Travelling and living abroad bring their fair share of challenges. One of them is meeting people. I can’t tell you how many international newbies events I’ve attended over the years. And how many times I’ve just stood there hesitant and awkward.
A useful way to break the ice in such situations is to ask someone: where are you from? Personally, it’s my go to question, not only because it’s pretty straightforward but also because it can lead to lengthy and fascinating conversations about a place, a country or even about the meaning of the question itself.
But not so long ago, I was asked a much narrower version of this broad question. And it wasn’t the first time. “You’re French, aren’t you?” is what the guy said. Taken aback, the first thought that came through my mind was how much I hate that question. But why?
Firstly, it felt as though I wasn’t being asked a question but rather prompted to validate someone’s guess. So, “yes” is all I managed to answer. I was born and raised in France by French parents, grandparents, great grandparents and all the ancestors I know of before that. I have a French sounding nameand a bit of a French accent. I am a French passport holder. So, that makes me French… right?
Secondly, it seemed as though I was being judged and categorised. Nationalities are often associated with stereotypes. For example, French people are often referred to as romantic, elegant and snobbish. Plus, they are allegedly known to love their food and drink. What if I told you that I don’t like red wine and can’t eat cheese? Would that make me “not really” French… or?
Thirdly, having no other choice but to say “yes”, meant I was forced to overlook a major part of my story and my identity. Every country I have lived in and travelled to has left a mark on me. So what if I’d told him that I don’t really feel French? But more than French. What if I’d said that I feel as though I belong to the whole world? Sadly, he would probably have called me arrogant, delusional, utopian or all of the above. Or perhaps he would have simply ignored me.
I guess I will never know. That’s because his question left no chance for a two-way conversation. Especially when my simple “yes” was followed by his “I knew it!”. I’d never realised guessing someone’s origin was a game or competition. And I, for one, would love to hear where you lovely readers are from, however short or long the answer might be.
Has this ever happened to you? How did you react? Leave a comment ~
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I think it would be interesting to have a follow up post delving deeper into this topic: how it feels to not “feel” like your birth identity and I’m curious to know more!
Hi Sam, thank you so much for your comment. You make a great point. I will think about that for a follow-up article. May I ask whether that’s how you feel? And if so, perhaps we could have a chat about the topic? It’d be fab! Feel free to contact me anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org