When we move to a new country, we usually embrace its culture and language. We even learn to eat and cook local dishes and share our own heritage, too. After 20 years of living in a now not-so-new place, most people would feel at home. So, if you live in country for 25 years and speak its language like a native speaker (perhaps with a tinge of your native tongue), do you mind if a stranger asks “Where are you from?” A famous incident involving the royal family was on the news in 2022. A senior royal aide repeatedly asked a guest at a reception in Buckingham Palace where they were “really” from as their skin colour was not white. The guest was born and bred in the UK and did not appreciate being asked this question. Just because they (or their ancestors) could have been from another country, does not mean that they want to discuss it in that setting.

Be respectful

Similarly to the Buckingham Palace incident, not everybody living abroad, especially after a long period of time, appreciates a reminder that they are from elsewhere. This implies several things, most of them negative, unfortunately. People who ask these types of questions often defend themselves by saying that they are simply curious. However, if they spent a few minutes reflecting on why they are so curious, they might realise that there is more to it than meets the eye. For the recipient of the question, there are many undertones, e.g. you are clearly not from here, you don’t belong here, you are different, you live in my country, you sound funny and so on. These connotations are not only impolite, they are also offensive and there is no way to tell if the casual “Where are you from” means any of the above or not. To avoid creating a potentially offensive situation, it is best to restrain one’s curiosity. Alternatively, we ask questions once we know a person a little more, not within the first 10 seconds of meeting them! The same rules apply to asking other questions, e.g. “Are you single?”, “Do you work?”, “What are your religious beliefs?” Just because we hear an “accent”, does not mean we should use it is an invitation to talk about people’s background. Link to the BBC News article on the Buckingham Palace incident: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-63822940 To meet our language tutors follow this link here.

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