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aruna
05-04-2013, 03:27 PM
OK, I read the other locked thread and I see why it was locked but I have another point of view which belongs in its own thread, so here goes!

I thoroughly understand that if you were born and grew up and lived all your life in, say, Chicago or Manchester or Stuttgart it would be highly irritating to be asked, in the country you call home, “Where are you from”, and worse yet, “Where are you really from”, just because of your skin colour.

But… and there is a but… it’s different for those of us who really are from somewhere else. We LOVE to be asked this question! We love to talk about our home country, and if it’s an insignificant little country nobody ever heard of at the end of the world and beyond God’s back, we love to hear the questions about it and explain that no,it's not in Africa, and it was a British colony, not French or Dutch.

We positively revel in being “other”, “different”, from the mainstream citizens of the USA, UK, Germany or wherever.

And there IS a difference. I know because I grew up in that “other” culture and that has formed my perspective, my attitude on certain subjects, the way I deal with stuff. I love it when that “otherness” is acknowledged by others. Mostly, I just suppress it and adapt at least superficially to the society I live in, but I also like, sometimes, to be able to share my own way of seeing, to say, hey, yours is not the only perspective. That may even be the reason why I write novels: to show that “otherness”. I suspect that we expats are the bridges between cultures, just as people who are bilingual are the bridges between nations foreign to each other.

I promise you this is so with at least 90% of expats, regardless of skin colour. We don’t think it’s rude at all. It’s the first thing we ask each other, when we realise we are expats. We like to say, Oh, I’ve been there! Or, oh, I work with somebody from there! When I hear someone with a Caribbean accent, I love to place them and will most certainly ask, or try to guess. It's also the way we connect, find common ground, make friends. It can get lonely, not knowing anyone from your own part of the world.

Yesterday I heard two women in our local supermarket address each other in English. I longed to go up them and ask where they were from, and the only reason I didn't is because I don't just walk up to strangers and start talking. But I wish they would ask me, one day.

Once, a woman did ask me when she heard me speaking English to my son and she was walking past. She stopped, we chatted, her husband turned out to be English, and we have been close friends ever since -- 26 years now!

Once, I was sitting in a train and I heard a woman behind me speaking to the conductor, and I recognised the Guyanese accent, so later I walked right up to her and she took one look at me and said, “You’re a (my famly name)” because she recognised a certain family “look”. We always ask each other where we are from.

Last Christmas I bought something from a stall in the Christmas market here in Germany and the guy who served me was black with dreadlocks. I could tell by his accent he wasn’t German and was just about to ask him where he was from (hopefully Caribbean!) when he asked me, and I told him, and asked him back, and he was from Kenya, and we chatted a while as my daughter had been to Kenya the year before.

I belong to an English-language expat online community in Germany and everyone is always asking each other where they are from. It’s the way we understand where they are coming from in their posts. Are they German? Born, or nationalised? How long have they been here? Are they still in culture shock, or have they gone beyond? Do they know what they are talking about?

When I was traveling around South America in 1971 I met surely over a hundred other travellers, and the first thing we always asked was, where are you from?

I would say it’s a natural question. But you need to know if it’s a stupid one. It’s stupid to ask someone with an American accent in America where they’re from, likewise in Britain, likewise a black person in Germany who speaks accent-free German. So I would, if you want to know, listen for the accent first. That will tell you if it’s a stupid question or not. If you just want to know what (American, British, German, French) town they are from and you are in that country already, I don’t see the problem.

So, it's a question of language, accent, speech, rather one of skin colour. Listen, don't look!

(Sorry this turned out so long --- I got carried away!)

slhuang
05-04-2013, 07:28 PM
Your examples seem to be confined to expats asking fellow expats this question. Which I agree is usually appropriate, and which is indeed the main conversation starter whenever I've been overseas and have run into groups of other people also not in their nation of birth.

But I don't agree with this:



But… and there is a but… it’s different for those of us who really are from somewhere else. We LOVE to be asked this question! We love to talk about our home country, and if it’s an insignificant little country nobody ever heard of at the end of the world and beyond God’s back, we love to hear the questions about it and explain that no,it's not in Africa, and it was a British colony, not French or Dutch.

We positively revel in being “other”, “different”, from the mainstream citizens of the USA, UK, Germany or wherever.


::shrug:: My father was an immigrant. He hated the question. He had no desire to talk about his "home country" or to answer people's questions about his culture -- and he certainly didn't revel in being different.

So it's definitely not true across the board. And my father wasn't alone in his desire for assimilation.

Assimilation, and the desire for it / against it, is a whole 'nother ball of wax, however. To some people it's paramount. Others fight tooth and nail to retain strong pockets of their home culture . . . and everything in between, with infinite variations. To me, it's up to the individual people. Where things become problematic is when the people around them try to make those decisions for them, either through direct legal means or through systemic othering.


I promise you this is so with at least 90% of expats, regardless of skin colour. We don’t think it’s rude at all. It’s the first thing we ask each other, when we realise we are expats.But again, that's expats asking expats. I think that's a far different social context, because it's not assuming "other" -- it's implying, "hey, you're an expat, like me" rather than "oh, you're not from here, unlike me."

I'm highly skeptical that 90 percent of expats/immigrants enjoy being asked this question from the general population of the country they're in.

Of course, I'm not saying that you should stop being excited to talk to people about your country and your culture. :) I think that's wonderful! But I also don't think your experiences are indicative of the question not being rude. For instance, I don't mind the ethnicity/nationality question myself, but I see why people would, and it's something I would advise white Americans against asking of every ethnic person they see, despite not being personally offended by it.

And as we rehashed in the other thread, there are certainly social contexts where such questions aren't rude. When you know someone well enough, for instance. Expat groups, I would think, would be another acceptable social context. Like any other etiquette rule, context matters.

aruna
05-04-2013, 07:54 PM
hi, sluhang. Thanks for your take. Yes, my examples do seem to be limited to expats asking expats, and I get that there are people like your dad, who so want to be invisibly assimilated they resent the question --and I quite see that as being true in America, where immigrants have always wanted to be American as soon as possible. So I take that back, and concede that my statements really only apply to expats , not immigrants: people who don't want to be assimilated, who don't want to give up their former cultural identity, and, specifically, it relates to my experience in Germany with expats, who invariably do not want to become German, especially Americans. Germany does not allow dual citizenship and one thing that comes across with all the expats I know, is that they would not give up their citizenship to become German; that they love their home country and identify with it, and the last thing they want is to be mistaken to be German. That comes across very clearly. And I can see that being the case in other countries as well -- people who do not want to "become" the other nationality, are happy to be asked where they're from.

As for POC in America: I know one thing, is that black West Indians living in there hate, just hate, being called African-Americans and will be quick to assert that no, they are not American, if this is just assumed. Luckily, Britain doesn't have an equivalent term. But there too, all the first-generation West Indians I know call themselves by the island or country they originally came from, rather than British, even if they have lived in Britain all their lives. For second generation West Indians, it's completely different. The children of my friends all identify as British, and none of them would say "Guyana" etc if asked the where-are-you-from question.

So you see, "it depends".

Chris P
05-04-2013, 08:12 PM
As for POC in America: I know one thing, is that black West Indians living in there hate, just hate, being called African-Americans and will be quick to assert that no, they are not American, if this is just assumed. Luckily, Britain doesn't have an equivalent term.

I knew a British guy of African descent (not sure if his ancesters were West Indian, or Kenyan, etc) but he laughed himself sick when a well-meaning American (not me) called him a "European African-American."

kuwisdelu
05-04-2013, 09:32 PM
I'm Zuni, and whenever I get together with other groups of other Native Americans, we always go around and introduce ourselves and say our tribe and where we come from. It strikes me as a pretty normal thing to do when you're all PoC. I want to know who you are and where you're from. I want to know what was the culture where you grew up? Even if we're all Indians, that doesn't mean I know anything about what it's like to grow up Creek or Tlingit or Cherokee.

When I went to a diversity workshop at a statistics conference, I was the only Native there. When we introduced each other, no one said where they were from. Sure, can see if you're black or brown, but that doesn't really mean anything. We went on like just an ordinary professional development course except where nobody was white, and when issues about being a minority came up, the focus was just on being "not white". There was nothing about culture at all, and I was very disappointed with that.

Sure, maybe things like that aren't important to everyone who's PoC, and maybe you don't identify with any other culture than "American culture," but if so, that's also part of who you are, and I want to know that, too.

aruna
05-04-2013, 10:03 PM
When I went to a diversity workshop at a statistics conference, I was the only Native there. When we introduced each other, no one said where they were from. Sure, can see if you're black or brown, but that doesn't really mean anything. We went on like just an ordinary professional development course except where nobody was white, and when issues about being a minority came up, the focus was just on being "not white". There was nothing about culture at all, and I was very disappointed with that.


I'd be disappointed, too. Actually, "where I'm from" --- my culture, my background -- is far more important to me than my skin colour.

LJD
05-04-2013, 10:34 PM
My main beef is with people who ask me this question and have no intention of getting to know me even a little bit, i.e., people who are never going to ask me what I do for my living, or even my NAME. If we're riding the elevator or waiting at the bus stop together, and rather than talking about the weather or how crappy the bus schedule is, you start a conversation by saying "What are you?" or "Where are you from?"...that's what I don't like. It's not even like most of these people would be interested in talking about my culture anyways...it feels mainly like "I don't know what box to slot you into, and it's really bugging me." (I am of mixed race and have a racially-ambiguous appearance.)

This describes the majority of situations in which I encounter this question.

aruna
05-05-2013, 08:49 AM
I became acutely aware of the difference between first- and second-generation immigrants recently when the daughter of my former best friend (as a teenager) got married. I and two other of her close friends drove to Wales together for the wedding, with the daughters of those friends, both born and bred in Britain.

One friend is ethic East Indian, the other is ethnic Chinese, but both born and grown up in Guyana. When we all get together, just about all we talk about is Guyana.

The two girls, however, both in their 20s, both with English fathers and so mixed race, were 100% British. It would be ridiculous to ask them where they are from; neither of them have ever been to Guyana and have no interest in that country.

But we 60-something immigrant mothers -- we never really become assimilated, unless we are somehow ashamed of being from an "insignificant" country. I have a cousin like that. Also grew up in Guyana but is in total denial, looks down on the country, thinks of herself as British, has a British identity.

Little Ming
05-09-2013, 02:31 AM
So you see, "it depends".

Definitely. And I also want to add "context matters."

As I said in one of the other threads, a lot of the times when I get asked the "where are you from" question, it comes with "compliments" about how fluent my English is, or how hard it must have been to lose my accent. Or when I do tell them the city and/or state I am from, the follow up question is "where are you really from?"


My main beef is with people who ask me this question and have no intention of getting to know me even a little bit, i.e., people who are never going to ask me what I do for my living, or even my NAME. If we're riding the elevator or waiting at the bus stop together, and rather than talking about the weather or how crappy the bus schedule is, you start a conversation by saying "What are you?" or "Where are you from?"...that's what I don't like. It's not even like most of these people would be interested in talking about my culture anyways...it feels mainly like "I don't know what box to slot you into, and it's really bugging me." (I am of mixed race and have a racially-ambiguous appearance.)

This describes the majority of situations in which I encounter this question.

Minus the "mixed race" and "racially-ambiguous" part, this is how I feel sometimes too.

(That was also the way I felt reading the OP in the locked thread...)


...
::shrug:: My father was an immigrant. He hated the question. He had no desire to talk about his "home country" or to answer people's questions about his culture -- and he certainly didn't revel in being different.

So it's definitely not true across the board. And my father wasn't alone in his desire for assimilation.

Assimilation, and the desire for it / against it, is a whole 'nother ball of wax, however. To some people it's paramount. Others fight tooth and nail to retain strong pockets of their home culture . . . and everything in between, with infinite variations. To me, it's up to the individual people. Where things become problematic is when the people around them try to make those decisions for them, either through direct legal means or through systemic othering...

My family had a similar experience when they moved to the US. It was not an easy time for them socially or finacially, and all they really wanted was to "fit in" or assimilate to their new homes. Not because they were ashamed of where they were from, but because they were the "other" and most of the people asking the questions really didn't care to know them better so much as confirming their own racism (i.e. "OMG, you people really are different from us!")

***

All that said, I'm not opposed to talking about my culture. I have many friends of different ethnic backgrounds and while most of us are in the same age group, grew up in the same area, and have a similar level of education, our cultures are different and we like to talk about and even joke to each other about these differences.

So, yes, "it depends," and "context matters." ;)

Rachel Udin
05-09-2013, 03:24 AM
Where are you "really" from? is probably the more offensive question. However, I just dislike the question overall. Of all the millions of questions the person is asking, having a geography and then not believing them is kinda insulting. And for me the questions just got more invasive and dumb from there, so since I've been assualted with this question since I was five years old with no relief and I learned pretty quickly that the people who are asking it really don't have an interest in say, what my hobbies are, why I'm wearing a really cool coat I made myself, what my profession is, I came to loathe it. More interested in my what's than who or how I view myself. And sometimes without recovery from seeing me as one huge label. Ask me something I can control about myself and that I chose for myself. I find that more gratifying.

You have over 7 billion people on this planet, and you're going to lead with a "What are you?" question? I'd rather lead with a "Who are you?" question. I'd rather ask an opinion, something that tells their personality. Even a small one such as "What do you think of the weather?" rather than how that person's melanin count means something within a cultural range of perceptions.

I like and even love cultural anthropology, but I don't think having a geographical map of where people are born and which 52nd or less cousin they are is as important as valuing who they are surviving in the environment they are now.

Also, I kind of find the question insulting when the person subjecting me to it is a person who has already been told by me, "No, you may not ask that" through my relatives' actions and they just can't accept it. So then try to grind it out of someone who may know. Leave it. And then I'm staring them down and they know I'm looking at them.

Self-definition, to me, is far more interesting than the ultimate labels. Find that out and then share culture together as an exploration of the self-definition. But the exploration of culture can come later... and come naturally. I know asking people to change human interaction is kind of hard... but I always thought asking geography was a wasted question. Especially when followed by the comment My best friend's second cousin once removed's mother in law (whatever) is (whatever), so I can SOOO relate. (Which also gets an auto cringe). (Especially the further removed the person is.)

LJD
05-09-2013, 03:34 AM
Minus the "mixed race" and "racially-ambiguous" part, this is how I feel sometimes too.

It's probably something about where I live (maybe the fact that it's 50% visible minority), but my friends who are 100% Asian do not get these questions near as often as I do. Not the elevator/bus-stop version anyways. With the exception of the friend who does not have particularly Asian features, and whom most people think is mixed--she gets it quite a bit.

On the plus side, no one ever comments on my lack of accent or excellent English :)

You know who gets asked about his accent? My white, Canadian-born, Canadian-raised father. Apparently it sounds like he has a (non-local) accent. I do not hear it.

kuwisdelu
05-09-2013, 03:36 AM
At my university, we have a lot of international students. Sometimes, I'll ask someone where they're from. Sometimes, they'll tell me "China" or "Korea" or "India", and sometimes they seem a little surprised when I say, "No, I meant what city or what village? Where's home for you? What's it like there? Is it very different from here, and how do you like it here?" They usually seem pretty happy to talk about it then.

LJD
05-09-2013, 03:43 AM
Where are you "really" from? is probably the more offensive question.

Yeah. It means they just rejected my answer to "where are you from?" And "where are you really from?" is just such a stupid question.


Also, I kind of find the question insulting when the person subjecting me to it is a person who has already been told by me, "No, you may not ask that" through my relatives' actions and they just can't accept it. So then try to grind it out of someone who may know. Leave it. And then I'm staring them down and they know I'm looking at them.


Yes, people (often strangers!) thinking they have a right to know the answer to this question is pretty damn irritating. No one has a right to my personal information.

theaceofspades
05-10-2013, 04:18 AM
I definitely agree that there are contexts where "where are you from?" can be completely non-offensive and times where it can be extraordinarily hurtful. Like, when I started boarding at school, it was an obvious question during orientation. And it makes sense- you're throwing kids from all over the world together and we're going to be living with each other for the next year at least, and ice breakers have to start somewhere, right?

But then when you have random people, like clerks in stores, asking you where you're from when they don't even know your name, or when you have kids you've gone to school with for years suddenly asking you where you're from, it's a little weird. At best, it's annoying. At worst, it's hurtful.

And I definitely agree that "where are you really from?" is a lot worse. I, relatively recently, had to unlearn saying "Korea" automatically when people ask me where I'm from because I grew up knowing that that was the answer they wanted to hear- not that I was born and raised in America. And I just got so tired of, "no no no, where are you really from?" that I just started saying Korea :/ Nowadays, I'm more likely to glare and/or give a snarky response to that question, but still.

And, like, I wouldn't care if they phrased it another way, you know? I know that when they're asking, they're really asking what my heritage is. Just...filtered through the Asians are perpetual foreigners mindset. But there's a huge difference between asking what my ethnic identity is and where I'm "really" from.

Vito
05-10-2013, 06:50 AM
My paternal grandparents came from the Ottoman Empire -- Francophone (French-speaking) Syrian on one side, and Bedouin Arab on the other side.

My maternal ancestors came from Ireland.

It's an unusual combination, I guess, and strangers have often asked me "what are you?" Through the years I've been told that I appear to be Greek or Italian or Persian or Spanish or Jewish or Argentinian or Cypriot...just about any ethnic group that (stereotypically, at least) has dark hair, a fair-to-olive complexion, and Mediterranean facial features. Sometimes I give a detailed reply; other times I just say, "Hey...I'm Californian!"

I'd be the first to admit that such queries are unnecessary and can seem rude, but I've decided to give those curious strangers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they're just interested in what I'm all about, and can't think of a more courteous and interesting way to break the ice. I mean, I'd rather they complimented my necktie or my serene beatific demeanor, but when it all comes down to it I really appreciate the attention. :)

J.S.F.
05-10-2013, 07:30 AM
Context is where it's at.

My late mother came from the States, my late father was born in Toronto, and both their parents came from little shtetls (ghettos) in Russia. Back in their day, they were acutely aware of others judging them for being 'different' due to their heritage. I grew up in Toronto without having that judgment passed on to me.

However, in Japan, having two bi-racial children (my wife is Japanese) some people always wonder what nationality they are. I simply tell them "they're both" and they are, but when they're twenty they'll have to decide whether to take Japanese nationality or Canadian. It's an either/or proposition here; you can't be both. That might confuse the hell out of them, for even if they take Japanese nationality (and I think they will) I fear there will always be some people who will not think of them as being "100 percent Japanese" due to the way they look. (They're both very Western looking). The whole "where are you from" question is really insulting in some cases. In others, it's just bothersome.

slhuang
05-25-2013, 08:32 AM
Ah hahahahahaha!

My mother just sent me this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=US&hl=en&client=mv-google&v=DWynJkN5HbQ&fulldescription=1

Hilarious.

lolchemist
05-25-2013, 09:10 AM
I think part of the problem is that the English language doesn't really have a good sentence for quickly and concisely asking the question 'Hey, you look a certain way that is interesting to me, may I inquire about your genealogy?' (Even this sounds really awkward and clunky!)

So we resort to:
'Where are you from?' - New York
'What are you?' - A human being
'No, but where are you REALLY from?' - Planet earth
'But what's your nationality?' - American
'So you're a Native American?' - Nope
'Then where are your parents from?' - And in my case this is finally where they will get the names of foreign countries and yet... The specific mix of genetics that created my face and body still won't be 100% accurately represented.

So..... What is a good and inoffensive way to ask this question?

ETA: OMG SLHuang I just watched your video and it used the same Native American joke I just wrote!! And the look on the male actor's face was priceless!!

lolchemist
05-25-2013, 09:17 AM
JSF How strict are they about this? Because in Turkey it's supposed to be either-or too but I still have both citizenships because no one really cares to enforce the rule.

Purple Rose
05-25-2013, 09:40 AM
I can see how it is with expats, having spent much time in their company through my kids' school. As the rare non-expat, Singaporean mother, I sometimes ask the question. Often, I get asked too, probably because I don't quite sound like the average Singaporean they're used to hearing. So yes, that's a bit strange for me.

However, as a visitor (not necessarily a tourist), I get asked the question every single time I visit the US (every year because I have family there). It must be my accent. When I say I'm from Singapore, people ask questions, which I'm happy to answer. I sometimes get a response about not looking Chinese or speaking English well. I'm aware that they usually say that because they think Singapore is in China, in which case, I just smile and tell them a little about Singapore.

I think Americans are naturally curious and in their culture, it isn't rude to ask someone where they're from. Also, I'm quite happy to engage them if they ask about my country.

Oddly enough, no-one in the UK (I visit once a year because I have family there, too) ever asks where I'm from. Sometimes, in Scotland, people will ask my Scottish-born and raised husband where he's from or better still, if he's from America. He never takes offence, just finds it funny. They ask this white man, but they don't ask his non-white wife.

My kids used to get asked a lot in their first year of university in England but not so much anymore. After graduating this year, they'll have to decide on their nationality and looks like they'll choose British. I think once they move out of their university towns, they'll find people asking them this question often. They don't mind; they quite like being "different" and as British adults, they'll say they were originally from Singapore.

I've never, ever been asked where I'm from when travelling in Europe, but apparently my Singaporean Chinese friends get asked all the time. They think it's because people want to know if they're from China.

aruna
05-25-2013, 09:40 AM
The whole "where are you from" question is really insulting in some cases. In others, it's just bothersome.

And in others (not talking about your situation, J.S.F.) it's as harmless and innocuous as "where do you work?" or "where did you go to school?" :)

kuwisdelu
05-25-2013, 09:44 AM
So..... What is a good and inoffensive way to ask this question?

I just basically judge based on tone rather than anything else. It's not that hard to tell why people are asking.

And if I'm curious myself, then I just hope other PoC will be able to read my good intentions.

Of course, I've been known to be as blunt as saying "So I'm half Zuni, with a bit of Polish, German, and Swedish in me. What's in you?"

Though I have no idea why I'd ever bother asking a stranger.

Purple Rose
05-25-2013, 09:44 AM
And in others (not talking about you) it's as harmless and innocuous as "where do you work?" or "where did you go to school?" :)

This is exactly how I see it. Always.

J.S.F.
05-25-2013, 12:57 PM
JSF How strict are they about this? Because in Turkey it's supposed to be either-or too but I still have both citizenships because no one really cares to enforce the rule.
---

They're strict. Even with second-generation Koreans born here who grow up here, speak the language, go to the state schools, when they're twenty, they have to get a Korean passport and are basically fucked.

Now, it is possible for them to get Japanese nationality if they apply, but the rules are so stringent that often they're rejected for the tiniest reason...or no reason at all. Sumo wrestlers from the US or Mongolia have an easier time getting Japanese citizenship than second or third-generation Koreans do.

In the case of my children, they'll have to choose. The law IS enforced. Period. End stop. And it sucks.

J.S.F.
05-25-2013, 01:00 PM
And in others (not talking about your situation, J.S.F.) it's as harmless and innocuous as "where do you work?" or "where did you go to school?" :)
---

Fair enough. But I've been here long enough to know that in my case--and I will not speak for anyone else as I simply don't know their situation--when it's asked about my children, it often implies that they are simply not part of this society. They were born here, they live here, they speak the same language...but they ain't the same.

More's the pity.

little_e
05-25-2013, 03:23 PM
I've moved over 3,000 miles in the past 5 years and people still move in and out of my neighborhood all the time, so "Where are you from?" is something I ask everyone. It has nothing to do with skin tone or accent. I have neighbors from everywhere from Shanghai to a few miles away. The only time I don't is if I think someone might be sensitive about the question. I think a good way to ask is, "How long have you lived in this neighborhood?" (This works when meeting new neighbors.) If people want to talk about where they came from before our neighborhood was built, they will, and if they don't, they won't.

I'd hate for someone to be hurt by such a question. In my case, it's pure curiosity.

Ken
05-25-2013, 03:56 PM
"How long have you lived in this neighborhood?"

... that's a neat and subtle way of asking.

With me, I never ask people anything personal at all, ever.
If they want to tell me something I let them take the initiative.
And I'll bet some people figure I don't care and am not interested.
I am. I just have my own way of going about things :-)

LJD
05-25-2013, 06:10 PM
So..... What is a good and inoffensive way to ask this question?

It's really context more than anything else...

But I don't like "what are you?" and "where are you really from?" is just stupid. And if someone asks me where my parents are from...I truthfully say Canada because they're both Canadian-born. Asking about my "cultural background" or "background" is fine with me.

Context: Do you know my name or anything about me? Yes? Did you just walk up to me and ask, "you half-Asian, half-something?" No?

Well, that puts you ahead of the vast majority of people who ask me that question. No joke.



I just basically judge based on tone rather than anything else. It's not that hard to tell why people are asking.

And if I'm curious myself, then I just hope other PoC will be able to read my good intentions.

Of course, I've been known to be as blunt as saying "So I'm half Zuni, with a bit of Polish, German, and Swedish in me. What's in you?"

Though I have no idea why I'd ever bother asking a stranger.

If I want to ask, yeah, I usually offer up my own info first.

My main problem is with complete strangers asking, and that accounts for the majority of times I'm asked.



And in others (not talking about your situation, J.S.F.) it's as harmless and innocuous as "where do you work?" or "where did you go to school?" :)

See, I could use this as a guide: If the person asking about my race would ever ask, or has already asked, about where I work or where I went to school--then OK, I'm not offended. This is part of some get-to-know you conversation*, not slot-you-into-a-box question. That's cool. Problem is most people who ask are not in a situation where they'll ever even bother asking my name...that's why in most cases I don't see it as innocuous.

*And not just...uhhh..."I want to have sex with you."
One thing I haven't seen brought up in this thread: I am a young woman, and significant number of men who ask this question sound like they have some kind of exoticism or Asian fetish. I think this is part of the reason I have an aversion to this question.


Really, for me, most of the time it's asked in such a way that it seems to be entirely for the purpose of "I want to put a label on you" and not "I want to get to know you." That's where the issue is. So if you ask in any context in which I can tell you have some interest in who I am as a person, and you don't say something really stupid like "where are you really from?" or immediately start asking if I eat rice half the time, then it's no problem. It's still not my favorite question, however. Partly because I've just had so many bad experiences with it, and because people tend to have expectations about my Asian-ness which I do not fulfill.

Rachel Udin
05-25-2013, 07:09 PM
Ah hahahahahaha!

My mother just sent me this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=US&hl=en&client=mv-google&v=DWynJkN5HbQ&fulldescription=1

Hilarious.

OMG Love. I want to do that to someone. I love pithy, though.


I think part of the problem is that the English language doesn't really have a good sentence for quickly and concisely asking the question 'Hey, you look a certain way that is interesting to me, may I inquire about your genealogy?' (Even this sounds really awkward and clunky!)

So we resort to:
'Where are you from?' - New York
'What are you?' - A human being
'No, but where are you REALLY from?' - Planet earth
'But what's your nationality?' - American
'So you're a Native American?' - Nope
'Then where are your parents from?' - And in my case this is finally where they will get the names of foreign countries and yet... The specific mix of genetics that created my face and body still won't be 100% accurately represented.

So..... What is a good and inoffensive way to ask this question?

ETA: OMG SLHuang I just watched your video and it used the same Native American joke I just wrote!! And the look on the male actor's face was priceless!!

I'd be straight... "What is your heritage? Mine is..."

Also clarify with a subject. "What city are you from?" If they say, Chicago... accept it.

But at least ask the person's name first, ask about the weather and don't treat them like they can't speak English. And then don't take exception to the whole thing as if their heritage is the ONLY thing that defines their choices in life.

I don't think asking someone's heritage is a good conversation starter. You don't know all of the cultures on Earth and I've tested it before. People usually self-volunteer it over time because they find it important as a PART of who they are.

There are better questions you can ask which directly effect the person and you can find out their own choices in life without digging too deep.

What do you think about the weather? works.

Also talking about cultural differences often sparks people to volunteer the answer, but it also means you'll run into people you don't want to speak to fairly quickly. But I don't want to talk to narrow-minded people like that at all anyway, so it's a fair litmus test for me. And I'll smile if they say something like, "But not all the people are like that." 'cause that means they get it.


This is exactly how I see it. Always.
I think for the groups that are treated like perpetual foreigners often, it's a bit harder because there is the gut reaction, having to sort it out, and then having to take back-handed compliments after you answer the trap.

"Oh, but your English is SO good."

"I'm sorry about the Korean War. Do you know about it?" (In a tone that implicates, you know we saved you from communism, right?)

This is about the time I either get pithy or try to find an escape.

I got the "Where are you from?" from an adult when I was 5 years old (approaching first grade) without an another adult around. And then I was preached at about the Korean war and how I should be grateful I was adopted and should know Korean and go back to Korea, and of course "Who do you love more" and then a lecture on communism from this white guy like I should know all these things because it's built into my blood in the halls of my school. That's about when I decided to arm myself. Trauma. Trapped. And I still don't understand that guy. From this side I find it a little creepy....

Rinse and repeat this question from the day care workers to my mom who are trying to comfort her that we could be hers. The guy at the park, all of my classmates, the children at the camp, adults that just can't help themselves, and once a year at my Aunt's New Years' party. I get this once a year no matter the location. I must just have that sort of luck to have bad endings.

And I still get the "You speak English good" after I told them I was adopted at FIVE. >.<;; Seriously. People, people.

Just be straight. Stop beating a bush and put a subject or object into the question. English is supposed to be fantastic for it's surgical touch... use it.

kuwisdelu
05-25-2013, 07:52 PM
One of these days, I should to learn to speak Spanish. I feel like I'm disappointing all the Hispanics who think I'm also Hispanic.

It's kind of low priority right now though, considering I can't even speak my own "native" language of Zuni. And I'm still working on Japanese, too. And after that I'll probably try learning Chinese.

Kaarl
05-25-2013, 10:19 PM
If you think someone is asking for reasons other than genuine interest or you just want to avoid answering because it's none of their business ...

"Where are you from?"
"My mummy's tummy"

Rachel Udin
05-26-2013, 09:59 AM
If you think someone is asking for reasons other than genuine interest or you just want to avoid answering because it's none of their business ...

"Where are you from?"
"My mummy's tummy"
Sometimes I say Africa. To just shut 'em up, but then I'm not African-looking, so I can get away with it. (This is the Anthropology)

But I put in the caveat, unless you're a creationist, then you can say Iran--you know the Tigris and Euphrates. Most theologians say that's where Eden probably originated. (Discovery channel, BTW, even if you disagree and say it was a mythical location and there was a crossing).

This serves several purposes...
1. It lets them know they are racially profiling and I'm letting them know that.
2. That they are taking exception to the fact that I'm not "default" white in their eyes.
3. Says I'm an individual, just like them.
4. Points that the origin of human beings isn't Europe even with Christians/Jews/Muslims. (i.e. that the Sistine Chapel is a lie.)

But as I said, I like pithy. I also like geeky clever answers that make people think about themselves. Also comes in handy with adoption. Oh, if you think this is pithy. Adoption questions I can really give a slam down.

Either they get it and laugh and back off... start talking about Anthropology or something else or they are insulted and shut their mouth. It's a win-win.

I have to admit I hate the "What are you?" question more. Usually it's meant to be insulting in the first place. To which I geek that to "homo sapiens sapiens and you?" (Sapiens means "wise one"... so it's kinda an insult too... but they probably aren't geek enough to get that.)

Purple Rose
05-26-2013, 10:30 AM
"Oh, but your English is SO good."

And I still get the "You speak English good" after I told them I was adopted at FIVE. >.<;; Seriously. People, people.

When I was a stewardess with Singapore Airlines, several lifetimes ago, some American passengers (only Americans, no exception) would comment on my English. A senior crew told me how to respond, and I did, every time. And it worked:

- Passenger: Your English is very good / You speak English so well.
- Me: So is yours / So do you.
- Passenger: *Walks quickly towards seat. No bantering with crew throughout the flight*

It was rude, especially for Singapore airlines crew but it was effective. Amazing how some would actually go on to say, "Yes, of course, but we're American."

These days, I just smirk and shake my head when people say such stupid things.

Kaarl
05-26-2013, 03:25 PM
A friend of mine went to the U.S to visit family and wowed people who asked him about his origins (because of his accent) with tales of New Zealand. I particularly liked the fact he told them that we still lived in huts, the internet was banned by the tribal leaders as dark magic and that the threat of animal attacks was a daily part of life, necessitating everyone to have bow and arrow training from a young age.

Rachel Udin
05-26-2013, 07:12 PM
When I was a stewardess with Singapore Airlines, several lifetimes ago, some American passengers (only Americans, no exception) would comment on my English. A senior crew told me how to respond, and I did, every time. And it worked:

- Passenger: Your English is very good / You speak English so well.
- Me: So is yours / So do you.
- Passenger: *Walks quickly towards seat. No bantering with crew throughout the flight*

It was rude, especially for Singapore airlines crew but it was effective. Amazing how some would actually go on to say, "Yes, of course, but we're American."

These days, I just smirk and shake my head when people say such stupid things.
Most people say to me, "You speak English good..." and I say, "No, I speak it well." =P which is a quip because I'm saying I speak it better than they do. Most blink and don't get it. So I have to explain the grammar rule to them, which just demonstrates I know English better than they do, and then they quickly walk away.... It's cruel, but I use it against the people that mean it in that comforting way.

*grins* That one works quite WELL. =P Nothing better than using what someone says and using it against them.

It also ends the "But I'm American" card too. If they continue, just pull out the grammar rules and continue to correct them. *grins* You're a writer, so I'm guessing you can do that.

I've developed these to a fine art. Most of them are designed to make the person think. When it works, it's like magic, because they suddenly go quiet, and you can see the wheels turning.

Lavern08
05-27-2013, 08:07 PM
I have to admit that on an occasion or two, I've innocently said:

Ohhh, I love your accent. Where are you from?

The people never seemed to be offended, but now that I've read this thread, I wonder if my remarks were ignorant?

*Wonders if people could discern my sincerity* :Shrug:

Purple Rose
05-28-2013, 10:32 AM
I have to admit that on an occasion or two, I've innocently said:

Ohhh, I love your accent. Where are you from?

The people never seemed to be offended, but now that I've read this thread, I wonder if my remarks were ignorant?

*Wonders if people could discern my sincerity* :Shrug:

Ummmm, coming from you, Verny ... naaaah! No-one could possibly be offended by anything you say :Hug2: Your tone would make all the difference, I'm sure.