Many of us have experienced the question “Where are you from?” during the everyday conversations which are totally normal to ask/hear and we hear it every day.
Last month when I was traveling in Austria, It happened to me multiple times when hanging out in locals, someone approaching me and asking my name and where I am from. But yesterday, I had a quite interesting experience when I was hanging out in a local event in Germany and talking to a group of random people.
Someone approached me with a bored face and without saying “hi” or any kind of greeting and directly asked, “Where are you from?”. Well I would accept answering that question if it was at least mixed with a bit of smile, but looking into eyes on that hesitating face with a withering look made me curious to know what was actually her purpose to ask this question directly without even knowing each others’ names or not even that, just saying a simple “hello” or at least “hey” or “hi”.
So, I smiled at her and tried to start a friendly conversation with her with a joke, and told her “Oh this is usually the first question you hear after knowing someone’s name in Vienna! :)”. Now I really expected her to at least smile a little bit, but her withering look continued and I felt that I have offended her, but actually my intention was nothing negative.
Then I saw she feels so bad about what I said and she was trying to tell it is totally normal to ask someone’s nationality, and it is not “weird” at all to ask someone’s nationality in “any” situation. Well, then I told her that I do agree with her in that case. Although I think asking someone’s nationality when approaching someone with a withering look before even knowing their name or even before greeting them with a simple “hi” can be “weird”.
She continued “The nationality is part of you and you and is nothing bad!”. After hearing this statement, I asked her if knowing someone’s nationality makes any difference in her behavior while interacting with people. She answered with uncertainty and hesitation that: “Yes, for example when I know someone is British, I will treat them different than Germans because they have different cultural norms and I don’t want to be inappropriate in front of them” she said.
This raised a question inside my head that if she knows every detail about every culture and how would she react if she is not familiar with a specific culture, so she added: “If I don’t know about someone’s culture, for example, people from South Korea, I will try to treat them Normally and try to be as appropriate in front of them.” she said.
So this was what I was thinking of her when she asked me where am I from without even a simple introduction. But I am wondering if this means that she is less appropriate in front of other nationalities? Or does she change her level of appropriateness in front of different nationalities?
The only thing that is clear, is that some people change their behavior when interacting with different nationalities based on what they know about that nationality. It can be true or false. Can be about the stereotypes, or what they hear about the nationalities from the news and media, which differs widely based on different countries and political views. This is only one of the points that can make some people uncomfortable about the question “Where are you from?” since some countries are not being represented properly and in a positive way in the media, which is usually caused by political reasons, and we are not allowed to judge the people based on that information.
So following her last statement, I asked her if she has ever tried to treat new people “normal” and “appropriate” regardless of their nationality like she does when she doesn’t know about their culture? At this point, she said that she has no idea and escaped the conversation without saying anything. This was another interesting reaction from her, but I did not expect anything more appropriate from her. 🙂
In my opinion, asking someone’s nationality is not a big deal if it is during a conversation or when it is from curiosity, and sometimes can be a nice way to continue a conversation and brings up many more topics and questions to talk about, but asking it as a first question without even knowing that person’s name can make some people uncomfortable and I personally always avoid it.
I personally would prefer to get to know someone on the first level by their education, hobbies, lifestyle, music taste, and many more great topics to talk about and will never judge people by their nationality.