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How to avoid politely replying to : Where are you from?
March 8, 2009 4:52 PM   Subscribe

How to avoid or smartly reply to the question : WHERE ARE YOU FROM ?

I am fed up of having to reply to this question, specially because I was born in a Country which infortunately is known for not great archivements like many Countries in Europe. I don't want to feel stereotyped any more when meeting up people , not by educated , either by ignorants , which are the worse and they only end up mentioning nonsense about my Country.

I don't like get into arguments and hate polemics, and I don't feel either as patriotic as to be defending or changing opinions to other people about the conflicts that face the Country I was born. Also many times people when don't mention the most known couse about my country I feel they instanlty make a face which is not like if I said I was born in Paris or in Britain.

I wouldn't care to mention the continent where I came from, but people always keep answering more, like but where exactly? I feel always obliged to answer.. how annoying! I simply want to find a polite/ intelligent prhrase or reply when people ask me where I am from, or where I came from avoiding to say wich is my Nationality. Obviously I don't want to hide it from people in wich I am really interested of developing a friendship, but I don't feel I have to reply to every person I meet , and seems to be that I feel obliged to tell them as a simply reply like: I don't want to answer , would be to rude and I will push people away instantly, which is not my intention either.

So please , send me any ideas to be able to answer in a lovely /clever and polite way to : Where are you from darling? Thank you ;)
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (81 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I get asked "where are you from" and I tell them the last place I lived.

I know it can be frustrating because I'm thinking to myself, "What are they really asking?". I was born in the Los Angeles area and I lived in Texas but my parents are from India and my name suggests I'm some kind of Arab.

But to cut to the chase, I tell them Houston because that was the city of my previous address.

Don't feel obliged to answer with more details unless you want to. It is a pretty personal question even though most people don't think so.

If you want your response to have a little kick, you can just say "I'm from here" with a smile and then ask them an unrelated question.
posted by abdulf at 4:58 PM on March 8, 2009


Perhaps your problem is with the second step:

Where are you from?
- Germany
Oh so how bout them Nazis?

Where are you from?
- Israel/Palestine
Oh so how bout them Jews/Arabs?

Where are you from?
- Zimbabwe
Oh so how bout that hyperinflation/political unrest?

If your next reply is simply along the lines of "I don't really know much about Nazis/Jews/Arabs/hyperinflation/political unrest." and then follow up, if necessary, with "I don't want to discuss that." you should be fine. People probably just want to discuss something that you might be interested in. When they learn you aren't in fact interested in it, they'll move on to something else like what kind of music you like, or food, etc.
posted by odinsdream at 4:59 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm assuming you live in the States, or perhaps Western Europe.

If I were you, when people ask "where are you from?" why not just state where you currently live?

"Where are you from?" is kind of a rude question. When I lived in Japan I was always asked "where are you from?" and I would always try to say "from Tsuruga" rather than "from Canada", because after a while I really identified with the place I ended up living in for ten years, and sometimes I didn't want to talk about Canada (bears, snow, cold, Rockies, salmon, French).

It didn't work, because people never really took "from Tsuruga" as an answer. A foreigner in Japan can't really be *from* Japan. It's just the way it is, and I'm not complaining.

Anyway, I meet a lot of people from different parts of the world, and I generally try to avoid asking this question, because it's a little irrelevant. However, I'm quite interested in languages and usually end up asking it anyway.

But I never make assumptions or judge people on where they are from.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:03 PM on March 8, 2009


Alright then...

"I don't really know much about global narcotrafficking."
posted by odinsdream at 5:03 PM on March 8, 2009


My dad is in the Air Force, so I grew up in a somewhat similar situation because I never knew if they wanted to know where I was born, where I would claim as my home, or where I was before I got there.

If you really don't want to answer with where you were born then you could very easily say London. It is where you live, right?

You're probably going to get some sort of stereotyping anyway. When I would say the place I came from people would assume I lived there my whole life until I moved and treated me as such. It's going to happen.
posted by theichibun at 5:04 PM on March 8, 2009


Just tell them you're from Suriname. 95% of people have never heard of it.
posted by dydecker at 5:04 PM on March 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's just a way to open conversation. Tell them then ask where are YOU from? It gets a dialogue going. "Oh really, that's interesting, tell me more"
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:05 PM on March 8, 2009


"Earth" is always a good and occasionally accurate answer.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 5:08 PM on March 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'm from South Carolina, one of the most stupefying places in all of creation.

I live in Chicago, in part, because my homeland is so fucking stupid.

But, when someone asks me where I'm from, I tell them South Carolina, and then toss out some amusing and interesting facts about my hometown.

It helps make conversation, shows that I care about places, people, and history. If you press me on the subject you'll even find that I care deeply about civil rights and human emancipation because of where I'm from... in other words, when I'm asked where I'm from I take advantage of the question to reveal (what I feel is) interesting things about myself and my interests.

Yeah, my home state is fucking stupid, and I'm happy to talk about those stupid things, because it's only by talking about these things that people who have no exposure to them can come to understand completely alien parts of our country.

So... take some time, develop and interesting narrative about your home country, and see it for the opportunity that it is, not as an annoyance.

Hell, you should be happy that people find you interesting enough to ask...
posted by wfrgms at 5:13 PM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


You could look at it as an opportunity to help people not believe stereotypes about your country. Just own it. You might throw people off, in a good way. If you meet someone, smile, shake their hand, and then get into where you're from, he'll already have an impression of you before getting into nationality.
posted by thewestinggame at 5:14 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, generally, I wouldn't worry too much about people talking about the negative aspects of Colombia in polite company. Of course, this is not the first thing polite people will ask. Here's a couple of things you can do:

- Reply with "Where are *you* from?" I've seen my dad do this, and people don't quite know what to say, perhaps making them empathize a bit.

- Mention where you live right now, as others have suggested.

- Just ignore content of the question. Treat it the way some people respond to "How are you doing?" - just treat it as a greeting. People respond to "how are you doing?" not with how they are actually doing but usually another greeting like "Hi" or "it's good to see you."
posted by ignignokt at 5:14 PM on March 8, 2009


I say "I moved around a lot as a kid," and have found most people don't care beyond that.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:14 PM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


send me any ideas to be able to answer in a lovely /clever and polite way to : Where are you from darling?

To assume that someone will respond rudely if you tell them where you are from, is to bring a measure of bad faith to the conversation. You're assuming the worst about other people, something akin to assuming that everyone you meet is going to steal from you.

I would never respond with unpleasantness when I found out what country you come from, no matter what the history of your country may be. I am sure many other people are like me. But I would find it insulting that you try to artfully evade an innocent question because you assume I will respond in an unpleasant way.

I think you owe it to other people to answer them truthfully, then if they are rude, take a moment to educate them. Don't assume everyone is going to be rude.
posted by jayder at 5:17 PM on March 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


From an incredibly complex, meme infested gene swarm.
posted by hortense at 5:17 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another point, people like to talk about themselves more than they want to hear about you. That's why you want to turn it around and ask them a question.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:18 PM on March 8, 2009


Let me give you my answer from a different perspective-aren't you proud of your country of origin because it is yours? Or do you, perhaps without thinking it, think of your place of origin negatively and expect others to as well? You might want to think about what it is about this question that REALLY annoys you.

And then just tell people London if it still bugs.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:21 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


For practical purposes, I answer, with the country I'm a citizen of, the States, born and bred, I says.

If they mean nationality, and I'm Mexican/Slovenian, so this ALWAYS comes up, I tell them, then ask where THEY'RE from, including nationality etc.

turnabout is fair play.

As an aside you'd be surprised how many white people are, half german, english, irish, with some genuine american indian too! You'd also be surprised that a lot of white people think "i'm white" is an answer.
posted by Max Power at 5:28 PM on March 8, 2009


It's good to remember that some people really, really need to put people into categories based on nationality or race, for their own reasons, and that there isn't a lot you can do to stop this.

To answer the question, I like to tell people what I'm doing and where I'm living now as an answer, which is a pretty polite way to indicate to people that the place I'm mentioning is a place that's OK to talk about. So:

A: Where are you from?
B: Well, I'm working in [Poland] right now.
A: Wow, [Poland], what do you do there?/is it really cold there?/I think my friend Marcin lives in Warsaw - maybe you know him!...

It's also OK to ask people where they're from right after this. People like to talk about themselves, and this gives them a chance to do so:

A: Where are you from?
B: Well, I'm working in [Poland] right now. How about you?
A: Well, I was born in X and grew up in Y, and...

You could also just name a city or a region that's more likely to be well known.

A: Where are you from?
B: Well, I'm working in [Poland] right now, but I live in Los Angeles [so, I'm not saying "America" or "the States"].
A: Wow, do you see Madonna at the supermarket all the time? [and now we're talking about Madonna, not where I grew up]

Finally, you can say where you "grew up", which doesn't really answer the question of nationality, but does say where you might feel most comfortable (since you spent your childhood there), and can direct the conversation away from a particular country.

A: Where are you from?
B: I grew up near Los Angeles.
A: Wow, did you see car chases on TV all the time when you were a kid?

One of the things I like about being abroad is that local people in my new city and country are always pleasantly surprised that I chose to come there - it gives them a touch of pride about their place, and almost every single time someone begins this conversation with me, it ends up with at least a smile and sometimes a phone number!
posted by mdonley at 5:32 PM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


You could say where you are from, but then go into "but I've lived in x country/city/wherever and I really identify with it more.
posted by jgirl at 5:33 PM on March 8, 2009


People ask because its a general casual dialogue question and/or because they're generally interested. Hiding where you're from can come across as if you're hiding something more, particularly if the truth comes out later and there's a not-so-nice history to your homeland. It's not fair, but that's life.

Use the opportunity to represent your place of birth in a positive light. Say something nice about where you're from- an interesting fact, a recent news bit, or just leave it as is. Being kind and sincere should help remove you from the negative aspects of your homeland.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 5:39 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]



Great answers so far, thank you, Yes ,I am from Colombia, and I have lived in London for 6 years, before living in CostaRica for 5 years too. ( but I don't feel like saying I am from there either ) feel like lying..

Yesterday , my afternoon was spoiled when someone I asked an address asked me , where are you from?, I reply as always , South America,.. he said ,(as millions of times I've heard).., ah Cocaine!!! well, I had not more choice that start a stupid agument with him as I wasn't expecting even, because I felt really bad about him saying that in such a way and so loud in the street! .. I know quite well how to put in place people like him when saying nonsense in such a way about Colombia , but the deal is that I don't really want to go trough that any more.! I simply DON'T want to specify my NATIONALITY as I am truly bored of this events.

This has happened to me and to all Colombians many times along our life as a foreiners infortunately , it's a big cross we carry, as many other countries with internal problems and how beutiful our Country it is.. but the diff is that I am settled down in London, and I haven't even gone to C for many years, I have even strived studying to rid off of my accent for a year now , not because I don't like it , just to be able to live as closest as possible to the culture I am living with.

I don't feel like facing this things any more, and even though I love my original country I don't want to feel treated diferenlty by no means. That's why I decided to really find ways of NOT replying where I come from. I really want from now on to be loved as a friend or as an aquitance as simply a human being, not being put any kind of labels as it has happened to me in the past. Thank you.
posted by zulo at 5:40 PM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Like others here, I'd just say, "I'm from all over."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:43 PM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


My standard answer...

Q: Where are you from?
A: Here now.
posted by robtoo at 5:45 PM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hmm, I'd go with not lying. For every 95% who have never heard of Suriname, there are 5% who have, and will break out into dutch or ask you about the 1980's military coup and unrest during the 80s. Or they might ask you your thoughts on the recent 'Phoni' Toni Braxton debacle. And since you might not know anything about it either, you might come off as flippant, when all people are trying are trying to to is connect with you (okay, badly but still).

Awkwardness is just part of the experience, I think. Like:

Them: So where are you from?

Me: I was born in the US, and my family is from Guyana.

Them: Wow, Ghana - Africa is so beautiful.

Me: Uh...yes it is. I've never been myself. My family is from Guyana.

(insert awkward I'm-not-calling-you-geographically-ignorant moment, here)

Them: Oh, Guyana, where is that?

Me: Oh...well...a lovely country right next to Venezuela.

Them: Oh, wait, isn't that where that Jim Jones thing happened?

(insert awkward sometimes-my-fellow-Americans-annoy-me moment, here)

I'm just saying it happens a lot.


On preview....I like everything that mdonley and jgirl said.
posted by anitanita at 5:46 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


"THE FUTURE"
posted by unknowncommand at 5:49 PM on March 8, 2009 [19 favorites]


You could tell the truth and when they say COCAINE!! you can reply, "Sure, that is one element of life in a lot of places. However, do you know about Colombia's amazing natural thing/resource/lake/whatever." If they keep on pressing the drug issue, say "You know, that is a big issue for my home country. It is really complicated and has hurt many people. But, personally, I'd really like people to know about some of the other, more positive aspects of Colombia."

If you and all the other Colombians did this, may the stereotypes wouldn't be so prominent?
posted by k8t at 5:58 PM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I have been in America the majority of my life, but I was born in a country which is known for it's less-than-ideal human and women's rights policies and one parent was an immigrant from there, as well. I am absolutely American, but I get "where are you from" a lot because I do look a bit... exotic? Anyway, my standard replies are, "I'm a bit of a gypsy, I moved around a lot," or, "I don't really know where I'm from because I've hopped around so much. It's almost like I was raised by carnies. Can't you see it in my complete lack of social grace?"

It avoids the question and distracts at the same time. I have lived in 7 cities in the past 10 years, so really it's not a lie.
posted by Lullen at 5:59 PM on March 8, 2009


Play up to their ignorance when they ask you where you're from: say that they won't have heard of it. They'll probably poke you for the name of the place anyway, and you should give them the name of the city or region - but not the country. Some will pretend that they know where it is, in which case you've avoided saying it yet leaving them none the wiser. Others may ask further for the country, in which case you just smile and say, 'I told you you wouldn't know where it was! Perhaps you should go get an atlas?'

At least this was you can a) not tell a lie, and b) be playful about it. Beyond Bogota and Cartagena, most English people wouldn't know Colombia from Cymru. Indeed, if the place you mention has a strongly Spanish sound to it, they'll from think you're from Spain and you can leave them in their ignorance.
posted by Sova at 6:01 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah, I see. You're asking how to deflect ignorant oiks who nudge and wink about cocaine. Well at least coke is fun, some of us have bigger burdens to bear. Sample conversation:

Oik: "So where are you from?"

Me: "New Zealand."

Oik: "Ah. Screwed any sheep lately?"

These people you talk about will0make fun of your country no matter where you are from, that's the English way. If you want to be more like them, I'd recommend practicing making fun of them back.

"Where you from?"

"Colombia"

"Ah, coke is it!"

"So where are you from then?"

"I'm British I am"

"I'd have never have guess it. You've got all your teeth"
"
posted by dydecker at 6:10 PM on March 8, 2009 [14 favorites]


Unfortunately, it's hard to get out of question like that without increasing somebody's curiosity. It might help to embrace the humor a bit. You could just answer "The Cocaine Capital of the World!" It would immediately disarm somebody who would otherwise want to bring that up right away. Subconsciously you'll be letting the questioner know that he will have to come up with another topic if he wants to sound clever.
posted by rouftop at 6:20 PM on March 8, 2009


Oh, Great answers here, I am so grateful with all of you so far . I could use them all, when I find myself in differents situations.

Please keep suggesting , not because I have no found the answer, but because your answers are opening my mind so much towards the subject.
posted by zulo at 6:21 PM on March 8, 2009


When people find out where my family's from, they very frequently start joking/suggesting that my family members are criminals. It's so old it's not remotely funny. Sometimes I'll play along, sometimes I'll educate them, but when I want to make someone feel bad I'll just ask, "Why would you say such a thing?" Stops them in their tracks -- there's no adequate response when the truth is that they thought it would be humorous to imply that my family are murderers.
posted by katemonster at 6:33 PM on March 8, 2009


You know, Dydecker's comment made me choke on a jujubean, but it's given me an idea: Why not try:

1) polite if with a person where you haven't sussed out their humor:

"Where you from?"

You: "Colombia"

"Ah, coke is it!"

You: "Yes, every country seems to have it's issues. What's the best place you've travelled to in the world?"

Or a variation:
You: AND we have Gabriel Garcia Marquez/Carlos Valderrama (depending on audience). All from the same country. Amazing, no?


B) Or, of you don't care...gain solidarity by picking on another group:

"Where you from?"

You: "Colombia"

"Ah, coke is it!"

You: "Yea.... the Americans, man - they need to start putting down the crack pipe and just say no, don't they?"


.....go for the dydecker's teeth option, which really just gets me every time.
posted by anitanita at 6:42 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, I know....

Tell them you prefer Pepsi!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:44 PM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


"I was born in Colombia, a beautiful country, but live in London now."

Hard for someone to say something bad about Colombia at this point without obviously insulting you, which only a true jackass would.
posted by HeyAllie at 6:49 PM on March 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


Here is my standard answer for all inappropriate questions:

"Why do you ask?"

Works every time.
posted by Violet Hour at 6:52 PM on March 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


I have asked people that question, but never maliciously. And the reason I ask is because I'm trying to identify an accent. What I'm really asking is "What is your native language?"

When someone asks that of you, why not answer it in your native language?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:58 PM on March 8, 2009


Wow, I'm just planning to visit Colombia for a conference next year, and I've already experienced a micro-version of what you're talking about a couple of times, with people fantasizing in more or less paranoid ways about what it means to go there. It's easy for me to say (and would be hard for me to do) but I think you're well justified in taking umbrage at the reaction to your answer, and anyone you'd really like to keep talking to should probably be glad to be guided to a more complicated way of thinking about your country of origin. Another thought is that you could derail this all slightly by bringing up the experience of travel / diaspora in a general way and turn the talk toward the experience of traveling...
posted by Mngo at 6:59 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


You could (assuming you are from there) say 'Bogota', and then let the person piece together where it is from. If the person asks you, 'Where is that?', you can reply, 'South America' without being more specific. If they have to ask another follow-up question, it makes them look like an idiot. This should weed out the most ignorant of the bunch.
posted by yellowcandy at 7:03 PM on March 8, 2009


I don't remember where I read this smart alecky reply, but you're welcome to it:

"My mommie says I came from heaven".

If you're in the UK, you can substitute "My mum" for "My mommie."

Extra obnoxiousness points if you use a fake 5-year-old voice!
posted by amtho at 7:09 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here is my standard answer for all inappropriate questions:

"Why do you ask?"

Works every time.


Ehh... not so much, if I'm doing the asking.

"Where are you from?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Because I'm interested in language, and I couldn't place your accent. Spanish, but not Spain or Mexico... I dunno."

"Fine... Colombia."

"Ah. Interesting. Do you know how the Spanish there differs from Mexican Spanish?"

It's not always so we can stereotype you and talk about the shit in your country. Sometimes it's because we value cultural exchanges.
posted by Netzapper at 7:13 PM on March 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


Ah. How did I know you were in the UK?

Q: Ah, what a lovely outfit! I'll bet it's traditional amongst your people! And where are you from?
A: The supermarket. Before that, I was at work, although I left during lunch and had kebab.

Q: What an interesting name! Chinese, is it? Where exactly are you from?
A: (Pointing) over there.
Q: Over there?
A: Yeah, over there. But then, a few moments ago, I came over here.

Or, there's always the old standby favorite:

Q: Where are you from?
A: Here.
Q: Here?
A: Yeah - here.
posted by koeselitz at 7:18 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised nobody mentions that Colombia makes good coffee.
posted by kldickson at 7:19 PM on March 8, 2009


he said ,(as millions of times I've heard).., ah Cocaine!!!

you know, this sounds like actually a useful dumbass-filter to me. what better way to get an instant idiot reading off someone and know who you're dealing with? anyway if someone does this, depending on your temperament, why not throw an equally dumb stereotype back at them to make a point:

twit: so, where you from?
zulonline: i'm from colombia.
twit: ah, cocaine!!
zulonline: [rolls eyes] and you, where are you from?
twit: i'm from america.
zulonline: ah, warmongering!

[not americanist]
[just picked something at random]

posted by sergeant sandwich at 7:22 PM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


This question used to bug me too.

Then I realized that there is great danger in assuming that an inappropriate question automatically means someone is trying to make you feel small or inadequate. Most people are either just curious or trying to make conversation. A curt answer would cut off a potential friendship or a pleasant interchange all because of a bad assumption.

And for the small number of people who are trying to put me in a box of their own making, I refuse to let their mode of thinking affect what I think of myself.

If someone wants to know where I'm from, I tell them. What they think of my answer is their own business. It has nothing to do with me! (So what if they think I'm ignorant, lazy, foolish, racist, oppressive, or greedy. That's their problem, not mine!)

I try to meet everyone with openness, because the upside is the joy in making a connection with someone. Assume the best, but don't let the worst imprison you in a cell of their making.
posted by storybored at 7:26 PM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


wfrgms: Hell, you should be happy that people find you interesting enough to ask...

jayder: I think you owe it to other people to answer them truthfully, then if they are rude, take a moment to educate them.

JuiceBoxHero: People ask because its a general casual dialogue question and/or because they're generally interested.


By the way, I have a feeling that it's very, very difficult for Americans to understand what you're going through. I mean, we all know we came from somewhere else, so this question doesn't have the weight it does where you are.

But in the UK, when someone asks, "so where are you from?" it means something. First and foremost, it's presumptuous - specifically, for someone to say "so where are you from?" in the UK, they have to assume that the person they're talking to is not native, usually not native like them. It starts off the conversation on the 'immigrant/natural' level, rather than on a more equal one. And there's usually something behind it - you hear this question accompanied by such things as 'what an interesting name!' and 'what kind of foods does your family eat?' It's not really a dialogue meant to be respectful or equal.

See the difference? Here in the US, we're all from somewhere, so when somebody asks us where we're from, we happily oblige them, going on and on about our homes knowing that they're from somewhere too.
posted by koeselitz at 7:28 PM on March 8, 2009 [11 favorites]


he said ,(as millions of times I've heard).., ah Cocaine!!!

This is a good example. If someone is Colombian and someone says this to him, he has two choices:

1. Assume the speaker is a twit
2. End conversation

OR

1. Realize that there is zero press coverage of Colombia other than drug stories. That just about every Colombian in every movie the speaker has seen was associated with the drug trade.

2. Realize that it's not the person's fault that he's been subjected to this barrage of cultural stereotyping.

3. Realize that the speaker may be trying to make conversation (reaching out to you!) and may have blurted out the first thing on his mind.

4. Realize you have a golden opportunity to change this one person's mind about Colombia, if you ignore this possibly unintended slight and instead talk to the speaker, looking for commonalities and exchanging stories or details of both your lives.

5. Realize that you can get the process started by saying "I get a lot of that", smiling and then asking if the speaker gets his own share of cultural stereotypes....
posted by storybored at 7:37 PM on March 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


That's weird, because when I was in London I got the impression that the question was valid for anyone not originally from London - Manchester, Scotland, the Lake Country etc are all 'not London' and a massive proportion of Londoners are 'from somewhere' in that sense. As a foreigner myself for a good proportion of my life, when I ask someone where they are from I am most certainly not setting up a 'native/foreigner level'. It's a question on par with 'so what do you do?' - seems intrusive to some, but is really just small talk.
posted by jacalata at 7:47 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm Korean-American and get this all the time. I just say Maryland b/c that's where I was born and than there's always this look of confusion, like I answered the question wrong. I just find it funny b/c I know what they're asking, the best replies are when people say something like "huh, wow that's amazing." The only time it gets old is when people ask what part of Korea my parents are from and ask if they're the "bad Koreans." This is always my opportunity to say, if you ever meet a Korean they're from the south, North Koreans aren't allowed to leave. And it's Kim Jong Ill that's bad, not the people.
posted by BrnP84 at 8:40 PM on March 8, 2009


Give an absurd answer.

"Where are you from?"
"Iceland."
"What?"
"Yeah, I'm not supposed to talk about it."

Or give them the answer they want.

"Where are you from?"
"Brazil. How many kilos can I put you down for?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:41 PM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I feel similarly annoyed with this question but for other reasons. Having to repeat the same conversation over and over to the point you can predict the next response can be frustrating and I understand not prioritizing changing a stereotype but rather trying to discourage the conversation to begin with, respectfully.
I really like koeselitz;s response.

(In my case, as much as I would love breaking down stereotypes... I cant keep my sanity reading the same aggravating script 10 times a day)
I like to deflect this question by playing back off people´s stereotypes. Might not work in every case but I answer a country that is the exact opposite of people´s expectations. Everybody responds with a chuckle and starts talking about that or something else related without pressing the issue.

Or going off some of the others...for those generally interested you could give them a guessing game. Those a bit more knowledeable will have many convo prompts about the country, those less so will learn and hopefully not jump as quickly to the drugs topic, or maybe you´ve already covered the smalltalk about your country by then....
( ¨Well guess.... Its in South America, has both the Andes mountains and jungle, the equator crosses through it and its famous for coffee production and the singer Shakira¨ (probably only suggesting ones you´d be open to talk about though)).
posted by nzydarkxj at 8:41 PM on March 8, 2009


I can't believe people are that rude and stupid. I kind of like MacLeod's answer when the cops ask him where he's from in Highlander: lots of different places.
posted by nanojath at 8:45 PM on March 8, 2009


Or, there's always the old standby favorite:

Q: Where are you from?
A: Here.
Q: Here?
A: Yeah - here.


I think this is about the least healthy way to answer this question. Just b/c someone is asking where you're from isn't a reason to be a dick. I've had to deal with this same question hundreds of times, yea it gets old and yea you wish that people were a little less ignorant sometimes but that doesn't mean I go and give someone a smart ass answer, no one likes a smart ass.
posted by BrnP84 at 8:50 PM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Just smile warmly and tell the truth. Most of the "smart alecky" replies here just sound obnoxious and defensive, which isn't really called for when 99% of the time this question is being asked by a well-meaning person trying to engage you in conversation. Of course, if you're trying to avoid conversation, then any smart-alecky, dickish retort should do the trick.
posted by decoherence at 8:53 PM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Zulonline, I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in this. I am asked at least once a month where I'm from. I am from, and live now, in Texas. I think people ask me this (and refuse to believe me when I tell them) because I don't have that stereotypical Texan drawl that they hear from our former president.

So, don't automatically read anything into it. I cannot think of why you wouldn't want to say Costa Rica (one of the most beautiful places I've been). I can see why you are hesitant about saying Colombia, but... it's also the country with the best emeralds and coffee, no?

Maybe you could answer them with, "I come from the land of the best emeralds and coffee. Can you guess which country that is?" That way, you go around their immediate thought of cocaine.

(PS - Keep smiling! The comments people make about cocaine are more about that person than about you. Maybe they have not had a chance to get out of Europe much.)
posted by Houstonian at 9:11 PM on March 8, 2009


I live in New York, and I have to admit that I have stopped asking this question - or at least stopped asking it as frequently - because I caught on to the fact that it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. They want to be seen as New Yorkers first and foremost.

Nevertheless, when I'm talking to someone with a thick accent that I can't place, the question of where they're from is the foremost thought on my mind. And it's going to stay that way until I find out where they're from. By not asking them out of politeness, I am really just agreeing to engage in a silly, counterproductive game that gives them a false sense of having successfully blended in.

But then, I don't hide the fact that I'm from Kansas. And that's because... I'm from Kansas. See how easy that was?
posted by bingo at 9:26 PM on March 8, 2009


I've had a similar experience in my life. I'm of mixed race, but people, depending on how ignorant they are, usually think I'm from dozens of different places, although I was born and raised in America and only have a New York accent, if any. I get variations of "what race are you" camouflaged in different ways: where am I from, where are my parents from, what is my background, what nationality am I, and even "what am I."

I understand that often there is a feeling you get that the person asking is asking for the wrong reasons. But often a person is just asking because they're trying to find something to talk to you about, and maybe they're culturally insensitive but they mean well.

I, however, am not embarrassed about being mixed race and I almost never think that people are going to stereotype me -- probably a mixture of naivete and luck. But I think that a huge component of your frustration is that you feel inferior.

I was born in a Country which infortunately is known for not great archivements like many Countries in Europe.....I feel they instanlty make a face which is not like if I said I was born in Paris or in Britain.

If you think that your country isn't as good as European countries or Paris or Britain, then you'll always assume that everyone thinks so, too. You know that there's more to Colombia than cocaine (and probably most people who answer "ah, coke" do, too, but they're idiots and don't realize that they're being jackasses). If you don't feel like getting into a big discussion about it, then don't. Just roll your eyes and let someone else educate them. If Colombians themselves think that their country isn't as good as Europe, then why should anyone else? Be comfortable within yourself about where you come from.
posted by thebazilist at 9:32 PM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hm. I'm Italian, and while most of the time i get the standard 'oohs' and 'aahs', there's the occasional dolt coming up with "ah, Italy, MAFFIA!" (with that double F that... gah. But I digress) - a somewhat effective strategy has been to step a bit closer than the comfort zone, perhaps establishing body contact and go - in a soft voice, and with my best stereotyped accent - "yeah, but-ta doncha tell-a anyone", then - step back with a wide smile and a wink.

Scares the shit out-ta them, I a-tell ya.
posted by _dario at 9:48 PM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


BrnP84: I think this is about the least healthy way to answer this question. Just b/c someone is asking where you're from isn't a reason to be a dick.

Is it rude if it's true? It might seem rude to people that think that someone with brown skin couldn't possibly be 'from here', but it doesn't seem rude to me.
posted by koeselitz at 10:16 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


And, in case you couldn't tell, BrnP84, the answer I gave was meant to deal with a specific type of person from the UK, some of whom I've met, that type of person who without even thinking about it forms an "us here" and "them there" dichotomy in their minds. When that kind of person asks, "where are you from?" (and I took this to be the question) they are assuming that (a) you're not from here, and you're probably rather new (b) ... unlike myself - I've always been here. Again, it's very different here in the US - we see it all differently, and I think that's wonderful. But if you say "here" to someone of the persuasion I've described in the UK - even if you say it completely politely, with all kindness in your tone, it'll put them off and shut them up, because someone with skin like that couldn't possibly be from around here.
posted by koeselitz at 10:22 PM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think k8t's answer is really good, and polite as well. Just smile kind of sadly, and say, "Yes, unfortunately my country has some challenges. It's really very beautiful, though, and someday I hope everyone will be able to see how wonderful it's people really are." Maybe follow up by asking them if they have traveled much.

That lets them ask when the last time you were back home, or say they'd like to visit South America someday, or change the subject, and nobody has felt awkward. They just want to find something to talk about for a few minutes, they didn't mean to insult you.

I promise you, being an American abroad has the same headache.
posted by ctmf at 10:32 PM on March 8, 2009


them:
"where are you from?"

you:
maniacal grin
"straight out of your worst nightmares buddy"
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:12 AM on March 9, 2009


It sounds to me like you may be overly self-conscious about this.

I mean, I'm from St. Louis, MO, which is kinda the armpit of the earth. (apologies to present and former St. Louisans). In fact, some of my friends don't even believe it exists. But when people ask me, I always tell them where I'm from, and use it as an opportunity to interject some well-placed self-deprecating humor.

Sometimes being from a silly place can be a good conversation piece.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:30 AM on March 9, 2009


I've written before about being African American and growing up in an almost all-white city. I got asked "where are you from?" by people who couldn't fathom the idea of a black person who didn't speak the stereotypical way they expected a black person to speak. (Even some black people thought I was from another country or something, but I just have a plain ol' Midwestern accent). Anyway, I would answer depending on who was asking. If it was some haughty white person (the kind who wouldn't let me into my own apartment building) I'd say I was from "here" and then politely ask where they are from (in a conversational way, as if I had no clue that they didn't think I "belonged"). Otherwise I'd just name the state in which I've lived the longest and maybe say, "how about you?"
posted by Piscean at 1:00 AM on March 9, 2009


Yesterday , my afternoon was spoiled when someone I asked an address asked me , where are you from?, I reply as always , South America,.. he said ,(as millions of times I've heard).., ah Cocaine!!!

You could consider saying something more specific, rather than less specific; and embellish it with a bit of non-cocaine-related detail.

Or at least, here's an example from my life:
Them: "So what do you do?"
Me: "I'm a robotics researcher"
Them: "Are robots going to destroy humanity, like in the matrix and terminator?"
Me: "No; crucially, the robots I'm working on are not a metaphor for the hubris of humans trying to play god"

On the other hand:
Them: "So what do you do?"
Me: "I'm a researcher working on a self-driving car"
Them: "So how long do you think it will be until we can buy one?"
Me: "Well, between automatic parking, lane departure warning, and automatic cruise control, high-end cars are already close to that level of technology..."

So, translating this to your case, instead of saying "South America" you could say "I'm from Santiago de Cali, the third-largest city in Colombia, and home to no less than seven universities..."
posted by Mike1024 at 3:53 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


*Not originally from around these parts*
posted by watercarrier at 4:18 AM on March 9, 2009


"I'm a citizen of the world, most recently from London. Have you ever been? Lovely city!"
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:39 AM on March 9, 2009


*It's a long story. Got an hour or two?*
posted by watercarrier at 6:20 AM on March 9, 2009


I work in an industry that's filled with expatriates, so everyone is from somewhere else. Generally, when we sit down to lunch it's like the UN cafeteria. When someone new shows up, we always ask where they're from, but it's not to put them down, but from genuine interest. Living away from our families, our colleagues become our friends and family.

I work with a Colombian guy, who arrived a month ago and no-one asked about the drugs trade. This is in Houston, TX, so not everyone you meet is a redneck, and even the rednecks are capable of being interesting and thoughtful people if you bother to talk to them.

If it were me, I'd err on the side of politeness, otherwise you end up behaving like an ass. It's where the conversation goes after that point that determines whether the other person in an idiot or not.
posted by arcticseal at 6:45 AM on March 9, 2009




I am from Bogota, the capital. What it really bothers me the most is that because I know that a 99% of people as one of you have mentioned knows about Colombia as for drugs, when I meet aducated people and I say I am from Colombia , 99% of the cases they give me a hypocritical smile , look away and say oh .. nice..then they change the subject or try to say something light not to make me feel uncomtable, as they know the only thing I could expect is from them to mention the narcotrafic problem.

Not to talk of the not educated which aren't polite or hypocritical and shaut "Cocaine" ,,

So, that's why I decided to avoid totally to mention it as both answers make me feel annoyed.

The best way I tought is to reply in a quite clever and polite way which has to be more elaborated when replying to the "educated "or when I am asked when being in a group.


I also need to mention that I am being asked this question every single day, at least 10 times . From, British, Londones, and from foreiners who live , work or study here.

zx
.
posted by zulo at 7:07 AM on March 9, 2009


I get asked this constantly, because I'm an American in Greece... and believe me, it wasn't fun these last eight years answering "the U.S." I started answering "New Orleans" (where I lived the longest in the U.S.) instead, so then people would ask about food or music, before Katrina, and after Katrina... they'd ask about Katrina. Well. It was better better than Bush/Iraq.

Maybe tell them that you're from Santa Marta, and if they ask where that is, say that it's in the Caribbean. That's still Colombia, so you aren't really lying (much) but you don't have say South America or Colombia...
posted by taz at 7:37 AM on March 9, 2009


when I meet aducated people and I say I am from Colombia , 99% of the cases they give me a hypocritical smile , look away and say oh .. nice..then they change the subject or try to say something light

I think you're projecting something that's not in their minds. I'd probably respond like that. For me, it would mean 'oh, I don't know anything about Colombia...one word answer doesn't sound like she wants to go into her background...let's try another topic!' Maybe I'm culturally illiterate, but I don't even associate Colombia with cocaine.

If you said somewhere in Europe or Asia I probably know a little about the country and might be able to say something intelligent about it. If you said Brazil I might mention the friend of mine who lives there. But most of Africa and South America is pretty unknown to me, and that makes it hard to make conversation about it without simply asking a bunch of questions, which often feels impolite.
posted by jacalata at 7:42 AM on March 9, 2009


Then try saying Bogotá and nothing else. Even if Columbia is reduced to "cocaine" in people's minds, it's less likely that Bogotá has the same impact.
posted by yeti at 7:47 AM on March 9, 2009


do you really meet 10 new people each day?

thats pretty crazy. And would get very annoying. I think your best bet is to just act like you didn't hear the question and immediate ask them something else entirely.

Such as: "hey whats the Euro like at the moment, I was thiking of going to ___ next month"..
all the British love to complain about the low £ at the moment and will forget entirely what they asked you.
posted by mary8nne at 8:03 AM on March 9, 2009


A previous Mefi post on this same topic.

All the people who say they ask this question and are well-meaning may not realise the cumulative effect on you being asked this day after day after day, person after person after person. However much and whatever you do to try to settle and fit in in a new place and feel like you belong, you're reminded over and over again that you're a foreigner first and foremost. This isn't quite the same as "natives" who were born in a different part of the country being asked where they're from and having their own stereotypes - the stereotypes just don't carry the same baggage. It doesn't have the same ostracizing effect.

There are many people who ask this question and mean well. There are also many people who ask this question who don't mean any harm, but end up showing their casual prejudice in ways that would make enough material for whole episodes of The Office. And then there are those who don't in fact mean well. There are more of them than some might think - and you only need to have had to deal with a few of them before this question sets you on edge.

zulonline, I don't think there's an easy answer to this question that can be disarming and funny without coming off defensive and dickish. I wish I had one for you (especially as I'm living with similar issues myself) but it really would be in your interests I think to try to hope for the best and answer Columbia - or perhaps even better, mention London and Costa Rica and that you've travelled around - and deal with their follow-up as it comes. In the case of them coming back with the stereotype of cocaine or anything similar, it's best I think to just say how you feel calmly, "I know you don't mean anything by it, but it's pretty tiring to have to face this stereotype about Columbia all the time. Do you mind if we talk about something else?" Say this with an understanding smile, if you can. I think most well-meaning people at this point would apologise, without them feeling they need to be defensive, and without you feeling like you have to be the ambassador of your country yet again. It's not something easy to understand for a lot of people unless they've been on the receiving end, and many of them really don't mean any harm. I totally understand how it feels, but change and understanding is slow, and you don't want to alienate essentially well-meaning people for now - I think this may be the best compromise. I wish you well.
posted by dolca at 9:09 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


but the diff is that I am settled down in London, and I haven't even gone to C for many years,

Just say you're from London. It's pretty rude for people to then try to comment on your ethnicity (including your accent).
posted by KokuRyu at 12:59 PM on March 9, 2009


On a lighter note:

"Where are you from?"

You reply snottily: "I'm from an area where we know better than to end a sentence with a preposition."

That should do it. Unless, of course, they respond with:

"Oh, I'm so sorry, let me rephrase that. Where are you from, bitch?"

Old southern joke.....
posted by raisingsand at 1:45 PM on March 9, 2009


I'm in a similar situation, Russian roots, live in Canada, have a light but noticeable Russian accent. I get asked that question all the time. I amuse myself by trying to find a new way to deliver the same information every time - "I'm from University of Toronto - and while there I went on exchange to Netherlands".
If I say Russia, same stereotypical responses as you outline - easiest way to deal with it is exaggerate and joke with it. "Oh yes, we drink vodka in the morning!", followed by some reasonably interesting tidbit about Russia, and that's enough for most people. Like said above, people like to talk about themselves, and in 95% of cases the other person will pick up on the story and go in their own tangent.


Good luck! You feel the pain of most immigrants, no matter where they are from.
posted by olya at 2:06 PM on March 9, 2009


I became so annoyed with this question in Istanbul, my reply became:

"Where I come from, it's rude to ask where you come from."

Trouble was, then I had to explain what "rude" meant.
posted by Rash at 3:31 PM on March 9, 2009


Oddly, when I ask people where they're from, I'm trying to figure out what local/nearby city they are from so I can suss out carpooling opportunities. I really should learn to phrase my question better...

Any way, my point is, saying "London" or something similar is a perfectly fine answer in my opinion.
posted by sandraregina at 10:12 AM on March 11, 2009


I'm an American living in Canada. My family says I sound Canadian but I guess my American accent shows up once in a while and I get asked where I'm from. Like taz said, for the last eight years it's not been easy answering the U.S. but I don't lie. I usually tell them what state I was born in and then the states I've lived in. That usually leads to questions on how I ended up in Canada. "Oh, I met this guy on the internet..." There's usually a little gasp of horror and the questions stop.

I really should work on getting my Canadian citizenship.
posted by deborah at 8:04 PM on March 11, 2009


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