I was on the MUNI Metro last week (see previous entry) when a guy sitting close to me asked me a question I dread: “Where are you from?” No “hi”, “hello”, “salaam” or anything before. Just “Where are you from?”
I don’t like that question and it’s hard for me to explain exactly why. The question is never meant to be offensive and I don’t take it as such but I still have issues with it mainly because I have no idea how to answer it. Is the person inquiring about where I live? Where I was raised? My ethnicity? Everyone who has asked me that question always is asking for something different and I’m instantly on guard. Usually, I give my stock response of “My parents are originally from Pakistan and I was born and raised in California” and that covers most bases but I always feel like (and probably am) giving more information than the person wanted.
I also feel that the question lacks originality, especially if it’s the first thing you say to someone, but a friend of mine gave me another perspective. She asks random people where they are from when she is curious and said that it is a genuine question. She said that this particular person probably asked me because he was just excited or something about seeing a fellow Muslim (he was from Saudi Arabia) and that I shouldn’t berate him for asking me such a question. She has a point. Maybe I’m being too hard on this particular person and strangers in general. Like I said, my biggest issue is that I have no idea how to respond.
In the end, maybe I should cut everyone a break and accept the question for what it most likely is: just a simple question.