- it reminds you that you are an outsider.

And the issue is not so much the question, but two related things: (i) as the OP mentioned, people always follow up an answer with some wholly banal and predictable spiel; (ii) people don't let you dodge the question... if you try to give a 'cute' answer like some of the suggested ones, Americans will badger you for it.

OP, I'm sad to say that I haven't really found a good way around this. Any evasive answers either make you sound oddly defensive, or frustratingly have the effect of drawing attention to the issue, making you sound like an attention seeker. I've tried vague answers (European Union), lies (Chicago) and 'cute' evasions (we only just met!), none work.

One way to get a little revenge is the following, which often works...

Idiot: where are you from?
Me: (sigh) you haven't heard of it
Them: Try me! I went to London once
Me: (name of small town)
Them: (deflated), they mumble something about London visit.

But honestly, if people want to drone on at you about their study abroad or whatever, your accent marks you as a target and there's little you can do to stop it.

pdts

ZPG Zealot
09-27-2010, 06:22 PM
Oceania or Eurasia

Arnold Winkelried
09-27-2010, 06:24 PM
Just turn the question back at them.
Them: Where are you from?
You: Where are you from?
Them: Anytown.
You: Anytown? No kidding. What street?
Them: Main Street.
You: Main Street? I don't believe it. What house number?
Them: 123.
You: 123? Do you know John Doe from 125 Main Street?
Them: No.
You: Yeah, you must've known him. 6 ft tall, brown eyes, ran for city council, got arrested for protesting the nuclear power plant?
Them: There's no nuclear power plant in Anytown!
You: Sorry, I must've gotten mixed up with AnyCity over in Podunkistan. You look kind of Podunkistanian to me.

By that time they've forgotten their original question.

Kyla
09-27-2010, 07:01 PM
I used to get this a lot, when I was an expat. It does get tiresome. If I wasn't in the town where I lived, I would answer with the name of my town. (This happened once when ruadh was visiting. The questioner, a cab driver, responded with "No, that is gypsy place! You are not gypsy!") Sometimes I'd just ask them where they thought I was from. No one ever guessed it correctly, as the US is apparently a very obscure location.

I guess this didn't happen often in the town where I lived, because everyone knew who I was: the English teacher. Which meant that I was obviously from England. Duh.

control-z
09-27-2010, 07:49 PM
Just turn the question back at them.
Them: Where are you from?
You: Where are you from?
Them: Anytown.
You: Anytown? No kidding. What street?
Them: Main Street.
You: Main Street? I don't believe it. What house number?
Them: 123.
You: 123? Do you know John Doe from 125 Main Street?
Them: No.
You: Yeah, you must've known him. 6 ft tall, brown eyes, ran for city council, got arrested for protesting the nuclear power plant?
Them: There's no nuclear power plant in Anytown!
You: Sorry, I must've gotten mixed up with AnyCity over in Podunkistan. You look kind of Podunkistanian to me.

By that time they've forgotten their original question.

Riiight, but how is that easier?

AncientHumanoid
09-27-2010, 08:19 PM
Go Biblical.

Job 1:7

“From roving about in the earth and from walking about in it.”

If they get it, they'll enjoy your self identifying with a certain mythical figure.

kayT
09-27-2010, 08:37 PM
The OP mentioned stereotyped views. Is it naive to think that you might help get rid of some of these by engaging in conversation?

Onomatopoeia
09-27-2010, 08:58 PM
The OP mentioned stereotyped views. Is it naive to think that you might help get rid of some of these by engaging in conversation?No. No it doesn't. After the 20th time, you're just over it. After the 500th time, you want to gouge someone's eyes out.

Otara
09-27-2010, 09:12 PM
'Im not sure' and look a little sad.

Otara

Mom-of-Andrew
09-27-2010, 09:41 PM
"I'm a preacher's kid/ army brat/ circus performer. From is a bit of a nebulous concept. I was born in Anyplace/ I went to High School in ThatTown/ I'm currently in ThisTown"

Choose the combination that best suits your situation or whim. Usually works for me.

Ike Witt
09-27-2010, 09:53 PM
I'm from the second planet orbiting the star known to your scientists as Kepler-4. The name is unpronounceable to humans.

carnut
09-27-2010, 10:03 PM
So far, the ultimate answer appears to be the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. It's where everybody's ancestors are from.

Peter Morris
09-27-2010, 10:43 PM
Yonder

Arnold Winkelried
09-27-2010, 11:51 PM
Riiight, but how is that easier?Did the OP ask for something easier?

Really Not All That Bright
09-28-2010, 12:02 AM
North Korea. You'll have a good thirty seconds to make your escape while they splutter and think of follow up questions.

LouisB
09-28-2010, 12:09 AM
I sometimes ask why they want to know. If they mention my accent I tell them I don't have an accent. The older I get, the less willing to be imposed on I've become.

Elysian
09-28-2010, 02:56 AM
Tell them you have a speech impediment and thank you very much for pointing it out, you've been in therapy for years and no one has said anything for so long that you thought you might have grown out of it.

Then, for effect, a single tear...

needscoffee
09-28-2010, 03:19 AM
Second star on the right and straight on 'til morning.

put down the sabre
09-28-2010, 03:55 AM
Another possibility is just to act like you didn't hear the question, and keep going with the smalltalk.

Nava
09-28-2010, 06:11 AM
And the issue is not so much the question, but two related things: (i) as the OP mentioned, people always follow up an answer with some wholly banal and predictable spiel; (ii) people don't let you dodge the question... if you try to give a 'cute' answer like some of the suggested ones, Americans will badger you for it.

Abroad, my straight answer is "Spain". Perhaps half the time, it triggers requests for flamenco (sadly, using a sharpened vynil of Lola Flores' Greatest Hits to perform a tracheotomy on a moron is illegal in most jurisdictions). I'm from the other end of the country. Oh and no, my foreparents did not harass any "Injuns", the direct lines stayed home (two of them eventually immigrated to Spain from Italy and Lorraine) and the uncles went to harass the Flemish instead.:smack::smack::smack:

In Spain, answering "Navarra" has been known to trigger political speeches, "oh, the weather is cool there!" (not in my end of Navarra, which looks more like Arizona than the Smoky Mountains), remarks about Sanfermines ranging from the admirative to the offensive and questions of "from Navarra City?". Then again, saying that I was born in Pamplona has been known to trigger "Pamplona capital or Pamplona province?" And no, hitting people with hardcover map books is not legal either (Pamplona is the capital, Navarra the province). :smack::smack::smack::smack:

When people insist in asking for details, though... HAH. From Pamplona since before the Romans set up camp, my mother was from a different town and culture, raised in another town, my house is in a fourth one, I currently work in a fifth but rent a flat in a sixth... Normally people's eyes glaze over by the time I'm at the third place and they stop asking questions.


Maybe the OP should be equally detailed. Instead of saying, for example, "from Spain", start with the third version straight off. "Oh, I'm from the High Navarra, that's the Spanish part of Navarra, the French part is called the Low Navarra(1), I was born in Pamplona, which is the capital, my family have lived there since forever and a century but my mother was born in Barcelona and..." *eyes glaze over* Most of the time I'm just too polite to inflict that on people, but I can certify it works.



(1) it's flatter, so low as in "lowlands"

devilsknew
09-28-2010, 06:19 AM
You must be American. Many Americans wonder about accents if they can't decipher, I believe it is a combination of natural curiosity and more rarely, xenophobia. I can usually tell where you come from judging minimally from appearance and accent... It's just a natural ability I have. I am simply very curious as a student of language. If you are a native American with an unusual accent I might be even more of a grill and heel... you shouldn't take it personally.

cochrane
09-28-2010, 06:42 AM
Tell 'em you're from Galactic Sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha.

Isamu
09-28-2010, 07:14 AM
Being a cracker in Japan, hardly a week (day?) goes by without being asked that question, but it's a natural question given the circumstances, and never asked in malice, just in curiosity (Xenophobes would just ignore me). I ask the same thing to people too - lot's of people grew up in small towns in the countryside and moved to the bigger cities, but retain their hometown pride.

I know it's not your situation, but I just give an honest answer and its usually a pretty good conversation starter.

put down the sabre
09-28-2010, 07:44 AM
Funnily enough, when I was in Japan it used to bother me less. As a visible foreigner (more or less) I knew I stood out. But in a 'white' country like America, it can be more jarring -- you just go about your daily life etc until someone points out that you are different and foreign.

pdts

aruvqan
09-28-2010, 09:36 AM
"Well, I was born in Hawaii, so I guess that makes me Kenyan."

I like this one =)

I heard my goddaughter at the age of 5 say something along the lines of-

My mommy told me the angels brought me down from heaven because she asked for a perfect little girl.

I have also heard someone say

My mommy told me that she found me under a rose petal.

Waxwinged
09-28-2010, 09:38 AM
Thanks for the (some more) appropriate (than others) come-backs, guys. ;)


Or you could just answer, many people are accent aficionados ya know. Is it that big of an imposition?

Yup, it is. It's not my prerogative in life to educate people, nor to volunteer personal information to complete strangers.


In a 'white' country like America, it can be more jarring -- you just go about your daily life etc until someone points out that you are different and foreign.
pdts

Pdts, your first post's summarized my issues with the question really well. While it's usually more like 2-4 times a day than 5 or more, it still gets old, repetitive, and disheartening.


'Im not sure' and look a little sad.

Otara
I'm so using that one.

lieu
09-28-2010, 09:43 AM
France.

elbows
09-28-2010, 09:59 AM
Anything wrong with being honest?

Tell them, "Well, I'm from Dayton, my parents were born in this country, my ethnicity is whatever. To be honest though, as I am so often asked this question, sometimes several times a day, I find it's beginning to become tiresome. It's difficult not to find it a little offensive/intrusive when you're so often asked, because really, what possible difference could it make, to anyone, what my ethnicity is, unless they're racist or phobic of immigrants? But maybe that's just me being sensitive."

Alternatively, just say, "Over there!", then, when asked where your parents are from, point in another direction and say, "Over there!"

If pressed, I'd say, "My parents were born and raised in this country and are proud to be Americans. That is where they are from, that is where I am from!"

Or you could just be coy, "Where do you think?", then let them guess. Just keep saying, "Nope, try again!", "you're getting warm!", "not even close!", "you're not very good at this, are you?"

And honestly, I think you're just being sensitive. Y'know, sometimes people just want to identify a, not immediately identifiable, accent. Nothing more.

Green Bean
09-28-2010, 09:59 AM
Is it only complete strangers asking that bothers you?

Waxwinged
09-28-2010, 10:17 AM
Anything wrong with being honest?
---
And honestly, I think you're just being sensitive. Y'know, sometimes people just want to identify a, not immediately identifiable, accent. Nothing more.

You're missing the point of complete strangers not needing to know.
Did try the "Guess" thing before, though! Generally results in 3+ minutes of them not guessing correctly, which is another time sink..


Is it only complete strangers asking that bothers you?

That's correct.

Examples from yesterday: I'm sitting at the DMV, minding my own business, chit-chatting with a gal from a painting group who happens to be there as well. A random guy from the adjacent row turns around and bluntly asks "Where's that accent from?". Not even a hello or anything.

Hubby and I are purchasing groceries and chit-chatting. The check-out clerk asks where we're from, and proceeds to tell the hubby that he has an accent too. Mind you, he's born and raised in the US.

Surly Chick
09-28-2010, 10:24 AM
I'm not getting the hostility over this question. I spend most of my time living overseas and it was a multiple times daily occurance. I just answer the question. It's never really bothered me.

descamisado
09-28-2010, 10:33 AM
"Oh, I'm from the High Navarra, that's the Spanish part of Navarra, the French part is called the Low Navarra(1), I was born in Pamplona, which is the capital, my family have lived there since forever and a century but my mother was born in Barcelona and..." *eyes glaze over* What kind of onion did they wear on their belts there and what did they call it?

Blaster Master
09-28-2010, 10:52 AM
As someone else said upthread, I don't think there is a good response. I understand that it is annoying to be asked repeatedly, but it's also important to realize that each person is, unfortunately, ignorant of how often you get asked those sorts of things. For instance, I don't have an accent, but my first name, while well known, isn't terribly common, and matches with a well known TV character that most people my age are familiar with. As such, more often than not, when I meet someone roughly my age, they think they're clever when they say the catch phrase associated with that character. Yeah, it's not the same thing, but it also highlights that, from my perspective, it's annoying because I hear it constantly, but from their perspective, they probably don't know more than a couple people with that name, so it seems interesting. As such, I've tried to learn to be more conscious of those sorts of things and, for instance, will not randomly ask a stranger where they're from.

That said, the reason that there's no good answer is precisely because these people have no association. Nothing you say to one will make it any different the next time someone is curious. So, you can either choose to be polite, if very brief, or you can snap back with a clever response and potentially have an unnecessarily negative interaction, and possibly even reinforce some negative stereotypes about wherever you're from.



Moreso, if you're actually having some idle chatter with someone, rather than a random stranger butting in, it's just an unavoidable question. Where such small talk would often include the weather or the price of gas, if there's something that piques someone interest, it's likely going to get asked. In your case, it's your accent, but the same will happen with any number of things, like a particularly unusual hairstyle or hair color, an unusual form of dress, or something that obviously indicates some sort of other topic like association with a sports team. If anything, you should count yourself fortunate to not get stuck to such boring topics as "boy, it sure is hot out today!" and instead will often have the chance in such occassions to either brush it off with a "I'm from wherever" or, if you feel particularly social, actually going on and talking a bit about it.

For instance, I'm obviously in good shape, so I often get asked in idle small talk "How much do you bench?", and it gets a little annoying sometimes because of how predictable it is, and depending on my mood, I may just give a quick response, or if I can use it as a launch point for a slightly more interesting conversation. It's a hell of a lot better than the weather conversation, which is ALWAYS boring and never goes in an interesting direction. So, sure, even if it is a bit annoying, consider the alternative.


TLDR: There's no good answer, so you might as well roll with it.

Dunkelheit
09-28-2010, 10:55 AM
So, I've got an accent. You wouldn't think that that would be a problem in the melting pot of the US, and with friends/acquaintances, it really isn't.

But after the first 12 years or so, having complete strangers asking where I'm from has gotten pretty old...

...The only other thing I can think of is "None of your business", which sounds a bit rude. Any other ideas?

I've moved around a lot, and I usually respond with "Originally, or recently?" ;-)

palindromemordnilap
09-28-2010, 11:14 AM
Let's recap what we have so far:

- It's OK when you know someone for them to ask; it's when strangers ask that it's annoying.
- If it happened occasionally it would be no big deal, but it happens constantly so it gets tiresome
- The people who do it don't realize it happens constantly and is tiresome
- Simply answering the question doesn't end the conversation, which is the goal
- Clever evasive answers or put-downs don't end the conversation, and probably confuse the offending parties because they don't understand it happens constantly and is tiresome.

So here's my sincere suggestion: Politely say, "I get asked this question constantly and answering gets tiresome. I hope you understand." And then turn away.

Galileo
09-28-2010, 11:44 AM
It's not clear what outcome the OP wants. Why doesn't she say "None of your business"? It seems that she's looking for another (seemingly more polite) way of saying the same thing.Nothing you say to one will make it any different the next time someone is curious. So, you can either choose to be polite, if very brief, or you can snap back with a clever response and potentially have an unnecessarily negative interaction, and possibly even reinforce some negative stereotypes about wherever you're from.I think that you've nailed it.

Just acknowledge the question politely, and (as a bonus), smile. :)

put down the sabre
09-28-2010, 11:45 AM
This question has come up many times on ask metafilter, and a common pattern always emerges in the discussion:

- those who are constantly asked the question agree that it is tiresome and invasive

- those who don't get asked the question say something like 'lighten up!' or, "I care about accents so I do this all the time and it's no big deal"

The comparison with an unusual name or notable hair is a good one, I think.

pdts

Galileo
09-28-2010, 12:00 PM
Yes, there are those who get asked and those who don't. And, there are those who feel that it is tiresome and invasive vs those who don't feel it is.

The key difference, though, is how people choose to respond to questions from strangers. You can do and say whatever you want but some choices are wiser than others.

Attack from the 3rd dimension
09-28-2010, 12:07 PM
I like the military/embassy/circus brat answer. I use it often. Here in Canada I just say I'm from "Down South", then follow up that I consider it a birth defect and I don't like to talk about it - this usually draws a laugh. In Newfoundland I'll just say I'm a mainlander, and that often ends the inquisition.

Another option is to use a colloquial term for your homeland to stymie the question: Say you're a Townie or a Bayman*, a Tarheel**, a Scouser***, or that you're pure laine or de souche ****. Kama'aina***** is another good example. These obscure terms should dishearten your interrogator and allow you to make an escape.

*St. John's NL vs the rest of Newfoundland
**North Carolina
***Liverpool
**** 'Pure Wool' and 'Old Stock', French and Anglo Quebec.
***** Long time Hawaii resident

Anaamika
09-28-2010, 12:17 PM
I'll answer, but I don't love it either. As others have said, it makes me feel foreign, when I am as American, if not more, than the people around me, and grow more so every year. Plus I can't just say "I'm Indian" because people immediately knee-jerk to "What tribe?" and then I have to go, "No, from India [you dolt]", so I have to start off with "I was born in India".

I have an accent that is a mix of all of the places I come from (I presume so, as it's certainly not upstate NY) but it's most definitely not an Indian accent. And I don't have easily definable features - that is, Indian people are not always sure that I am Indian.

Plus, if I don't think about it, I think "where I am from" is Michigan. Or New York.

But I don't like silly answers, either, because that just encourages them to ask more.

put down the sabre
09-28-2010, 01:37 PM
I'll answer, but I don't love it either. As others have said, it makes me feel foreign, when I am as American, if not more, than the people around me, and grow more so every year. Plus I can't just say "I'm Indian" because people immediately knee-jerk to "What tribe?" and then I have to go, "No, from India [you dolt]", so I have to start off with "I was born in India".

I have an accent that is a mix of all of the places I come from (I presume so, as it's certainly not upstate NY) but it's most definitely not an Indian accent. And I don't have easily definable features - that is, Indian people are not always sure that I am Indian.

Plus, if I don't think about it, I think "where I am from" is Michigan. Or New York.

But I don't like silly answers, either, because that just encourages them to ask more.

I have only found one good putdown, though:

say wearily "you haven't heard of it", and change the subject. They will immediately feel the urge to say "try me!". Then say, "ok, (name of small place)". When it becomes obvious they haven't heard of it, you can say "see I told you!" and change the subject.

The key is not to act like you are putting them down or disappointed in them, but just breeze over it in passing with a smile. They will feel embarrassed, though, and probably won't ask any more stupid questions.

And when you name (small place), make sure it is somewhere that someone from your country would have heard of. This means that: (1) you're not just being a dick for the sake of it; (2) if the person has heard of it, then it is actually someone who knows about your country (ie, they didn't just "study" abroad there) and you might have an interesting chat.

But really, this is one of the smaller annoyances in life.

To the guy who lives in Japan: what about schoolkids shouting "harro!" at you all the time, or the kids doing 'surveys' in Kyoto ... gets annoying, doesn't it? (this may not happen in Tokyo)

pdts

Yeticus Rex
09-28-2010, 03:08 PM
"I'm from the unused part of your brain."

Really stops 'em dead in their tracks.

Brynda
09-28-2010, 03:09 PM
My late husband was British and lived in the US during our marriage. He had a great way of handling this: He liked it. He saw it as interest and flattery (no one ever asked without saying they liked his accent). He went from being an ordinary ginger-haired Tyke in the UK to being a rock star here.

I wish more people in England and Scotland would comment on my American accent. Only a very few have, and when they do, I like it. I was recently in Ireland and loved how friendly and curious the people were there.

pulykamell
09-28-2010, 03:27 PM
I'm not getting the hostility over this question. I spend most of my time living overseas and it was a multiple times daily occurance. I just answer the question. It's never really bothered me.

Exactly. As an expat I wasn't asked every day, but any time I would strike up a conversation at a bar with a local, it was a normal question. Hell, even here in Chicago people will ask me what part of town I'm from. It's a perfectly normal conversational ice breaker.

pulykamell
09-28-2010, 03:28 PM
"A preposition is not a thing to be ending a sentence with."

Which, of course, invites the rejoinder:

"Where are you from, asshole?"

Anaamika
09-28-2010, 03:32 PM
To Brenda, pulkymell, and Surly Chick, it is different if you actually are a foreigner, is it not? I am not a foreigner, and as I said, i certainly don't have a foreign accent. It comes across as "You have a weird name" or "You are substantially browner than the average person."

Gymnopithys
09-28-2010, 03:36 PM
Just turn the question back at them.
Them: Where are you from?
You: Where are you from?
Them: Anytown.
You: Anytown? No kidding. What street?
Them: Main Street.
You: Main Street? I don't believe it. What house number?
Them: 123.
You: 123? Do you know John Doe from 125 Main Street?
Them: No.
You: Yeah, you must've known him. 6 ft tall, brown eyes, ran for city council, got arrested for protesting the nuclear power plant?
Them: There's no nuclear power plant in Anytown!
You: Sorry, I must've gotten mixed up with AnyCity over in Podunkistan. You look kind of Podunkistanian to me.

By that time they've forgotten their original question.

Hey, you seem to have an accent. Where are you from ? ;)

Never mind

Brynda
09-28-2010, 03:44 PM
To Brenda, pulkymell, and Surly Chick, it is different if you actually are a foreigner, is it not? I am not a foreigner, and as I said, i certainly don't have a foreign accent. It comes across as "You have a weird name" or "You are substantially browner than the average person."

I have far more sympathy for you, and never ask someone without an accent where they are from. I agree, it is rude. My mom did this once with a doctor who looked to be of Asian descent, but spoke without an accent. His deadpan answer was "Texas." I felt badly for him, and was glad that he sort of put her in her place. I would have fussed at her later if it would have done any good.

I think those who move here, you are gong to get that question, and should accept it gracefully, sort of like you signed on for driving on the other side of the road and filling out Homeland Security forms. Americans see asking where you are from as a polite thing. It feels rude to me when I am the foreigner and people don't ask. That probably seems crazy to you, but to us, it is a form of showing interest and admiration. Accept it as that and your blood pressure will go down or get pissed about it. It is your choice.

Anaamika
09-28-2010, 03:48 PM
And that's just it, really. Because if I am over in England, say, and someone asks me where I am from, you bet your bippie I am going to say "The States". Because that is where I am from.

Plus, I forgot to say earlier, it totally depends on how the person asks, too. If i feel the person is genuinely curious, and interested, I don't mind being asked. It's just the "I can't say your name...what are you?" that irritates me.

put down the sabre
09-28-2010, 03:53 PM
You guys disagree when it's being used as an icebreaker... fine.

But what about when people interrupt the foreigner to ask out of the blue? I can't believe anyone wouldn't consider that rude.

Example. I was at a party with two friends (Americans) and we met this bunch of 3 or 4 girls, also Americans. We are all chatting backwards and forth, you know the usual awkwardness, and this one girl sort of stops the conversation and asks, 'where are you from', in a sort of half-flirtatious half "you talk funny" way, interrupting everybody. Silence while I explain myself. It's jarring and lazy and puts people on the spot. I didn't make a fuss because she seemed like a nice girl, but come on.

My late husband was British and lived in the US during our marriage. He had a great way of handling this: He liked it. He saw it as interest and flattery (no one ever asked without saying they liked his accent). He went from being an ordinary ginger-haired Tyke in the UK to being a rock star here.

I wish more people in England and Scotland would comment on my American accent. Only a very few have, and when they do, I like it. I was recently in Ireland and loved how friendly and curious the people were there.

But not everyone enjoys involuntarily standing out for something they have no control over.

But in any case, I guess the problem isn't so much the question, but what inevitably follows it, as the OP describes: crass stereotypes, old jokes, stories about study abroad in neighbouring countries, etc etc, all very lame.

Don't think that I get very angry or upset by it, it's just one of life's little annoyances.

pdts

Elysian
09-28-2010, 04:01 PM
Despite my smartass answer earlier, I don't really care if I'm asked where I'm from or not. If they don't ask, I am happy, if they do ask, I'll think "here it is again, that question" and answer it.

I'm from Indiana, though, and I get a sort of malicious glee from saying so. People get kind of a faraway expression on their face and then an awkward silence descends. It would be simpler for them if I said Florida or something :p heheheh

I do get a bit tired of being foreign, though. I've thought about trying to speak like everyone else, and I might actually get serious about it someday. Yeah, it's nice having something special to talk about and exchanging idioms and talking about their vacations where they drove on, my gosh, the other side of the road...but sometimes I just want to do my *job*.

pulykamell
09-28-2010, 04:06 PM
To Brenda, pulkymell, and Surly Chick, it is different if you actually are a foreigner, is it not? I am not a foreigner, and as I said, i certainly don't have a foreign accent. It comes across as "You have a weird name" or "You are substantially browner than the average person."

I guess. In Chicago, it's a relatively normal question (although not quite as common these days as ethnicities become more and more of a jumble) to ask someone "what are you?" or "where's your family from?" as a question of ethnic ancestry, so perhaps I'm used to it/jaded by it. Never really occurred to me to be offended by the question.

Acsenray
09-28-2010, 04:20 PM
I've dealt with this issue all my life. I'm nonwhite and I have a non-Anglo name. "Where are you from?" is a frequent question. Sometimes I don't mind it. Sometimes, I just want to answer "America" and leave it at that.

Anaamika
09-28-2010, 04:20 PM
I'm not offended, unless the question was put in an offensive way. I'm just weary of it.

Forget me, because I have a lot of Indian traits still - I speak the language, have visited a bunch of times, wear the clothes, listen to the music. Take my SO. He was born and bred here. He doesn't speak Mandarin or Cantonese or any Chinese language. He has never been to China and mostly thinks the country is a bunch of money sucking amoral commies. He doesn't listen to Chinese music and only watches Chinese flicks because I like them.

And people are still asking him, "Where are you from?" And he's all, "Long Island" because that is his identity.

That is what wearies us. We are American, damnit!

Acsenray
09-28-2010, 04:21 PM
To Brenda, pulkymell, and Surly Chick, it is different if you actually are a foreigner, is it not? I am not a foreigner, and as I said, i certainly don't have a foreign accent. It comes across as "You have a weird name" or "You are substantially browner than the average person."

Exactly.

Galileo
09-28-2010, 04:50 PM
Plus, I forgot to say earlier, it totally depends on how the person asks, too. If i feel the person is genuinely curious, and interested, I don't mind being asked. It's just the "I can't say your name...what are you?" that irritates me.Yup, I agree. Some people come across as ignorant xenophobes. (They might not be xenophobes, but some of them are grossly ignorant about other countries.) If you're going to ask, then at least have a clue about the possibilities, and show some genuine interest in the answer. Otherwise, break the ice some other way.

Surly Chick
09-28-2010, 05:03 PM
Hmmm, well I'm living in New England now and people still ask me because I don't have a NE accent (I'm from outside Chicago originally). It's usually prefaced by "You're from away*, aren't you?" Which I guess I could find offensive but I don't because I am.

*If your family hasn't lived in NE since the Mayflower landed, you're "from away."

Waxwinged
09-28-2010, 05:03 PM
I think those who move here, you are gong to get that question, and should accept it gracefully, sort of like you signed on for driving on the other side of the road and filling out Homeland Security forms. Americans see asking where you are from as a polite thing.

You seem to have missed the lack of desire to "volunteer personal information to complete strangers." If I'm never going to see the person again, and they wouldn't have said two words to me if I didn't 'speak funny', why are they asking?


Oh! Also, here's a potential scenario that 'd love to use someday:

Stranger: "Where are you from?"
Waxwinged: "Don't you know that curiosity killed the cat?"
Stranger: "But satisfaction brought it back."
Waxwinged: "And then I wrung its scrawny little neck." (Complete with hand-motions to illustrate.)

Brynda
09-28-2010, 05:05 PM
<snip>

My late husband was British and lived in the US during our marriage. He had a great way of handling this: He liked it. He saw it as interest and flattery (no one ever asked without saying they liked his accent). He went from being an ordinary ginger-haired Tyke in the UK to being a rock star here.

I wish more people in England and Scotland would comment on my American accent. Only a very few have, and when they do, I like it. I was recently in Ireland and loved how friendly and curious the people were there.

But not everyone enjoys involuntarily standing out for something they have no control over.

But in any case, I guess the problem isn't so much the question, but what inevitably follows it, as the OP describes: crass stereotypes, old jokes, stories about study abroad in neighbouring countries, etc etc, all very lame.

Don't think that I get very angry or upset by it, it's just one of life's little annoyances.

pdts

I am really curious as to why you changed my name.

Duke
09-28-2010, 05:09 PM
A friend of mine who was in the pro wrestling business would answer this question "from parts unknown" because it's such a cliche. (Apparently there was even once a pro wrestler known as "Mr. Atlanta, from parts unknown.")

put down the sabre
09-28-2010, 05:30 PM
I am really curious as to why you changed my name.

I know it's not the original etymology, but brynda = good hill in welsh. No offence meant.

pdts

SeaDragonTattoo
09-28-2010, 05:45 PM
Just say, "Kansas."

If they ask further, then say, "I've done a lot of traveling."

Or, just put up with it. It's what people do, unfortunately. You must be categorized and filed.

Brynda
09-28-2010, 05:54 PM
I am really curious as to why you changed my name.

I know it's not the original etymology, but brynda = good hill in welsh. No offence meant.

pdts

Interesting, especially since "your name is spelled funny" is my particular cross to bear. :) It is just a creative spelling of plain old Brenda from two parents who wanted a boy to name Bryan.

Peter Morris
09-28-2010, 06:29 PM
Where aren't I from?

carnut
09-28-2010, 10:35 PM
I wish more people in England and Scotland would comment on my American accent. Only a very few have, and when they do, I like it. I was recently in Ireland and loved how friendly and curious the people were there.

Strangely enough, when I'm in England or in the southern US, I am asked if I am Canadian. My UK S.O. tries to tell people that he is so fluent in American that it is almost is good as his English. His English isn't very good; he really speaks Bristle (Bristolian) and a couple of Indian friends speak English better than he does.

Why not respond to their queries like an old fashioned New Yorker. Get up in their faces and ask, "What's it to you?"

usedtobe
09-29-2010, 02:07 AM
Child-like voice:

My mommy's tummy...

or

"Alice's Restaurant" (let 'em wonder)

Isamu
09-29-2010, 02:26 AM
To the guy who lives in Japan: what about schoolkids shouting "harro!" at you all the time, or the kids doing 'surveys' in Kyoto ... gets annoying, doesn't it? (this may not happen in Tokyo)
pdts

Me? I'm in Osaka. I'm not around kids much but it seems to happen to me less and less these days. To be honest, a little part of me is saddened that the kids feel less inclined (or allowed) to yell out a greeting to me as they walk down the street. :(

Kids: Harooo! How are you?

Me: Hellooo! I'm suuuuuUUUUUuBARASHIII!! :p

lshaw
09-29-2010, 04:00 AM
Yeah, I know how that goes. I don't even have an accent; I was born in the US and spent most of my childhood here, but because I look Asian on the outside, a lot of people (depending on which part of the country I'm in), automatically think I'm "from China". If they ask "where are you from", I'd usually answer Africa. That really messes with them - cue scene to Mean Girls: "If you're from Africa, why are you white yellow?" Sometimes, I even get asked, "What are you?" :dubious:

needscoffee
09-29-2010, 04:40 AM
For instance, I don't have an accent, but my first name, while well known, isn't terribly common, and matches with a well known TV character that most people my age are familiar with. As such, more often than not, when I meet someone roughly my age, they think they're clever when they say the catch phrase associated with that character.Urkel! Did I do that?!

Nava
09-29-2010, 04:44 AM
"Oh, I'm from the High Navarra, that's the Spanish part of Navarra, the French part is called the Low Navarra(1), I was born in Pamplona, which is the capital, my family have lived there since forever and a century but my mother was born in Barcelona and..." *eyes glaze over* What kind of onion did they wear on their belts there and what did they call it?

Most people in the High Navarra would call it cebolla, but the euskaldunes would call it tipula, unless you're asking about the Catalans, who would call it ceba. Oh, and the people from the Low Navarra may call it tipula or oignon. Now where is the halo smiley when you need it...

Gleena
09-29-2010, 07:29 AM
Ugh, I hate this, as an American abroad.

I usually just respond with the name of the suburb I live in here, in Australia. Sometimes the asker just looks confused after that, but they generally drop the subject. Sometimes they guess anyway, though.

Surprisingly, they often guess that I'm Irish. Er...no?

AncientHumanoid
09-29-2010, 08:29 AM
You look Irish.



My Dad always told me:

"Son. Never ask a man where he's from. If he's from Texas, he'll tell you. If he ain't, well, no need to embarrass him."



.

Anaamika
09-29-2010, 09:42 AM
I think next time someone asks me this in a rude way, I'll just bite 'em. That'll learn 'em.

Waxwinged
09-29-2010, 09:42 AM
My Dad always told me:

"Son. Never ask a man where he's from. If he's from Texas, he'll tell you. If he ain't, well, no need to embarrass him."

.

That's hilarious. In more than one way.

descamisado
09-29-2010, 10:32 AM
What kind of onion did they wear on their belts there and what did they call it?

Most people in the High Navarra would call it cebolla, but the euskaldunes would call it tipula, unless you're asking about the Catalans, who would call it ceba. Oh, and the people from the Low Navarra may call it tipula or oignon. Now where is the halo smiley when you need it...:p

Nava
09-29-2010, 10:36 AM
Just be grateful I don't have any Gallego ancestors I know of, descamisado :)

Enright3
09-29-2010, 03:27 PM
Creative answers for a question of "Where are you from"? = "Help me be a smartass because I can't stand it when people ask me this question."


Hubby and I are purchasing groceries and chit-chatting. The check-out clerk asks where we're from, and proceeds to tell the hubby that he has an accent too. Mind you, he's born and raised in the US.
What? People from the US can't have an accent? Switch a couple of people from NYC with anyone from any other part of the USA and you'll see that's absurd.

I don't see where giving a smartass answer is going to help anything at all. Generally people are just being friendly when they ask where you're from. If you give a snarky... I mean 'Creative' answer to the question you're likely to go through a much more frustrating conversation than if you just answered the question. You know there are techniques for keeping conversation to a minimum with people. One suggestion is the acknowledgment hum. i.e.
Waitress: "You talk funny, where are you from?"
You: I'm from Manfredjinsinjin (*quick! Where is that name from?) :)
Waitress: "oh really? I've never even been out of the city"
You: "hmmmm. Are you ready to take my order?"

As far as the frustration that (I think) someone mentioned above about it leading to more conversation that you don't want because they have never heard of such a place. I'd say you're being too specific. "Where you from?" "South America"

And last but not least... "I get that alot. I'm from here."

Gleena
09-29-2010, 06:57 PM
You look Irish.

Possibly, and I am of Irish descent. But my voice is pure Mississippi! :)

Onomatopoeia
09-29-2010, 09:23 PM
To Brenda, pulkymell, and Surly Chick, it is different if you actually are a foreigner, is it not? I am not a foreigner, and as I said, i certainly don't have a foreign accent. It comes across as "You have a weird name" or "You are substantially browner than the average person."Boy, can I relate. It has become tiresome. In addition to being browner than average, or fairer, depending on your perspective, I also have weird hair, and a goatee, although I keep it nicely trimmed. :)

When certain people look at me I can almost hear the cogs shifting in their brains: "He's definitely not white, but he's not black, Hispanic? No, no, something...Middle Eastern?" which had, for a time, become a bit more of a nuisance for me. I travel a lot for work, sometimes up to three times a month. In fact, I'm typing this from my hotel room at the Westin in oh, so lovely Detroit.

Anyway, back between 2002 and 2007 I realized I was being pulled out of the security line at the airport much more often than others in my travel party. What began as a series of light-hearted jabs by my colleagues: "What'd you smuggle this time, Ono?", or "Channeling Osama again Ono?", shortly evolved into "Ono, you go ahead of us. We'll catch up."

During one trip, I was pulled aside and wanded after I'd gotten to the gate, which I have never seen happen to anyone. It was embarrassing, and quite upsetting to see passengers backing away from me, and changing their seats in the waiting area. Even after I was cleared, no one wanted to stand near me. It infuriated me, and I couldn't do a damned thing about it.

It's gotten better for me at airports; now I'm inconvenienced to the same ridiculous degree everyone else is.

I've been dealing with the where are you from/what are you questions for as long as I can remember, not taking into account the relatively recent suppositions of a Middle Eastern heritage that doesn't exist, so after 40 or so years, my responses, when I choose to provide them, do come off as snarky.

I think it is also as you alluded in another post. If there was some genuine interest or as part of a related discussion, I don't know if I would mind the questions so much. Usually, however, it comes off more like, you're different, I can't pigeonhole you, and that bothers me.

drachillix
09-29-2010, 11:10 PM
To Brenda, pulkymell, and Surly Chick, it is different if you actually are a foreigner, is it not? I am not a foreigner, and as I said, i certainly don't have a foreign accent. It comes across as "You have a weird name" or "You are substantially browner than the average person."

"I could tell you, but then the marshalls would have to relocate me again"

Dunkelheit
09-30-2010, 10:03 AM
Waitress: "You talk funny, where are you from?"
You: I'm from Manfredjinsinjin (*quick! Where is that name from?) :)


Well, THANK you for popping in and protecting us...

crowmanyclouds
09-30-2010, 10:10 AM
... Spain ...Well I never been to heaven Spain,
but I been to Oklahoma.
Well they tell me I was born there,
but I really don't remember...
In Oklahoma, not Arizona...
What does it matter?
What does it matter...

CMC fnord!

put down the sabre
09-30-2010, 04:02 PM
Creative answers for a question of "Where are you from"? = "Help me be a smartass because I can't stand it when people ask me this question."


Uh.. yes. The thread has been very explicit about this. Why are you acting like this is some insightful observation by you?


(snip)
As far as the frustration that (I think) someone mentioned above about it leading to more conversation that you don't want because they have never heard of such a place. I'd say you're being too specific. "Where you from?" "South America"


Have you read this thread, at all? I mentioned that I've tried such vague answers and if anything they promote stupid conversation.

pdts

Waxwinged
10-01-2010, 09:00 AM
To Brenda, pulkymell, and Surly Chick, it is different if you actually are a foreigner, is it not? I am not a foreigner, and as I said, i certainly don't have a foreign accent. It comes across as "You have a weird name" or "You are substantially browner than the average person."

"I could tell you, but then the marshalls would have to relocate me again"

Definitely another favorite.

lindsaybluth
10-01-2010, 05:27 PM
I'll answer, but I don't love it either. As others have said, it makes me feel foreign, when I am as American, if not more, than the people around me, and grow more so every year. Plus I can't just say "I'm Indian" because people immediately knee-jerk to "What tribe?" and then I have to go, "No, from India [you dolt]", so I have to start off with "I was born in India". <snip>

But I don't like silly answers, either, because that just encourages them to ask more.

Anaamika, you gotta say "Dot, not feather" to their inquiry. If that doesn't shut 'em up, nothing will.

Ignatz
10-03-2010, 08:25 PM
Antarctica

Bethlehem

Fukue (Japan, 60 miles west of Nagasaki)

Rubik
10-03-2010, 08:25 PM
My mother.

Pyper
10-03-2010, 08:44 PM
I lived abroad (Spain) and routinely got asked this question. It never bothered me- saying I was from America or California always triggered a lot of interest and was a good conversation starter. Except this one encounter with the old lady next door:

Vieja: Hey! Where are you from?
Me: Umm, America.
Vieja: America? Like...ECUADOR?!
Me: :confused: No...North America.
Vieja: You're English?
Me: No, North American. United States. (starts backing away slowly)
Vieja: (watches me go, grumbling about Ecuadorans)

It's funny, here in California I still get asked "Where are you from?" when I go shopping at the local Mexican markets. I'm obviously not Mexican, but I speak fluent Spanish, so people are curious.

Peremensoe
10-03-2010, 08:52 PM
And the issue is not so much the question, but two related things: (i) as the OP mentioned, people always follow up an answer with some wholly banal and predictable spiel; (ii) people don't let you dodge the question... if you try to give a 'cute' answer like some of the suggested ones, Americans will badger you for it.

If you're just lamenting banality, I'm with you. But curiosity about a new acquaintance's origins seems sort of normal and friendly to me. Do you never ask others this?

Cub Mistress
10-03-2010, 10:22 PM
I've not often bothered by this question. I live in the South but I don't have the strongest of Southern accents (except when I want to.) Every day patients ask me where I'm from and I say (town name) they'll say do you know so-and-so who lives there? and they are satisfied. If they ask further I tell them I don't really have relatives here as my mother is German and my father from another state. In the small towns of the South, often people ask these questions to find a connection or because they are interested.

I know I have often asked people with uncommon names what ethnic background gave them the name. Similarly, I have asked aquaintances with striking looks about what ethnic background contributed to their appearance. I certainly mean no harm, I'm not trying to "pigeonhole" them, I'm just interested. So far, no one has let me know they were offended.

Dunkelheit
10-04-2010, 07:59 AM
Similarly, I have asked aquaintances with striking looks about what ethnic background contributed to their appearance. I certainly mean no harm, I'm not trying to "pigeonhole" them, I'm just interested. So far, no one has let me know they were offended.

I'm always interested in people's ancestry, especially if they are exotic-looking -- it's a question that takes some delicacy in the asking. ;-)

MadTheSwine
10-04-2010, 11:33 AM
"Lots of different places."

This is what I always say,in a very mean voice.

put down the sabre
10-04-2010, 11:33 AM
And the issue is not so much the question, but two related things: (i) as the OP mentioned, people always follow up an answer with some wholly banal and predictable spiel; (ii) people don't let you dodge the question... if you try to give a 'cute' answer like some of the suggested ones, Americans will badger you for it.

If you're just lamenting banality, I'm with you. But curiosity about a new acquaintance's origins seems sort of normal and friendly to me. Do you never ask others this?

I suppose I do ask others this indirectly, if it arises naturally in the conversation .. it is part of getting to know people. But at least in the UK, to come right out and ask this of someone you've just met would be considered not rude exactly, but a little bit uncouth. Maybe like asking someone how old they are: it's hardly secret information, but does trigger a bit of a 'why do you care?' response.

Now imagine upon finding out that you are 40 they start droning on about the other people they know in their 40s, or bring out the crass stereotypes about 40 year-olds ...

My objection (and, I think, the OPs), is to people who either interrupt you or say it right upon meeting you for the first time, because you look or talk funny. That is more annoying, it carries a connotation of 'hey you! something's odd about you and I'm gonna figure out what that is!'. I don't care if someone 'is curious about accents' or whatever, this is rude.

I have noticed that (white) Americans use 'where are you from' as a standard greeting/piece of smalltalk more than British people, and there's nothing wrong with it. But when you are being asked in a slightly more inquisitive way because you don't fit in in some way, and they won't let you dodge the question, with some power imbalances (it is their country, after all, so you don't want to be too rude), it gets tiresome.

I know that some people like to be the centre of attention, and to talk about themselves to new people. I don't, really, and the problem with a lot of people who ask the question is that they won't let it drop, and they won't let you get away with an evasive answer... they will keep pushing until you tell them. (The other option is to put your foot down, but then you look like an oversensitive jerk.) So it's fine for the extroverts, but for the rest of us it really is like being put unwelcomely on the spot.

But as I say, just one of life's minor annoyances.

pdts

Peremensoe
10-04-2010, 11:54 AM
But at least in the UK, to come right out and ask this of someone you've just met would be considered not rude exactly, but a little bit uncouth. Maybe like asking someone how old they are: it's hardly secret information, but does trigger a bit of a 'why do you care?' response.

Now imagine upon finding out that you are 40 they start droning on about the other people they know in their 40s, or bring out the crass stereotypes about 40 year-olds ...

People's approximate ages are generally apparent, and less significant than places of origin. Everybody has been or gets to be essentially all the ages (with obvious limitations)... but for the most part people are from one place each. (Those who say they're "from" many places often really mean they have sufficient attachment to none.)

My objection (and, I think, the OPs), is to people who either interrupt you or say it right upon meeting you for the first time, because you look or talk funny. That is more annoying, it carries a connotation of 'hey you! something's odd about you and I'm gonna figure out what that is!'. I don't care if someone 'is curious about accents' or whatever, this is rude.

I agree. I tend to be curious about all the things that make people diverse and interesting, but I don't need to know what they all are before talking to somebody. Still, the question "where are you from," in itself, is hardly an investigation.

I know that some people like to be the centre of attention, and to talk about themselves to new people. I don't, really, and the problem with a lot of people who ask the question is that they won't let it drop, and they won't let you get away with an evasive answer... they will keep pushing until you tell them. (The other option is to put your foot down, but then you look like an oversensitive jerk.) So it's fine for the extroverts, but for the rest of us it really is like being put unwelcomely on the spot.

But why evade it? I imagine you make the subject seem much larger, and draw much more attention to yourself, doing so. Why not just have a simple factual answer ready and--in most cases, I would think--be done with it?

Acsenray
10-04-2010, 12:25 PM
But why evade it? I imagine you make the subject seem much larger, and draw much more attention to yourself, doing so. Why not just have a simple factual answer ready and--in most cases, I would think--be done with it?

Sometimes I feel like evading it, because there is often a clear implication of "Because you're obviously not from here." That's the kind of implication that makes want to punch the asker. I'm from here as much as (you) are, if not more. In America, every kind of name is American, every color of skin is American, every cultural background is American.

lindsaybluth
10-04-2010, 12:41 PM
Exactly. I don't mind if we're talking about family, parents, etc, and it's in the natural flow of conversation. What I DO mind is the freaking inquisition. The worst is levied upon those with no discernible accent but who clearly *look* different. I'm certainly a prime example of that.

It's a reminder of people, purposely or unintentionally, grouping me differently. Pisses me off, and always catches me off guard.

Peremensoe
10-04-2010, 12:42 PM
Sometimes I feel like evading it, because there is often a clear implication of "Because you're obviously not from here." That's the kind of implication that makes want to punch the asker.

It need not be an unfriendly implication. Maybe it is obvious (for every person, there must be some such contexts), and the person is interested in talking to you for that reason.

I'm from here as much as (you) are, if not more. In America, every kind of name is American, every color of skin is American, every cultural background is American.

Yes, but "here" doesn't mean just America. America is too big for "America" to even be a real answer to the question. I ask it all the time of people I know or assume to be Americans.

Acsenray
10-04-2010, 12:51 PM
It need not be an unfriendly implication. Maybe it is obvious (for every person, there must be some such contexts)

It doesn't matter whether it's unfriendly. In fact, it usually isn't. That doesn't obviate the fact that the implication is offensive.

, and the person is interested in talking to you for that reason.

See, that is borderline offensive.

I'm from here as much as (you) are, if not more. In America, every kind of name is American, every color of skin is American, every cultural background is American.

Yes, but "here" doesn't mean just America. America is too big for "America" to even be a real answer to the question. I ask it all the time of people I know or assume to be Americans.

It's the people who don't get asked the question that makes the difference. Regardless of your personal intent, "Where are you from?" carries with it an inherent implication of exclusion.

Look, I don't know you or what occasions you ask this question, but just as a piece of advice, if you're asking only people who (in your eyes) might have an "exotic" background, then I would be offended. The very idea of "exoticness" is borderline offensive in the context of a diverse, immigrant society.

If you have some other reason to seek my acquaintance, then fine. And you can broach the subject of my origins or background once you've gotten to know me a little better.

Peremensoe
10-04-2010, 01:17 PM
It's the people who don't get asked the question that makes the difference. Regardless of your personal intent, "Where are you from?" carries with it an inherent implication of exclusion.

I like to meet and know people from a great variety of backgrounds, and I particularly enjoy hearing first-person accounts of experiences unlike my own. This broadens and informs my own perspective. To me, this attitude seems more welcoming and inclusive than the disinterested reverse.

Look, I don't know you or what occasions you ask this question, but just as a piece of advice, if you're asking only people who (in your eyes) might have an "exotic" background, then I would be offended.

Well, I often ask it of people who are of similar white ethnicity to myself, if that's what you mean. On the other hand, I guess I don't see why having a greater interest in the answer of somebody of more-different origins should be offensive. I've been the subject of similar curiosity; it seemed pretty natural in context.

Acsenray
10-04-2010, 01:32 PM
I like to meet and know people from a great variety of backgrounds, and I particularly enjoy hearing first-person accounts of experiences unlike my own. This broadens and informs my own perspective. To me, this attitude seems more welcoming and inclusive than the disinterested reverse.

Believe me, as a member of a minority group, we are well aware of our differences from the majority. Having strangers come up and remind us that does not feel "welcoming and inclusive."

If all you're interested is your own enjoyment and edification, then there's no downside for you. I'm telling you from the other end of the conversation that you're sending a meta-message, which is "I can tell by looking at you that you're not one of us, so let's discuss the ways in which that is true."

Well, I often ask it of people who are of similar white ethnicity to myself, if that's what you mean. On the other hand, I guess I don't see why having a greater interest in the answer of somebody of more-different origins should be offensive. I've been the subject of similar curiosity; it seemed pretty natural in context.

Yeah, I've been in those contexts myself, when I go abroad. Being made to feel a stranger in my own land is an entirely different context.

Peremensoe
10-04-2010, 02:08 PM
Yeah, I've been in those contexts myself, when I go abroad. Being made to feel a stranger in my own land is an entirely different context.

I've had the experience right here in America too. FWIW.

If all you're interested is your own enjoyment and edification, then there's no downside for you. I'm telling you from the other end of the conversation that you're sending a meta-message, which is "I can tell by looking at you that you're not one of us, so let's discuss the ways in which that is true."

For the record, I'm not interested only in my own enjoyment and edification (though I consider asking a question for my own edification--fighting ignorance--a perfectly worthy motive). I am also interested in other people enjoying and being edified.

When I've been asked questions of background, or when I've asked it, the meta-message I've understood or intended has often been something like, "I suspect by looking at you or listening to you that your background is different from mine--yet here we both are! We may be different, but we must also be somehow the same. Both facts are interesting and good, so let's discuss the ways in which that is true."

But I'm trying to understand where you're coming from, whether it merits special sensitivity, and how I can tell when people may feel this way. I am pretty certain that your feelings aren't shared by all the people I've talked backgrounds with, since some speak quite enthusiastically on the subject.

If I may ask, to this end... where are you from? I take it you're an American citizen and resident of neither obvious white-European or black-African ancestry. Were you raised in the United States? Is there some complication with giving the town/province/country (as necessary) of your raising as a simple, factual answer?

Acsenray
10-04-2010, 02:23 PM
Is there some complication with giving the town/province/country (as necessary) of your raising as a simple, factual answer?

The town/province/country of my raising? What if I said "Lexington, Kentucky" or Town of Muncie, Province of Indiana, Union of American States? What would you say then?

When I give an answer like "Urbana, Illinois," I invariably get a confused and frustrated reaction, as in "Come on, you know what I meant to ask." Sometimes the follow up question is explicit: "Yeah, but where are you really from?"

put down the sabre
10-05-2010, 06:58 AM
<snip>

If all you're interested is your own enjoyment and edification, then there's no downside for you. I'm telling you from the other end of the conversation that you're sending a meta-message, which is "I can tell by looking at you that you're not one of us, so let's discuss the ways in which that is true."

For the record, I'm not interested only in my own enjoyment and edification (though I consider asking a question for my own edification--fighting ignorance--a perfectly worthy motive). I am also interested in other people enjoying and being edified.

When I've been asked questions of background, or when I've asked it, the meta-message I've understood or intended has often been something like, "I suspect by looking at you or listening to you that your background is different from mine--yet here we both are! We may be different, but we must also be somehow the same. Both facts are interesting and good, so let's discuss the ways in which that is true."

<snip>

I actually think this gets to the heart of the problem. It's been raised a few times that it is hard to take this question too angrily, because from the asker's point of view, they are just asking an innocent question, and you'd have to be really sensitive to get uptight about it. What you say here is a perfect example of this, and your obvious lack of bad intentions are what people mean when they say "I know she's just trying to be friendly".

And if it was a one-off, if you were the only person in your town who did this, maybe it wouldn't be at all bothersome. You just want to make a connection. But now imagine that someone wants to 'fight their own ignorance' or 'discuss how we got here', to slightly mangle your words, several times a day, when I am just trying to go about my daily business. That is when it gets annoying.

It gets annoying and sort of offensive when it constantly happens, which is why it gets complicated because you can't blame a single asker for it constantly happening. But don't you see that when I've been asked about where I come from at length several times already today, by people who just want to share stories as you describe, in a bookshop, when I'm trying to buy coffee and when someone overhears me talking on my mobile, and waits until I finish my call to ask me, that your apparently innocent pushing of the same line of questioning at a bar that night is very tiresome?

pdts

chela
10-05-2010, 07:15 AM
yesterday I was calling around for info on water softeners. One guy calls me back and starts to practically grill me on my last name, why I must be related to the boys who do his concrete work and do I know so and so. I told him 1) my name is pronounced different, 2) yes it's spelled the same as the locals here but I assure you it is pronounced the way it is. I tried to steer the conversation back to water filters and he was having none of it. So he says, where are you from, you're not Dutch are you? No I am not Dutch, and just to be kind to the old guy I say but my husband is. So he says where is your husband from, now through clenched teeth I tell him Chicago. next question from the grand inquisitor is How did you end up in GR? COmpletely fed up, I tell him oh we took the long route...........................

he wanted to make chit chatty gossipy genealogy talk, all i wanted was to find out about his freaking Kinetico water softeners. When he calls back with an appt time, he wants to know if tonight would work out. I say no I have to shuttle kids around, OH? hs ears perk up, do they play ball? Beg your pardon, Your Kids, he says, do they play football? I was done with his nosy questions. Said I would call him back after I talked to my husband and hung up on him!

Waxwinged
10-05-2010, 09:50 AM
But why evade it? I imagine you make the subject seem much larger, and draw much more attention to yourself, doing so. Why not just have a simple factual answer ready and--in most cases, I would think--be done with it?

Because, as per OP, the people will insist on volunteering random crap that you really don't have the time for. :rolleyes:

Onomatopoeia
10-05-2010, 10:43 AM
Exactly. I don't mind if we're talking about family, parents, etc, and it's in the natural flow of conversation. What I DO mind is the freaking inquisition. The worst is levied upon those with no discernible accent but who clearly *look* different. I'm certainly a prime example of that.Big ditto here. People who say things like "why don't you just answer the questions?" obviously have never had to deal with this ever, much less their entire lives. It's annoying and tiresome, and the ONLY reason we're being asked these questions is because we look different.It's a reminder of people, purposely or unintentionally, grouping me differently. Pisses me off, and always catches me off guard.This is correct, although because I've come to expect the intrusion, it no longer catches me off guard.

lindsaybluth
10-05-2010, 10:55 AM
I guess it catches me off guard because I'm not in a job or situation where I meet new people often. In college I was much more prepared, but in the 1.5 years since I've graduated it's sporadic and does catch me off guard.

matt_mcl
10-05-2010, 01:10 PM
I have far more sympathy for you, and never ask someone without an accent where they are from. I agree, it is rude. My mom did this once with a doctor who looked to be of Asian descent, but spoke without an accent. His deadpan answer was "Texas." I felt badly for him, and was glad that he sort of put her in her place.

And, see, the rude version of the question spoils it for all of us who actually are looking for the equivalent of "Texas." It's perfectly natural for me to ask people, just to make conversation (in situations in which making conversation is appropriate, chela), where they're from, and what I'm looking for is the answer "Vancouver," or "rural Nova Scotia," or "New Jersey," or whatever. (Mine is "I was born in New Brunswick, grew up in Winnipeg, but I've lived here for half my life.")

But sadly since people use the question as code for "My, you look different; explain yourself," you can't always get away with it. The best equivalent I've been able to come up with so far is "Are you originally from Montreal?" or "Have you always lived in Montreal?" since it invites the answer "Yes" as much as "No."

Peremensoe
10-05-2010, 02:11 PM
The town/province/country of my raising? What if I said "Lexington, Kentucky" or Town of Muncie, Province of Indiana, Union of American States? What would you say then?

I said it that way because I didn't know whether the answer was in or out of the States. I would think you were odd if you said "Province of Indiana." ;)

What would I say? I suppose it would depend on the larger context of the conversation and whether Lexington, or wherever, had any bearing on it. I might tell you where I was from, if I hadn't already. I might not have to say anything about it, just file the information: acsenray is from Lexington, Kentucky.

When I give an answer like "Urbana, Illinois," I invariably get a confused and frustrated reaction, as in "Come on, you know what I meant to ask." Sometimes the follow up question is explicit: "Yeah, but where are you really from?"

An answer like Urbana, Illinois? I'm not sure if you're saying that you answer truthfully IRL (but are keeping secrets here) and are not believed, or if you make up answers to confound people.

I'll assume you're answering truthfully and your answer is not being taken at face value. I agree that is offensive. I suppose the only response would be to repeat the factual answer with a slightly colder look and tone, and compel the asker to explain themselves.

But don't you see that when I've been asked about where I come from at length several times already today, by people who just want to share stories as you describe, in a bookshop, when I'm trying to buy coffee and when someone overhears me talking on my mobile, and waits until I finish my call to ask me, that your apparently innocent pushing of the same line of questioning at a bar that night is very tiresome?

Yes, I understand. All I can say is that I've been thinking strictly of situations where people are already in conversation, or at least in a specific group together. I can't really imagine overhearing a stranger in a public place and then accosting them with any kind of question about their personal life (though I do believe in small pleasantries with strangers in all kinds of settings). On the other hand, if I meet someone, their place-of-origin becomes one of the top half-dozen facts I'd like to know, to begin to understand who they are.

Acsenray
10-05-2010, 02:19 PM
I'll assume you're answering truthfully and your answer is not being taken at face value. I agree that is offensive. I suppose the only response would be to repeat the factual answer with a slightly colder look and tone, and compel the asker to explain themselves.

I honestly don't want your advice. I want strangers to stop prying into my background because they think I look different.

And seriously when I hear people talking about how interested they are in the exotic backgrounds of their new acquaintances, or statements like these --

I'm always interested in people's ancestry, especially if they are exotic-looking -- it's a question that takes some delicacy in the asking. ;-)

What comes to mind is someone oiling up to an attractive woman. "Wow, you're exotic looking. Was you dad in the military?"

Peremensoe
10-05-2010, 02:44 PM
I honestly don't want your advice. I want strangers to stop prying into my background because they think I look different.

I was empathizing with you, or trying to--thinking about how I'd react in similar circumstances.

I'm mystified by your bitterness here, and your refusal to explain your specifics makes it harder to work out. You say want people to behave differently, so give us something to work with. I meet lots of people who are only too glad to talk about their origins. How can I tell when someone I've met might be carrying around your kind of anger on the subject, and how should I speak to them? Must I carefully avoid references to my own, or third parties', origins as well, or is it only yours that is verboten?

lindsaybluth
10-05-2010, 03:00 PM
I have far more sympathy for you, and never ask someone without an accent where they are from. I agree, it is rude. My mom did this once with a doctor who looked to be of Asian descent, but spoke without an accent. His deadpan answer was "Texas." I felt badly for him, and was glad that he sort of put her in her place.

And, see, the rude version of the question spoils it for all of us who actually are looking for the equivalent of "Texas."

Hmm, I can't speak for everyone else, but I *know* when people are asking what part of the state I'm from and when people are asking where my PARENTS are from. So Matt, I would gleefully answer you with "Southwestern PA, born and bred!"

What comes to mind is someone oiling up to an attractive woman. "Wow, you're exotic looking. Was you dad in the military?"

I died and went straight to comedy heaven when Steve Carrell said this on the Office to Rashida Jones a few seasons back.

Anaamika
10-05-2010, 03:42 PM
"Exotic-looking" or just "weird"? Because sometimes the first is OK but all too often it's the latter and that is never OK.

Here is a conversation I get a lot and I fucking hate it.

"Oh, where are you from?"
"I'm E. Indian." or "I was born in India." (See? Simple, easy answer...)
"Oh, is it true in India that they have arranged marriages?" or "Did you have an arranged marriage?" Or, "I heard this article about India where they married a girl to a dog, what's that about?" Or "I heard the Commonwealth games are really filthy, hey?"

SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP. If all you can think about is your negative stereotype of India I don't want to hear it. If you are my friend and we have talked for a long time before, I may engage in some discussion on the faults and the good things about India. I don't hesitate to criticize it but I certainly am not going to get into it with a relative stranger.

*********************************************

Here's another one.
"My name is Mika."
"Oh, that's different. Where is it from?"

"Different" can be sometimes good, but more often, if they mean it to be good, they say, "Oh, that's a pretty name." Different usually means, "I couldn't spell that if I tried but I never will try and I will never balk at a single Polish name even though they can be WAY more difficult".

And I don't understand why my name gives you license to assume I am a foreigner. Or my color. Like I said, my SO is totally American. He is named after one of the Founding Fathers, for chrisssakes! And because his eyes are a little bit slanted, people still think he's a foreigner.

**********************************************

As I said, I certainly am not angry about it...but what makes you think I want to talk about it? If the conversation comes up naturally, sure, say something. Otherwise, I am from Michigan, or maybe Upstate NY, depending on which identity feels stronger at the moment.

The thing is, spark240 claims to want to know because he thinks it has colored my view of the world, and made me a different person than other people he knows. Has it? Could you wait and get to know me a little better before you assume that? Because I guarantee, I don't talk about my heritage IRL 1/5 as much as I mention it on the boards! And when I do mention it, I am happy to talk about it, because I brought it up!

amarinth
10-05-2010, 03:52 PM
To Brenda, pulkymell, and Surly Chick, it is different if you actually are a foreigner, is it not? I am not a foreigner, and as I said, i certainly don't have a foreign accent. It comes across as "You have a weird name" or "You are substantially browner than the average person."Yes.
I don't mind when I'm on vacation out of the country or mind that much when I'm in a place where my accent is notably different than the area standard. But when I'm in the city that I've lived in since I was a child and the answer "here" isn't enough for the asker, it's off putting.

put down the sabre
10-05-2010, 04:05 PM
I'm mystified by your bitterness here, and your refusal to explain your specifics makes it harder to work out. You say want people to behave differently, so give us something to work with. I meet lots of people who are only too glad to talk about their origins. How can I tell when someone I've met might be carrying around your kind of anger on the subject, and how should I speak to them? Must I carefully avoid references to my own, or third parties', origins as well, or is it only yours that is verboten?

It's actually very easy. Think: if this person didn't have a 'different' name, accent or appearance, would I ask them such a question at this point in my relationship with them. Easy.

So: if you are at a point at a conversation where you might naturally ask a (eg) white American male called Mike where he is from, and where his parents are from, etc, then go ahead and ask. But if you wouldn't ask Mike that early on, and are only asking because Harry talks funny or Indira looks like she's from somewhere else, or Ito has a foreign-sounding name, then cram a sock in it.

By analogy: would you ask a white American whether her family owned slaves instantly upon meeting her, or is that the sort of question that might wait until you knew her very well?

pdts

Giles
10-05-2010, 04:13 PM
Bethlehem
I have a friend who was born in Bethlehem (and no, his name isn't Jesus).

Peremensoe
10-05-2010, 04:15 PM
Anaamika, please know I appreciate your post above very much. It goes into specifics to explain circumstances and resulting feelings. I believe I understand where you're coming from.

To clarify one point,

The thing is, spark240 claims to want to know because he thinks it has colored my view of the world, and made me a different person than other people he knows. Has it? Could you wait and get to know me a little better before you assume that?

I assume this about all people--that where they're from, and where and how they've grown up, has colored their views and made them different from other people I know. These are hardly the only factors, of course, but as I mentioned, I tend to think of them as among the leading handful.

Acsenray
10-05-2010, 04:37 PM
I'm mystified by your bitterness here, and your refusal to explain your specifics makes it harder to work out.

I really don't know why you think you need specifics to work this out. I am not white, Hispanic, or African-American. I have a non-Anglo-Saxon, non-Hispanic, non-European name. I was born in and grew up in the United States and my accent is American.

That's all you really need to know in order to work this situation out.

You say want people to behave differently, so give us something to work with. I meet lots of people who are only too glad to talk about their origins. How can I tell when someone I've met might be carrying around your kind of anger on the subject, and how should I speak to them? Must I carefully avoid references to my own, or third parties', origins as well, or is it only yours that is verboten?

I don't know that I can give you any guidance, since you seem so wedded to the idea that asking complete strangers about their background is some kind of avocation of yours. I consider it rude to pry into someone's background until after you've established some kind of relationship.

Let me ask you this: Is there any kind of person you wouldn't ask about their origins upon first encounter?

Peremensoe
10-05-2010, 04:40 PM
It's actually very easy. Think: if this person didn't have a 'different' name, accent or appearance, would I ask them such a question at this point in my relationship with them. Easy.

So: if you are at a point at a conversation where you might naturally ask a (eg) white American male called Mike where he is from, and where his parents are from, etc, then go ahead and ask. But if you wouldn't ask Mike that early on, and are only asking because Harry talks funny or Indira looks like she's from somewhere else, or Ito has a foreign-sounding name, then cram a sock in it.

Sounds fair enough. I may already be meeting this standard in practice, I don't know.

By analogy: would you ask a white American whether her family owned slaves instantly upon meeting her, or is that the sort of question that might wait until you knew her very well?

Hmm. That seems a much more specific question. No, I wouldn't ask anyone ever for historical accounts just upon meeting them.

As it happens, I was just asked yesterday about my origins, by a brand-new acquaintance (customer, not a friend of friend), based on the wearing of an unfamiliar sports-logo cap. I gave my answer--the county, state with my deepest family roots in the New World, and where I grew up--though it is neither my birthplace nor present residence, nor anything to do with the cap logo. So there was some more talk of places (they were new to this area), and I was asked which side my ancestors had taken in the war of 1861. All just pleasantly curious conversation, people getting to know people and a place, yet I get the sense that the level of the queries in this case would have been disturbing to perhaps a couple folks in this thread, because of inferences on the askee's part about asker's intentions and prejudices.

So I guess what I'm wondering is if I'm (and all other white Americans, I guess) here asked to be more circumspect when inquiring of people who look or sound more "different" or "foreign"--in other words to exceed the standard pdts details above.

Acsenray
10-05-2010, 04:55 PM
As it happens, I was just asked yesterday about my origins, by a brand-new acquaintance (customer, not a friend of friend), based on the wearing of an unfamiliar sports-logo cap. I gave my answer--the county, state with my deepest family roots in the New World, and where I grew up--though it is neither my birthplace nor present residence, nor anything to do with the cap logo.

The wearing of a sports logo is a de facto invitation for fans of that sport to ask about your sports loyalties and the origin of such sports loyalties (which often is related to the place where one grew up).

So let me get this straight. You live in, say, Boston, and you were wearing, say, a Chicago Cubs cap, and this guy asked, hey, Spark, are you from Chicago? And you answer (something like): Well, I was born in Baltimore; but my family's really from Philadelphia, which is where I grew up.

(Why do I get the feeling that this brand-new acquaintance was gifted with much more information that he or she really wanted?)

Peremensoe
10-05-2010, 05:47 PM
I am not white, Hispanic, or African-American. I have a non-Anglo-Saxon, non-Hispanic, non-European name. I was born in and grew up in the United States and my accent is American.

That's all you really need to know in order to work this situation out.

Thanks. You grew up in the United States, so the answer I would be looking for, should we meet and I ask you this, would be the region or town, and state, where that was. Pretty straightforward, and precisely the same thing I'd be looking for in asking a white American the same question.

Looking Korean, or Pakistani, and having the name and family heritage to match, is perfectly compatible with being as American as anyone--and is not the same as actually being Korean, or Pakistani, in one's own personal origin.

Of course people whose personal origin (to me, more the growing up part than just the birth) is outside the United States can become Americans as well.

Let me ask you this: Is there any kind of person you wouldn't ask about their origins upon first encounter?

Okay, to be clear, I don't make a habit or "avocation" of investigating the origins of everybody I meet. Nor do I ask it of total strangers, out of the blue, ever. But I don't consider people total strangers after we've met, exchanged names and a few words. At that point, I might well ask, either out of friendly curiosity (which might be derived from accent or appearance, or anything they've said, or whatever) or simply for the sake of continuing the conversation.

No, I can't think of any kind of person I wouldn't ask this about in a first meeting--not by way of introduction (though I've had people introduced to me, and been introduced, on this basis), but at some point, sure, perhaps. More or less as people might ask each other, on first meeting, what their profession was, or whether they had children, or whether they were watching the playoffs. Any of these might come up in some contexts, none is usually essential.

So let me get this straight. You live in, say, Boston, and you were wearing, say, a Chicago Cubs cap, and this guy asked, hey, Spark, are you from Chicago? And you answer (something like): Well, I was born in Baltimore; but my family's really from Philadelphia, which is where I grew up.

(Why do I get the feeling that this brand-new acquaintance was gifted with much more information that he or she really wanted?)

No, I didn't offer all the background. Some comments upthread had mentioned multi-part answers to the question, and I meant to explain how my standard answer is more concise than some, despite not being as simple as that of someone whose roots and whole life are all in one place.

Brynda
10-05-2010, 06:58 PM
<snip> But at least in the UK, to come right out and ask this of someone you've just met would be considered not rude exactly, but a little bit uncouth. Maybe like asking someone how old they are: it's hardly secret information, but does trigger a bit of a 'why do you care?' response.

I have noticed that (white) Americans use 'where are you from' as a standard greeting/piece of smalltalk more than British people, and there's nothing wrong with it. But when you are being asked in a slightly more inquisitive way because you don't fit in in some way, and they won't let you dodge the question, with some power imbalances (it is their country, after all, so you don't want to be too rude), it gets tiresome.

I know that some people like to be the centre of attention, and to talk about themselves to new people. I don't, really, and the problem with a lot of people who ask the question is that they won't let it drop, and they won't let you get away with an evasive answer... they will keep pushing until you tell them. (The other option is to put your foot down, but then you look like an oversensitive jerk.) So it's fine for the extroverts, but for the rest of us it really is like being put unwelcomely on the spot.

But as I say, just one of life's minor annoyances.

pdts

I quoted all of what you posted to show that I do see that you get that this is a cultural difference, but I think the part I bolded is a big part of your annoyance with this: It seems uncouth to you. I hope you get on a more than intellectual level that it isn't uncouth to most Americans; in fact it is friendly. When I am in England, I try to get over my bias that NOT asking is unfriendly. Maybe you could try to get over your bias that it is uncouth. When in Rome and all that.

This thread has mixed together furriners and Americans who are perceived to be "other", which is unfortunate, as it confuses the issues. IMHO, if you chose to come to another country, it is your duty to adapt to the locals. If the locals like to be friendlier (or more distant) than is your preference, too bad. You accept that when you choose to move. I say this as the daughter of a German woman and the wife of a British man, so I claim some experience of sorts.

On the other hand, if you are born here, but look as if you were born elsewhere, I have more sympathy for your frustration. You didn't choose, and being asked where you come from must be difficult on a whole different level. You are being treated as "other" when you are not, unlike the emigrant who really is "other." Nothing wrong with being "other" (I like it when I am in a different place) but not when you are not truly other.

lshaw
10-05-2010, 07:01 PM
"Exotic-looking" or just "weird"? Because sometimes the first is OK but all too often it's the latter and that is never OK.

Here is a conversation I get a lot and I fucking hate it...

SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP. If all you can think about is your negative stereotype of India I don't want to hear it. If you are my friend and we have talked for a long time before, I may engage in some discussion on the faults and the good things about India. I don't hesitate to criticize it but I certainly am not going to get into it with a relative stranger.

Are we running into the same morons? I have similar conversations too:

"Where are you from?"
"I'm from California."
"No, where are you REALLY from?"
"I really am from California..."
"I mean, where are your parents from?"
"Oh, Taiwan"
"Taiwan? What's that? Oh, you mean China?"
"Uh no (is this person for real?). From... ok fine, yeah China (whatever)."
"Do you guys really eat dogs there?"

Another slightly modified one would go almost the same, except after they asked "Where are your parents from" and I answered "Taiwan", they were like, "Wow, your English is so good." Well duh, didn't I just say that I was from California?!

The most obnoxious one was when I was on public transportation, and this guy came up to the seat in front of me with his friend. He turned around and went, "Ni hao ma??? Where you from? China? Japan? Korea? Konnichiwa? Anyong haseyo?? Ni hao ma, mei li?"

Yeah, I love how he basically went through all the major east Asian languages there, and when I started talking on my cell in English with no trace of a foreign accent, he was basically all blown over that I didn't speak with a "chinky" accent, perhaps. He interrupted and spoke in slow, enunciated English, "Hey, where you from? You---speak---English? You-- understand---me?" Moron. Didn't he just hear me speaking it?

I'm wary of the question because I'm used to receiving some fairly moronic follow up questions and comments.

Acsenray
10-05-2010, 07:09 PM
There was an old county judge, who had long since gone senile and retired to private practice, and I had the same conversation with him on multiple occasions --

Former Judge: Are you Filipino?
Me: No .... actually my parents are from India.
Former Judge: Ah, you must be South Indian, because they're darker skinned.
Me: No, actually. Ethnically, my family is from the northeast of India.
Former Judge: Ah. ... You know, when I was serving in WWII, I spent a lot of time in the Phillipines.
Me: (Looks around for the nearest exit)

After a while, I would skedaddle any time I saw the old coot coming down the street. One day I was chatting with an actual judge. We happened to be in his courtroom at the time, because it was vacant, but we were standing behind the bench, close to the door to his chambers. I saw Old Coot open the giant courtroom doors at the other end and I quickly said goodbye to the actual judge and slipped out through his inner chamber.

Next time I stopped by the prosecutor's office, he was grinning at me: "Judge X said you saw Old Coot and hightailed it out of there!"

put down the sabre
10-06-2010, 05:17 AM
<snip> But at least in the UK, to come right out and ask this of someone you've just met would be considered not rude exactly, but a little bit uncouth. Maybe like asking someone how old they are: it's hardly secret information, but does trigger a bit of a 'why do you care?' response.

I have noticed that (white) Americans use 'where are you from' as a standard greeting/piece of smalltalk more than British people, and there's nothing wrong with it. But when you are being asked in a slightly more inquisitive way because you don't fit in in some way, and they won't let you dodge the question, with some power imbalances (it is their country, after all, so you don't want to be too rude), it gets tiresome.

I know that some people like to be the centre of attention, and to talk about themselves to new people. I don't, really, and the problem with a lot of people who ask the question is that they won't let it drop, and they won't let you get away with an evasive answer... they will keep pushing until you tell them. (The other option is to put your foot down, but then you look like an oversensitive jerk.) So it's fine for the extroverts, but for the rest of us it really is like being put unwelcomely on the spot.

But as I say, just one of life's minor annoyances.

pdts

I quoted all of what you posted to show that I do see that you get that this is a cultural difference, but I think the part I bolded is a big part of your annoyance with this: It seems uncouth to you. I hope you get on a more than intellectual level that it isn't uncouth to most Americans; in fact it is friendly. When I am in England, I try to get over my bias that NOT asking is unfriendly. Maybe you could try to get over your bias that it is uncouth. When in Rome and all that.

This thread has mixed together furriners and Americans who are perceived to be "other", which is unfortunate, as it confuses the issues. IMHO, if you chose to come to another country, it is your duty to adapt to the locals. If the locals like to be friendlier (or more distant) than is your preference, too bad. You accept that when you choose to move. I say this as the daughter of a German woman and the wife of a British man, so I claim some experience of sorts.

On the other hand, if you are born here, but look as if you were born elsewhere, I have more sympathy for your frustration. You didn't choose, and being asked where you come from must be difficult on a whole different level. You are being treated as "other" when you are not, unlike the emigrant who really is "other." Nothing wrong with being "other" (I like it when I am in a different place) but not when you are not truly other.

Thanks for your reasonable response. I do get that asking normally 'where are you from' within a few seconds of meeting someone is a standard American thing to do, and to be honest it doesn't bother me that much. Not how we do things in the UK, I suppose, but like you say it's just a cultural difference.

It does bother me, though, when people either


come out and ask me when they wouldn't ask an American. like when I'm ordering coffee and the barista asks me (and didn't ask the people in the queue in front of me). That does get on my tits a bit -- it really reinforces that I am an outsider, even though of course you are right I am an outsider!

start a roll-call of stupid stereotypes or other banality. What you get if you answer 'the UK' that you don't tend to get if you answer 'Kansas' is a parade of stereotypes or stupid jokes or stories about someone who studied abroad in Ireland. It is horribly obnoxious to be told 'but your teeth aren't that bad!' upon meeting people relatively often.


So my complaint is not so much with the question, but with being put on the spot or with stupid stereotypes. I think this is often exaggerated, but Americans do combine a lot of ignorance about the outside world (seriously, every story on even CNN is either about America or about America's interactions with or imperial adventures in some other place), with a lack of travel (it's expensive and far to most places, plus the feudal system means people don't want to take time off), with a strange willingness to tell you all about your own country.

Maybe I'm just mixing with the wrong crowd (possibly, actually: I think a lot of it has to do with college students wanting to show off how 'cosmopolitan' they are), but that does get grating and is not just a cultural difference.

pdts

Nava
10-06-2010, 05:59 AM
An answer like Urbana, Illinois? I'm not sure if you're saying that you answer truthfully IRL (but are keeping secrets here) and are not believed, or if you make up answers to confound people.

Spark, I've had Americans tell me "You don't look Spanish!" or "You don't sound Spanish!" Some of them got insulting about it, "no way, you don't look Spanish! C'mon, where are you really from?" OK, they're not just saying "you don't look like I believe Spaniards look", they're calling me a liar! Where I come from (which was still in Spain last time I looked), the proper response to that is "I dare you to repeat that in the street."

I happen to be from Spain and there are thousands of Spanish women whose general description fits mine to a T, but those people expect every Spaniard to sound like Antonio Banderas. Heck, I even have the same coloring as P... but, according to them, I don't look Spanish. Several of them were also confused about the location of Spain, thinking it was "next door to Colombia".

I don't have a problem with people asking "where are you from?", but there are too many times when what comes behind that is completely unacceptable. Once you've had enough of those bad experiences, the sentence which has been known to lead to them already makes you defensive.

Dunkelheit
10-06-2010, 02:06 PM
I suppose I do ask others this indirectly, if it arises naturally in the conversation .. it is part of getting to know people. But at least in the UK, to come right out and ask this of someone you've just met would be considered not rude exactly, but a little bit uncouth.

As a recent emigrant to the UK from North America, I just got asked this question by a very interesting source -- the obscene caller who somehow got my mobile number. He went from making weird growling noises when I answered, to saying "You've got an accent, where are you from?" AS IF...

Dunkelheit
10-06-2010, 06:45 PM
I honestly don't want your advice. I want strangers to stop prying into my background because they think I look different.

And seriously when I hear people talking about how interested they are in the exotic backgrounds of their new acquaintances, or statements like these --

I'm always interested in people's ancestry, especially if they are exotic-looking -- it's a question that takes some delicacy in the asking. ;-)

What comes to mind is someone oiling up to an attractive woman. "Wow, you're exotic looking. Was you dad in the military?"

I mean "exotic" in the sort of biological sense, as the opposite of "indigenous", not making any particular implication about a person's appearance except that they don't necessarily look local. I also understand that it can be an annoying or offensive question for the recipient, hence the comment about delicacy. Obviously your example is at the "indelicate" end of that spectrum.

I also said "ESPECIALLY" if they are exotic looking -- but I am interested in ancestry regardless of what someone looks like or how long their family has been in the area, especially coming from North America which has so many people whose ancestors came from so many different places.

Dunkelheit
10-06-2010, 06:54 PM
Okay, to be clear, I don't make a habit or "avocation" of investigating the origins of everybody I meet. Nor do I ask it of total strangers, out of the blue, ever. But I don't consider people total strangers after we've met, exchanged names and a few words. At that point, I might well ask, either out of friendly curiosity (which might be derived from accent or appearance, or anything they've said, or whatever) or simply for the sake of continuing the conversation.

No, I can't think of any kind of person I wouldn't ask this about in a first meeting--not by way of introduction (though I've had people introduced to me, and been introduced, on this basis), but at some point, sure, perhaps. More or less as people might ask each other, on first meeting, what their profession was, or whether they had children, or whether they were watching the playoffs. Any of these might come up in some contexts, none is usually essential.


^^This. Just to further clarify my own position, which seems to have been taken a bit wrongly.

put down the sabre
10-09-2010, 05:03 PM
Coincidentally, I came across this today! A quick, interesting read (which gratifyingly agrees with me :D)

http://smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/So-Where-You-From.html

pdts

put down the sabre
10-09-2010, 05:10 PM
And a spot-on quote in the comments, by an American no less:

For me, the frustration doesn't come with all these nice people asking questions. The frustration comes with having to repeat the answer endlessly to almost every single American that I meet, otherwise I'm considered rude.

Isosleepy
10-10-2010, 12:23 AM
I get those questions a lot because of my last name, complete with multiple requests to pronouce it. When I don't want to deal, I say in the most up-beat way: "Absolutely!" complete with a big smile. If they persist, I say "yes!" with an eve bigger smile. That usually does the trick.

Paragonkid
10-10-2010, 03:00 AM
That guy/girl: Where are you from?
You: If I told you, I'd have to kill you...

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