Am I the only one who gets annoyed by "where are you from?"

-rant on-
I’m out of my home country (Switzerland) since about 10 years now and I’ve spent most of those years in places where it’s pretty obvious that I’m probably no local (European in Asia / Africa).

I feel like whenever I talk with anybody, no matter how casual or unimportant the conversation is, like for example talking to a taxi driver while going somewhere, or talking with the waiter at a bar while waiting for my drink, one of the first question is always the exact same “Where are you from?”. I don’t mind sharing my story with anybody who wants to know it, the reason why I get annoyed is because everybody is asking the same question while actually I really do not think the answer matters at all.

Whether I reply with “Switzerland” or any other random country that comes to my mind, how is the behavior of the person asking going to differ after knowing that? Obviously there are certain situations where this question makes sense, like when applying for a visa, but in >90% of the cases it does not matter at all.

Lately I’ve started trying to figure that out more precisely by giving various different answers like Russia, South Africa, Namibia, Argentina, Sweden (many people think that’s the same as Switzerland anyway :slight_smile: and observed the reactions. As far as I could tell, unless I’m picking the wrong one which has some obviously bad relation ship with the country I’m currently in (e.g. say Norway in China), I could not see any difference.

The conclusion is I’ll continue giving out random answers and watch how the people react :slight_smile: .
-rant off-

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I get this but for a different reason… Whenever I tell someone that I’m originally from Germany, they’ll start talking about the latest soccer results or news that I have no idea about and can’t relate to. This is, for some reason, especially true for cabbies and they tend to be extremely disappointed if I tell them that I either have no interest in soccer or that I have no idea who those people are that they just asked me about.


I started trying to get into a habit of replying with “From Earth, last time I checked” to this question :smile:

Once I replied “I’m from the internet” and everybody thought it’s funny. But I guess that only works in nerd circles, not with the taxi driver.

Curiosity. People ask because it’s human nature to want to be able to relate to the person you’re talking to.

How many times have you answered that question to have the questioner regale you of the time they went to Switzerland and blah blah blah or how they have a friend/family member who went 5 years ago or how they have seen pictures and think its beautiful and would love to be able to go some day.

It’s not about creed, race or anything like that. It’s about trying to converse.

That’s true but it’s like a dripping tap, isn’t it? The first few drips, you probably don’t even notice but at some point, that constant noise drives you nuts.

Doesn’t what you’re saying actually mean it really doesn’t matter what I reply?

If the person talking only wants to converse about some family member who has been to country X a few years ago I can smile and nod no matter if country X is identical to what’s written on my passport or not.

Maybe the problem is just that even within Switzerland I actually only know one place and I’ve been there only once for 4 days during the past 10 years, so I won’t relate to any of the places tourists tell me about anyway. And if I have to explain that situation every single time it just gets very repetitive, so that’s why it starts getting annoying after a while… probably just me being moody :stuck_out_tongue:

Edit: after thinking about that, maybe the original question was wrong, the proper question would be: Don’t you get annoyed by “where are you from?” if you’ve been nomading for so long that you have no national identity anymore?

You’ve chosen to have a highly irregular lifestyle and dealing with repetitive questions is one of the downsides you just have to deal with. I have a different issue. I have lived in several different places and haven’t lived in my home state for more than a decade, yet I still feel a strong attachment to it. The question begs a short answer, but mine is long and complicated. People really are just pinging you for some sort of connection. They could also ask, “what do you do?” but that is rude in a lot of cultures. They could also ask, “who is your favorite Bolshevik revolutionary?” but that would be a bit esoteric.

I still love asking the question, even though I know it is irritating or complicated for a handful of people. I really enjoy places, have been to many and know many more from maps, so I often have some way of digging deeper and connecting no matter the response.

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I hate that question. my standard answer “I’m originally from Chicago but I haven’t lived there in decades”

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Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Like you said, nobody ever treats you differently if you say another country (unless it’s aggravating).

I’m English. I have an English accent, but I’m also half-Asian and people use the “Where are you from?” to really mean “What race are you?” - I get it a lot in Dubai (where I’ve been living for the last 2 years). If they’re not happy with “England” and ask “But where are you really from?”, I answer with “My mother’s vagina - you?” which tends to shut people up rather abruptly. :wink:


From what I can tell, people tend to ask this because they’re interested in finding out more about you, so they can find out ways to engage with your more (drum up further conversation). I’ve never heard this question asked with animosity. I find it very flattering when people ask where I’m from. It means they’re interested in you (or you are interesting).

Actually I didn’t mean to assume that there is any animosity in that question, but I also don’t believe it means that people are really interested in learning about me (with few exceptions), I think most of the time it’s just a gap filler to avoid awkward silence when they don’t know what else to say :slight_smile: . What I don’t like about it is that often it feels like they try to put me into a scheme or categorize me based on my answer, despite the fact that I believe that the category I usually end up in is just “western guy” anyway (plus maybe some unimportant associations like Roger Federer). So what’s the point of the question then, or why not just ask what’s the middle name of my grand mother instead :stuck_out_tongue: ?

When people around the world hear that I’m from New York City, their faces light up, they get all excited, they talk about how they love NYC, recite NYC trivia, ask about obscure NYC restaurants, even though they’ve never been to NYC. Some will ask absurd questions like “Have you ever met my cousin Bob? He lives in Brooklyn…” and I’ll just chuckle, and say “Sorry, no, it’s a big city”.

But when I say that I’m from another US town or city, people just have a blank look on their face, and they say “Oh, that’s nice”.

I don’t ask people where their from or what they do…when you travel and you have to repeat over and over it gets tiring…