79

“So… Where are you from?”

It's normal small talk for us, most Indians; and only general whereabouts is expected.

In my tours in India, I've met some foreigners along the way, usually western. I welcome them, offer assistance, and often have small talks, because they're our guests, and guests are equivalent to god.

But I've noticed that some, if not all, pause for a second when I'm at "so... where are you from?" part of our small talk.

One or two have even felt put off, and responded with "why do you wanna know?", or "I'm from Earth" said a guy who claimed to be rastafarian (but later mentioned Belgian origins anyway).

I felt upset that my question upset them. Was I rude? I wasn't sure. Asking whereabouts is pretty normal in Indian chit chats, and I was definitely in my best possible mood, tone, and words, and so were they until I asked their whereabouts.

Question:

Is it in general a bad question to ask westerners? And is it especially bad when they're touring, say, India? Also, what's a better approach to know where they're from?


Westerner: a native or inhabitant of the west, especially of western Europe or North America. — ODO

I'm not a tour guide btw, I'm a fellow tourist in my own country. I normally live and work in the Middle East.

  • 13
    Is there anything going on politically that might make "foreigners" uncomfortable identifying themselves? This has been known to happen in the US... – apaul Aug 9 '17 at 17:57
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    For some people, this isn't an easy question to answer, because they moved around a lot when they were little. That doesn't explain people who get offended or suspicious, but may explain some of the pauses before answering. – Kat Aug 10 '17 at 17:39
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    I come from a small town in a lesser known state of a large country (US). That small town is near a city that is known to other Americans but probably not known to people outside the US. For me, when asked this question, I trip because I don't know which level of detail would be appropriate/understood by the questioner. – PeterL Aug 10 '17 at 22:23
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    My friend ‘R’ says immigrants are often nervous when she asks their origin, because she might be a nativist yahoo looking for a quarrel – and relieved when she follows up with “Can you recommend an Xlandish restaurant?” – Anton Sherwood Aug 12 '17 at 6:27
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    Very often, "where are you from" or similar questions on the street, out of the blue, are the start of unwelcome attention from touts, taxi drivers, vendors, etc. For me it's completely different whether you have had made the acquaintance with somebody already, or whether somebody on the street who you have not met prior to that starts a conversation like that. Are these people that you've already been introduced to or did you just meet them? – Erwin Bolwidt Aug 13 '17 at 13:48

22 Answers 22

13

This is copy/pasted from my comments on request of the OP. If you think that this needs more details to be an exhaustive, completely correct answer, I agree with you ;).

Many Europeans that visit India as tourists (not all of them of course) are very "special". Some might call them "hippies". If they claim to be "From Earth" or "Rastafarian", it doesn't mean they are offended. They maybe just want to show you they are "citizens of Earth" and sometimes don't believe in, or want to escape, nationalities. They might be put off because they themselves think they give the impression of not being "Belgian" but "one with the universe". I might be completely wrong in those cases, but I know such people that love India.

There is another thing one should keep in mind which isn't India specific:

This shouldn't be the case with Belgians, but for example Germans do not like to go around telling everyone they are from the country most people only know about because of "the most evil thing in history". They do not want to take a vacation to talk about Hitler. Especially if they belong into that "hippie" group from my first part, they actually might hate the question. That doesn't mean they are offended by it, they just rather would forget their country of birth while soul-searching in India. But not everyone is the same of course.

The same was true for example for Americans shortly after they invaded Iraq, but I feel as if they have recovered since. Depending on what is in the news lately, this of course can change. If they are from Norway and Norway just invaded England, people from Norway might want to keep quiet.

85

Is it in general a bad question to ask westerners ?

Some westerners (and people from anywhere) are inclined to be very private, but I've stayed in many hostels and hotels and I can't imagine someone not asking me where I'm from (or being surprised when I ask them).

It's normal smalltalk for tourists (and business travelers).

And is it especially bad when they're touring, say, India ?

I'm aware of no special reason why people would be especially put off by this when visiting India.

One or two have even felt put off, and responded with "why do you wanna know?", or "I'm from Earth" said a guy who claimed to be rastafarian (but later mentioned Belgian origins anyway).

But everyone is different, and if someone reacts this kind of way then just smile and say "Sorry, just making conversation. If you'd prefer privacy that's OK." and leave it at that. People have bad days, people react badly to travel or different food - travel can be difficult sometimes.

But I ask that question a lot and it's led to many enjoyable conversations. I can't even imagine traveling and not hearing it said to me and asking it myself.

  • 36
    Sometimes in a casual, uneasy situation, rather than drawing out an apology with a lot of explanation ("If you'd prefer privacy, etc, etc"), it's more accommodating to say simply, "I understand" with a pleasant smile. – Robert Cartaino Aug 9 '17 at 19:44
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    Well done for actually answering the question: "In general is it rude?". Though the many other answers are interesting as to the reasons why specific people don't like the question, in general "westerners" don't find it rude, and it is normal small talk. – AndyT Aug 10 '17 at 8:43
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    I find that when people ask that question, it's used as an icebreaker for other topics as well, similar to "What do you do for a living?" or "How are you today?". – Anoplexian Aug 10 '17 at 14:53
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    @RobertCartaino Or the idiom "Fair enough." – reirab Aug 10 '17 at 21:04
28

I think the issue I (and probably others) would have with the question "where are you from?" is that it implies that the answer is important, and will change that person's judgement of me. It's like asking someone's age or race or favorite sports team, you could just be asking to make conversation but there are people who will ask these things so they can adjust their behavior accordingly.

For example, I once had a friend who traveled. He told me that if anyone ever asked where he was from, he'd say he was Canadian, even though he was American. His reasoning for this was that if anyone found out he was American, they would treat him poorly, whereas as a Canadian they treated him normally.

Many people hold many stereotypes, and many stereotypes are negative. If you don't know where someone is from, you can't reduce them to a stereotype, you have to treat them like a normal human being, and that's what most people want.

So I would say that yes, asking too much information from a stranger can be rude. It's unfortunate, but there are too many people in the world who would use that information negatively. I think it's much safer to ask people about decisions they've made, and their interests, things like that. Things that they've consciously done to make themselves unique, rather than things that allow you to clump them into a category.

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    Good question @NVZ, and I agree strongly with this reasoning -- I met a member at ELU who was very reluctant to reveal his nationality and by implication his religion to other members for fear of stereotypical comments and uncomfortable attitudes based on (inter)national and (inter)religious prejudices. – English Student Aug 10 '17 at 4:30
  • I just found this question about how to not tell people what university you went to, the premise seems to support my argument. – DaaaahWhoosh Aug 10 '17 at 15:02
26

Person from the US here. When I am on a trip, I don't like being asked where I am from if only because it happens so often. After you have been asked "Where you folks from" ten or twenty times, the question gets old.

I particularly don't like it when the encounter is casual, for example, when it is part of the "greeting" at a restaurant. If we have struck up a conversation with someone (about archaeological sites, or the best route to X, or sightings of a cougar near the trail), the question is a natural one after awhile.

Moreover, I genuinely don't know how to answer the question. "Where you folks from?" Does this mean

  • Where were you born?

  • Where did you grow up?

  • Where did you go to school?

  • Where are you currently living?

  • Where do you feel most at home?

Only the third and fifth questions have any potential to lead to an exchange of views. The other three have only trivial answers.

So, yes, from the perspective of this middle-class, Virginia born, New England brought-up, MIT alum, Virginia resident, and lover of the Sierra above timber line, "Where ya from" is not only a rude, but a boring question.

That being said, in a foreign country where I am by definition a guest, I would not be offended by questions I would consider rude in my own country.

Edit in response to comments: In my culture -- and in my opinion -- asking personal questions of total strangers is rude. Asking a total stranger "where are you folks from" is a personal question, not a conversation starter.

It is not in the same class as "How are you?" That question is always supposed to be answered by "Fine, and you?" You can be terminally ill, and you will still say "Fine." No stranger or casual acquaintance wants to know how you really are.

But if I were in a foreign country, I would accept that I do not understand the customs, that I am a guest, that in my monumental ignorance I probably do things that are impolite by their standards, and I would take offense at practically nothing.

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    For a non-native English speaker, "where you folks from" can only mean your country of origin. – Vylix Aug 9 '17 at 18:54
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    @Vylix for a native English speaker, there is little ambiguity to me either. I would respond with something like "born ___, raised ___, currently living __". If I was someone who wanted to live elsewhere in the future, I may even include that "... but I'd love to live ___ someday." – BunnyKnitter Aug 9 '17 at 21:13
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    Wait, the ending has me confused. You would be offended if another USA citizen asked where your from when on a trip to say, Vegas, but not when a local person asks when traveling to india? am i correct in assuming that? – Andy Aug 10 '17 at 7:50
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    While you have different "origin" states in the US to pick from, some heavy travellers consider themselves world citizen without feeling they belong to any particular country. So the same problem can be applied one level up and then I would think they don't mean any harm by saying they're "from Earth", for them the question of origin is simply pointless. – Frank Hopkins Aug 10 '17 at 9:09
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    Boring question, I understand. Rude, I don't really understand. Perhaps it's really that different in Eastern Canada, but I've even been asked where I'm from (or if I'm from around the area) in my own town. It seems no more rude than asking "How are you today?" No one is forcing you to answer; it's just common conversation. People like to know if someone is from around or not; often times here it is to offer advice on good places to travel, or just to check if they are having a good time. It makes less sense to ask a local person if they are enjoying their stay at home. – JMac Aug 10 '17 at 10:55
18

I will be speaking for myself and from my observations.

"Where are you from" is the toughest question for me that I hate to answer no matter if it's being asked in a country I live in or in a country I travel to. I can answer any question but this. If a question is beyond my domain I can just answer "I don't know" and that would be it. But I can't answer "I don't know" or give any other neutral response to the "where are you from?" question because it seems to be a known truth and a simple answer to most of the people. And there are plenty situations when you can't avoid answering it the way a person expects.

  1. Curiosity. I think people became interested in other people and their culture a long time ago. And since books and reading appeared it became more affordable. Not to mention the internet where now you can learn almost anything. Not to mention cheap flights and the blast of travelling.

  2. Counter-culture, subculture. In every nation, there are groups of people or individuals who do not follow the mainstream culture, customs, traditions etc. Some of them do it because they've found another culture more attractive to them, some of them do it because they're opposing a culture, some of them because they've managed to develop individually and so on and so forth.

  3. Mixing. People were mixing between different cultures, nations, "races", religions for different reasons, be it, love, power, war, slavery, sex, immigration, kingdoms' relationship etc.

  4. Refugees, war, slavery. Some people were brought to a country or forced to leave a country they called home and they might not see themselves as representatives of their new country. Or they might not be willing to talk about the country they left because it's painful.

  5. Travelling, immigration, expatriate. Some people choose to migrate to another country(ies), to travel, or to work in a country(ies). No surprise they might have more than one home. They can have more than one culture, speak several languages. They might find out they don't have a connection with their "home country" anymore.

  6. Individualism, stereotyping, generalisation. There are people who deem themselves as individuals. There are people who don't like stereotyping.

So because of the above-mentioned points, I believe some people don't have a simple answer to the question "where are you from", or they are feeling annoyed, if it's the country where they're living in then they might feel they don't belong here or you're implying they don't belong here.

It's also irritating to answer this question on daily basis and try to turn down all the "interesting" talks about one's "from" country. Like there's nothing else to talk? We can talk about our hobbies, interests, weekends, work.

And let's face it, most of the times people ask it to categorise, stereotype, generalise others. Which might work most of the times. But I hope it's changing. And I hope people who ask these questions will become more open and sensitive towards others.

– Where are you from?

– Italy. Why?

– I love Italy! I love pizza. I eat pasta once a week. I watch Italian movies. My grand-grand-grand-grandfather is a quarter Italian. I've been to Rome ten years ago. Italian women are the best! There's a good Italian restaurant nearby I can show you... (you get the drift)

– Mate, my mother is an orthodox Jewish half-Chinese and my father is half-Spanish half-Filipino Christian, we also have Japanese and Iranian heritage. I don't like Rome and I don't like Italian food that much. I am myself a free thinker, I love Japanese anime, French movies, Scandinavian music, Indian/Chinese/Japanese food, I lived in South Korea, Taiwan, Berlin. I'm currently working in Amsterdam. My wife is half-Pakistani half-British. English is my native language even though I grew up speaking Italian and Spanish. I also know Korean and German.

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    being born in one country, having lived for the major time of my life so far in a different town to where i currently live, and having moved almost 20 times already, I am happy to see i'm not the only one conflicted when asked this question. – Brian H. Aug 10 '17 at 12:53
  • And just to make the point obvious - why would an Italian want to visit India just to visit an Italian restaurant (which in any case is probably about as "Italian" as a typical UK pizza chain fast food joint - i.e. not at all!) – alephzero Aug 11 '17 at 3:13
  • @Brian H. Great to know. Is there a place on Earth or in the internet we can hang and discuss these issues? :) It's starting to become quite a problem. – Nergüi Aug 11 '17 at 19:09
11

If it is known that the tourist is from a country that has a particularly aggressive leader, conflict with another country, policies that destroy lives elsewhere in the world, and/or perceived wealth, some individuals may choose to attack the tourist even if the tourist doesn't personally agree with what his/her country is doing and/or isn't that rich. I've seen this. It can sometimes be safer to not identify where you are from.

Even if the tourist doesn't think that you will attack, someone else might learn by overhearing.

Answering means self-identification with a whole large set of symbols and ideas (stereotypes in the audience's mind) that the traveler may not actually want to self-identify with. They might prefer that the audience get to know them as an individual, rather than as a representative of some larger body.

Asking the question means you're pretty sure the answer is "not from here." Your unique situation might mean this high confidence is justified, but that's not always the case (and locals sometimes play tourist too). Being wrong on this assumption can be offensive because it sends a strong message that the person being asked is not part of their community.

Finally, many people think it's easier to divert the question than to try to explain e.g. Trump or Brexit.

  • I'm afraid that if someone is to be attacked, aggressors won't bother asking questions. Thugs in general don't like questions... – el.pescado Aug 12 '17 at 20:17
  • @el.pescado, That's false for many cases. Many thugs do like to ask questions. It gives them a possible excuse for their aggression. Plus, it's also a way to test their target's resolve. – Stephan Branczyk Aug 12 '17 at 23:56
  • Also, the one asking the question isn't necessarily the aggressor. The aggressor could be listening, or even find out secondhand from someone who was. – WBT Aug 13 '17 at 3:36
10

It depends on where you are, a bit.

In Delhi, as a Westerner you get chatted up every few meters, usually starting with "when did you arrive?" and "where are you from?" followed by a generic remark about a football team from that country and a bad segue to why you should visit a particular place and/or disregard the huge arrow "tourist information" because the office just moved and they didn't have time to hang up the new sign yet. It really gets old quite fast.

There is only a limited number of entry ports, all in big cities, so most tourists you see will have made that experience quite recently. It doesn't even stop when you're in the hotel, you can be sure that someone will knock on your door within the first half hour.

So there isn't much you can do about this — starting a conversation with this question will always put tourists on edge.

7

Not many of these excellent answers have directly and categorically addressed the specific questions raised by OP:

Is it in general a bad question to ask westerners? And is it especially bad when they're touring, say, India? Also, what's a better approach to know where they're from?

I have an intense dislike of travelling myself and have never been outside South India, but when a team of European-looking experts visited my home town to teach us about advanced techniques in Solid Waste Management, I did interact with them a fair bit, without being ever tempted to ask "where are you from" -- why?

Because I don't need to know!

We Indians being naturally friendly and also generally self-confident in our national identity would ask such a question simply out of curiosity and/or as a conversation-starter, but it is a basic rule of politeness that you don't ask a stranger about too many things that they don't volunteer to tell you themself. As somebody has already noted in an answer here, some Westerners are intensely private and dislike any such questions, but I believe it is an especially pertinent question to be asked when you are visiting a foreign country.

So it is not really a bad question to ask a Westerner visiting a country like India, but this is how I should 'politely' approach the topic with a western-looking foreign visitor:

Me: Welcome to India and I hope you enjoy your visit.

Foreign visitor: India is such a nice country!

Me: Thank you. I am sure your country is just as nice too... (note: this is an obvious invitation to talk about where they are from.)

Situation 1: Visitor 'takes the bait' which means they don't mind talking about their country --

Visitor: Oh yes it is! I am from Canada.

Me: I have relatives living in Vancouver, BC. Many Indians have emigrated to Canada, especially from Punjab. So Canada is much loved in India!

Visitor: I am from Toronto myself, but BC is a wonderful place indeed...(etc, etc)

Situation 2: Visitor does not take the bait and evades or changes the subject. In that case it would be polite of me to not press the question.

7

First I'll let you know: I'm not a Westerner but anyway would like to answer this question in broader terms. I feel this question is not limited to Westerners, even if it has a chance that collectively Westerners are more prone to dislike it. In fact I'm a perpetual traveler from one of Asian countries who travel around Europe now, but people sometimes ask me this question!

To answer your question, sorry, some people don't like this question.

I also don't like it and get upset if asked by a stranger. The biggest reason is that it is too boring a question.

Although this question feels a one-off for you, the traveler would get asked so, so many times by others, both locals and fellow travelers. So some of them get upset easily.

Usually, the question is followed up by another set of boring questions, such as

  • How many days/From when do you live/travel here?
  • Do you like food in this country?
  • How do you think this country?
  • Why do you like this country?

etc, etc...; Then, depending on the answer, it would be followed up by:

  • But in your country it is ~~~.

This is pretty boring for me, and I get upset with answering the same question exactly in the same way.

Another reason some people don't like it is the following:

  • They don't like to get categorized/stereotyped
  • They don't like their own country so don't like it to be followed up by how good you think their country is.
  • Not only "where are you from", but generally it is rude to ask private questions in their culture or in their views
  • They don't like you to change your behavior once you know where they are from (FYI I feel very nervous to answer it in a country where reportedly many people hate my country)

Finally, to answer this question:

Also, what's a better approach to know where they're from?

If they don't like the question because it is too boring (like me), try using a different, more informative question, such as:

In what aspects do you think India is similar to your country?

Some people start to tell you where they are from; even if not, you can guess from their answers. I prefer this type of questions to the boring "where are you from".

5

I agree with others, I would not ask this question unless people offer or bring it up themselves. Although after a fair length conversations among travelers, tourists guides, or restaurant hosts, or even shopkeepers tend to hug the boundary where "where are you from" eventually emerges from.

As an Indian traveling a lot, I get asked this question a lot, and in my experience it's a question almost anyone would ask after we have had a brief conversation / random small talk.

And ALWAYS, thankfully, it has only led to deeper, and more fun interactions. I never felt offended by it. there are always times, when I do want to be left alone, in that case my body language and facial expression I think, discourage people from approaching me altogether. So the "where are you" does not have a room to pop.

Now, as a solo woman traveler, "are you travelling alone", is a question, I do not always like, and thus if asked, do not always answer truthfully to.

Happy interactions.

  • Welcome to Interpersonal Skills! I invite you to take the tour and visit our help center to learn more about the site and its guidelines. Good first answer, by the way. :) – NVZ Aug 10 '17 at 10:20
4

I'm from the Netherlands, about 60KM away from the Belgian border, and I'm not aware that it would be rude to ask such questions here or in any of the countries around me.

So what might cause this? I know quite some people people that say they 'need' to go on holidays and far journeys to get away from home, from the stress of everyday life. When they have a week off from work, they can't even stand to stay home, they need to be 'out' on a journey.

I can imagine that such people don't want to be reminded of home, and just want to submerge in the journey as much as possible.

But of course, this completely differs per person. Personally I love to be at home, in my own house, and although I like to discover other countries and cultures bit by bit, I don't mind thinking or talking about home at all, and I don't mind if someone just tries to make conversation or is really interested in my country. I'm happy to answer any question about it.

I just came back from a holiday to other countries nearby (Germany and Denmark), and I got this question all the time, usually followed by some attempts to say one or two words in Dutch, so I'm not aware of any taboo in our area about asking such questions, and apparently the various hosts on my holiday neither. I would say it is even considered polite to show interest in people one way or another.

3

There are two ways to ask this depending on what information you want to know and why. It also depends on whether the question is asked during friendly conversation or is asked during a grilling.

Are you just curious because you like to meet people from different cultures, or are you just being nosy, or might report them to someone?

In my experience in Brazil, it depends on the wording of the question for how the question is answered. If a hotel clerk or customs agent asks someone where they are from, they might answer where they arrived in Brazil from or what country they are living in now. That doesn't necessarily mean what their citizenship is and may not match their passport.

But they may also think you are asking what country their national heritage is. In general, some people may be wary of providing information about their citizenship or nationality in turbulent political environments or for fear of harassment. So while their response may seem rude to you, it may mean they are just being careful.

But if they need to answer a legal question by a customs agent or the police, that is, of course, to be expected and they will comply with that information without hesitation. In your conversations with tourists, be clear about what information you want to know: where are they from (city they live in, country of origin, cultural background, where have they lived to get that accent, etc.)

3

I'm from the Netherlands and when I was in holiday in Turkey I used to get this question all the time.

I noticed that the prices were different for Dutch people compared to Irish people and for Americans the prices were the highest. Usually whatever you answer gives them a good indication for what scam to use or what prices they will ask you.

In the hotel, the non-Dutch people used to follow us for the reason that we got the lowest price, for example, for a cup of tea or a boat trip. Dutch people are commonly known as cheapskates in these regions. When the street salesmen saw us they yelled: kijken kijken niks kopen, meaning look look and you don't buy.

Hope this helps clarify some of the hesitation you see when asking.

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    Welcome to the Interpersonal Skills StackExchange! This actually can be improved as a full answer. I hope you can spend a little time to do so, because you provide a helpful hint to why tourist might avoid to tell their origins! I second this because this is also the similar reason me and my friend (as domestic tourist within Indonesia) pretended to be locals and adjusted our dialect to locals! – Vylix Aug 10 '17 at 18:38
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    "kijken kijken niks kopen" is a beautiful self-fulfilling prophecy. No, I won't buy from you if you're that dang rude. Unfortunately, most of them see this as something "charming". – Weckar E. Aug 28 '17 at 10:55
3

For some, asking "Where you are from" feels too direct and personal. I personally do not see it as particularly (or for that matter anywhere near) impolite or rude, but those who are protective of their personal life might. Some alternative ways could be "Where are you guys traveling from?", that has a slightly less personal touch to it. or you could build up to it by asking questions like "What brings you guys here? Vacation? Food? Family, etc" and based on how comfortable and open their answers are, you can gauge their responses and see if it feels appropriate to ask.

3

I bike everyday in front of the Versailles castle and met a lot of tourists who were lost or disorientated (in the streets surrounding the castle). I usually stop to help them and almost every time ask them where they are from, out of sheer curiosity.

I have never had a bad (or even surprised) reaction, no matter the place the tourists were coming from (including Europe).

As mentioned in a comment, I have been asked this question a lot as well and was never bored or surprised - this is also one of the reasons people travel for, to chit-chat with the locals.

3

I'm late to this show, but I'm surprised by the answers (though I understand the reasons behind them.)

Is it in general a bad question to ask westerners? And is it especially bad when they're touring, say, India?

As a Westerner who has traveled throughout Europe, I'm no more offended by this question than "How are you enjoying your stay so far?" So no, I would not make a blanket statement that it's a bad question.

I take it as a politeness, small talk, whatever. I'm a guest in a foreign country; it's not up to me to be offended by the customs of the country I'm visiting. I'm actually kind of happy to be talking to a native. I usually want to practice the language anyway. :)

Some people do ask rude questions ("Are you rich?" Maybe they think all Americans are rich.) I answer those as well. ("No; I wish, but no.") Sometimes I'll turn the question around on the asker ("No. Are you?") When they say no, I say we have something in common then!

I have met many wonderful people on my travels, strangers who have opened up and done completely unexpected and wonderful things for me. That might be why I don't harbor any suspicions when I'm asked where I'm from.

Also, I'm from the United States. I like my country, but not everything about it. I'm curious to hear how others think of my country. Once I was trading small talk with a policeman (a bobby?) in London when I expressed admiration for Tony Blair. This obviously hit a sore spot, because he shot back, "Well, you've got your own Labor leader to deal with now." (This was shortly after Obama was elected.) I laughed and said, "You're right! I guess I'll get to see how I like it." (I haven't travelled since Trump was elected, but I would probably answer any complaints with, "You're so right. May I live with you? I can't stand the idea of going back!"

Also, what's a better approach to know where they're from?

Be open and polite, and non-threatening. Ask about them. Most people like to talk about themselves. Don't make it your first question.

I love meeting visitors! Are you here on vacation? Where are you from?

Or ask permission to ask where they're from. Most people won't say, "No, you may not."

I've never heard that accent before; May I ask where you are from?

Again, when I travel, I'm a guest in your country. It's my job to adapt or leave. If it's customary for you to ask, I'll adapt.

2

I am somebody who reacts as stated in the question; based on personal experience, I can answer the question as follows.

I very much dislike being asked where I'm from, because I don't know how to answer it, and any answer would give misleading information as I have lived in many different countries and am influenced to differing extents by all of them.

So I think yes- it's a bad question. Perhaps in particular when people tour India seriously, they might want to feel a part of the place, and the question, "Where are you from?" implicitly asserts that they are outsiders.

You could instead ask, for example, in what countries (plural) they have lived.

  • Well, "where are you from" generally implies background. You can always ask to clarify the question. Besides, I do get the impression that you are speculating in your answer, so this isn't even a good answer either. If you can provide an answer based on your personal experiences, then please edit to improve your answer. – Zizouz212 Aug 9 '17 at 20:26
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    for someone who has lived in many countries, a logical answer would be something along the lines of "many places" or "everywhere and nowhere" or "born ___, lived in ___, ___, ___ ...". In that case it seems as if it would be a fantastic question that could lead to an interesting discussion. – BunnyKnitter Aug 9 '17 at 21:12
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    I disagree with both comments. I don't think that location implies background- what it does imply is exclusion, as the response will label you as an outsider. And although I can answer a list of places (about 15 places in my case, depending on where I place the threshold for "lived"), I still feel the question forces me to label myself incorrectly- as such, the question makes me feel uncomfortable. I have edited my answer to make it clear that it is based on personal experience. I venture to argue that people who do not find the question offensive cannot speak for those who do. – Daniel Moskovich Aug 10 '17 at 4:00
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    So you could answer with "currently I'm living in ...". Doesn't sound too hard of an answer to me. As a casual question you get asked by a relative stranger that single answer should be enough. – Hans Janssen Aug 10 '17 at 11:21
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    "because I don't know how to answer it" So "What is the location your life is currently centered on?" would be better, because it is easily answerable. Then one could answer "Do you mean where I'm living right now? Well ..." – Trilarion Aug 10 '17 at 14:26
2

It's rude.

The main reason being immigration and nationalized citizens. If someone asks me where I'm from, it's because I don't look like I'm from wherever we are. Hidden below "Where are you from?" is "What are you doing here?", which can start to get very sensitive.

Sometimes, born citizens who's families are new to a country are expected to answer where their parents are from. How many generations does it take until someone can be "from" a place?

At least, that's how it is in my part of the states, asking people where they're from makes them feel like they don't belong. A better question is "where do you live?"

At the hostels "where are you from" is very common. Neither of us are from the hostel, so my reason doesn't apply. However, if I'm at a hostel, I'm trying to learn about a new place. I don't understand why you want to know where I'm from when there's all of these amazing things around us.

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    As a side, some of the best times I've had at hostels were with people who's names I never learned. – Carl Aug 12 '17 at 7:15
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    Tours usually are made to tourist spots. Some tourists are not Indians. They're most likely white-skinned, and appear nothing like Asians. and there's not many westerners who migrated to India, although Indians have migrated to the West quite a lot..... – NVZ Aug 12 '17 at 7:17
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    @NVZ aha, yes, I didn't read your question correctly and this doesn't speak to it. – Carl Aug 12 '17 at 7:18
  • ....."where do you live?" is useless, because tourists are there for a tour, not to live. So, general whereabouts as in "Oh, I'm from the UK" is just about the expected answer. – NVZ Aug 12 '17 at 7:19
  • "How many generations does it take until someone can be "from" a place?" - apparently more than one. But for me I can become local in a several months (excluding language) and start suggesting some cool places to locals – Nergüi Aug 13 '17 at 16:50
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I am European, and have been on the other side of this situation. I lived in India for several years, and spoke the language where I lived. So I wasn't really a tourist, but many people assumed I was, and thus treated me as such.

Of course, all foreigners in India get asked this a lot and very often as the first question when they meet new people.

To me, it's not really that it's rude, it's just that you get sort of tired of being asked it all the time. I remember joking with my friends that I should print out a small card with my nationality, age, marital status, education, etc. to hand around so that I wouldn't have to answer all the most common questions over and over when meeting people. Of course, that would actually have been rude, and I never seriously considered doing it.

Sometimes, though, as a joke, when people asked me where I was from, and I was tired of answering the question, I used to jokingly answer "Coimbatore" (another Indian city in the state I was living in). People would usually find that funny, sometimes it would confuse them a bit, and they would take a second look at my appearance. I would then give them the real answer.

So no, it's not really rude, it's a natural question to ask foreigners.

It just gets a bit tiring though. Of course, the most obvious thing about one is that one is a foreigner, and therefore it's a natural thing to ask. But sometimes, after having talked to hundreds of people, a part of one wishes conversations could start with something else. And that the most interesting thing about one wouldn't be that one is a foreigner.

However, I don't blame the locals for asking. Now that I am in my own native country again, I'm also tempted to ask most non-locals where they are from, simply out of curiosity. However, I try not to ask it initially. It usually comes up naturally later anyway, as a part of the conversation.

I hope this answer has explained something.

Recommendation for future encounters: It's fine to ask people where they are from, but consider waiting until you have talked a bit. (Maybe you already do wait, but I'm just mentioning it.) That might make people feel more relaxed, and they may feel happier answering the question. Moreover, it might even come up naturally during the course of conversation.

2

It isn't "rude", it is not an unusual question in Western conversation either, but some people are sensitive about it. Mostly because they might be used to people using the otherwise innocent question as a pretext for judgment/criticism, etc.

A better way of asking might be to say "I am from [hometown], where are you from?"

Prefacing the question with the same info about yourself removes the possible judgmental aspect from your question, and makes the context of amicability and genuine curiosity clearer.

If they still don't want to answer you can say something like "Okay, I was only curious." and then move on with the conversation.

If they do answer then you might say "Oh, I've never been there, what is it like in [their hometown]?" this reinforces that your intent is honest curiosity.

1

If the reason for not telling someone where you're from, is because you expect prejudice from them, then, logically, you deserve that prejudice, because you're hypocritically being prejudiced towards them by assuming they are asking for a negative reason. Or avoiding telling the truth just in case. Of course, this only applies in the absence of indications of prejudice (like a strong expectation of prejudice due to it being the common culture in the physical location or geographic region one is in when asked the question, the body-language of the questioner, the context, etc).

On the other hand, there is a logical reason people seek to distinguish between newcomers and those who have contributed (sometimes over generations) to an area's culture. If you don't like how that makes you feel as a newcomer (relative or literal), tough. It's human nature. If people do it without meaning, then that is to be disrespected. If they do it solely on race but that racial element doesn't largely relate to who historically created an area's culture and built an area, then that is to be disrespected. However, if say majority of people who historically and thus culturally made-up and created an area to be what it is today (good and bad...) then who are you to challenge that just because it doesn't conform to serving your feelings, or your ideals of political correctness? There is usually a more solid logic to that behaviour, than many would admit. Instead, they lie and act like ideals and reality should be the same thing, without a solid logical basis. That doesn't end well, note.

Example: in London, England (which isn't anyone's native area, really, except pockets of 'native Londoners' who live there for multiple generations, not take money and space yet leave no cultural legacy like most people). There is no wrong place to be from, it's where you're going to that matters... and what experiences, language quirks, cultural interests and stories you can bring to the table to share.

I once asked a friend's new girlfriend where she was from (it was not the first time I had met her). She asked me why I was asking. People who are power-obsessive, always answer a question with a question... She never did answer, which was way ruder and set the tone to be unpleasant. She is from the Czech Republic which is one of the few places in Central Europe that I have been. The reason I was asking was to place the accent, as I like accents, and to attempt to relate (positive). Some people like to maintain strong integrity around these issues and neither court positive nor negative discrimination (want to relate if at all, based on non-nation-based or cultural issues). However, in this woman's case, she was being prejudiced towards me in assuming there was a wrong answer (I believe). This is in a Brexit era UK (I forget if it was pre- or post-Brexit). I feel zero remorse at asking the question. When I am in the same position, I answer readily. Should I be ashamed to answer? Should people be ashamed to be curious? No and no! It's called 'discussion'. Let the chips fall where they may. Anti-prejudice 'enlightenment' isn't served by being scared to talk. Tolerance is good but has to come from all sides simultaneously. Feeling scared, paranoid and uptight is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's also what NO nation / region / city / group of people wants to have immigrate, as a vibe. Think about that...

0

I have no problem with anyone asking me where I'm from while on vacation. If I check in somewhere and they have no questions at all, it would be a sign of a total lack of interest (which is what other people would call professional I suppose).

So I suppose it differs from one person to the other, but in general it is not a bad question.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    That's already what the asker stated, that most persons are OK with the questions but not all. He wanted to know why the few who don't like it are so upset. Naming one example of someone who is okay with it, like you did, is completely irrelevant for that. – Trilarion Aug 10 '17 at 14:30
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    @Trilarion, I'll repeat the question here: "Is it in general a bad question to ask westerners? And is it especially bad when they're touring, say, India? Also, what's a better approach to know where they're from?". So he wanted to know if, in general, it's a bad question. And as an answer I think, in general, it's not a bad question. Naming why the few get upset, is in fact not answering whether it, in general, is a bad question. – Hans Janssen Aug 10 '17 at 14:36

protected by apaul Aug 14 '17 at 20:11

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