Where are you from?

My sister looks a little more ethnic than me, and sometimes gets asked “Where are you from?” to which she replies “Melbourne”. This often doesn’t satisfy the interrogator, who will often be reluctant to say it, but really wants to know what the ethnic mix is.

Maybe you blue-eyed blonds reading don’t realise this, but it can lead to a very irritating conversation for the suspect subject. Thankfully I’ve only had this happen to me once or twice.

A relative got in touch with some family history information recently, and now we have a better answer, which is this:

Well, our family emigrated to Australia in 1871. What about yours then?

I can’t wait to use that.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

19 replies on “Where are you from?”

Very good point you make. It must be a pain for a second generation Aussie to always be referred to as “the Asian guy” just because of his looks.
Funnily enough, my parents (who spoke with Lancashire acsents) loved it when people asked where they were from. They would happily bore people with every geographic detail.

I keep getting accused of having either a New Zealand or South African accent, despite having never been to South Africa and only once having been to Kiwiland.

Well, I am one of the blond/red headed, blue eyed people yes. :) But travelling around Europe no one could get my accent right. I got asked if I was Scottish, English, Aussie, Kiwi, or even South African. Nobody guessed Ottawa Valley Canadian LOL! It’s a sort of Scottish accent in there, but not really Scottish when you hear a real Scotsman talk. But it’s not American sounding by a long, long shot. Think of a mild British accent and you’ve got it about right.

But yes, it’s rather sad that people have to know details. Accept a book or person at face value :)

Well Daniel, perhaps you can enlighten those who show interest in history/geneology what is the correct way to ask/enquire.

I have a friend whose family came to Victoria from China to find gold and stayed on. The generations have passed and many interesting entnic blends have occurred. So therefore I would find it of interest to enquire what his enthic background might be. Not because I am saying “I waz ‘ere first reffo!” but rather because I am boring old vanilla white Irish in appearance and his family is far more interestingly diverse. How can that be annoying?


ethnicity/family roots are a weird subject with me, too. despite having spent almost all of my adult life in australia (still only in my twenties though) i constantly get asked where i’m from. the question gets more annoying every year. i don’t identify as australian, or american (where i was born and grew up) or hungarian (which is the majority of my ethnic blood) so i usually just say i’m from Richmond. That usually shuts people up. :)

I can see both sides of this. On the one hand, I must say that I find people’s ethnic/cultural background quite fascinating. This is particularly the case when they have an unusual surname. Living in Australia it was for me to a great degree about appreciating the cosmopolitan mix of people living there – one of the reason for which I will always love Australia. I grew up with friends ‘from’ Vietnam, Jugoslavia, Greece, Italy and most other places that one can think of and it was great! Living in culturally homogenous places I desperately miss that mix and end up staring at anyone who looks different (they probably think I’m afraid whereas I am hoping they live nearby!) I guess you could call me a xenophile.

On the other hand I find the question quite difficult when I am asked it myself. Not for emotional reasons but for practical ones. I have spent half my life in Oz and the other half in Poland, with bits and pieces in other countries. Currently, I am staying in Vienna. So what do I say if I wish to give an answer that does not require me to draw several breaths? I guess that I end up judging what kind of answer the person asking is looking for and then decide whether I will cooperate or try and be funny. Certainly, short of purely factual but paradoxically uninformative questions like “Where were you born?” there are no questions to which I could give a simple answer. And, actually, I like that.

One more thing.

Whereas Daniel has an answer for “Where are you from?” I have prepared a similar reply to another statement one sometimes hears.

If someone ever says to me “Your English is very good.” I will reply, “Thanks, mate, so is yours.”

Tom, I think what really, irritates is the smarmy attitude some people use when asking, and particularly if their answer when asked in return is “Oh, I’m Australian.” This in particular is problematic, because it there is also the implication that the person is somehow superior.

Keep it friendly, be up-front about your own origins, and it’s not so bad.

Here in Miami Florida about 50% to 60% of the population are latino and Spanish speaking. With brown hair and eyes and a tan I am often mistaken for a latino Spanish speaker. When addressed this way my reply is in American English with an American accent. There is usually an immediate apology such as “sorry, I thought you were…” or somthing similar. People never guess that I am one half Pennsylvania German (Pennsylvania Dutch)on my mother’s side of the family. I then have to explain that I am not Amish although Amish people are of German decent and speak the same Pennsylvania Dutch language that my grandparents did. These German speaking people who I am decended from came to this country in the mid to late 1700’s and are now as American as anyone else living here.

As an Aussie living in Canada I get irritated by having the same conversation over and over.
“Where are you from?”
“What are you doing here?”
I wouldn’t mind so much but that’s always where it ends. Canadians are friendly people but not interested in making friends.

pffft – its not a ‘race thing’. my surname is german. im often asked when did my parents get here…

i like to tell them 1870.

besides people find racial origins interesting – despite the fact that there is only one human race.

i dont think any malevolence is intended.

I don’t think I look more Australian if I tried (okay, sans the “bronzed” and “nice body” bit because I am fat and so pale I’m practically transluscent but I have the blonde hair and all), so it always startles people when I say I am also partly Algerian with connections to the Austrian throne. I love my family tree. Personally I hate that question though. Where did I come from? “Well, when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much…”

In a different context that same question is asked (and equally difficult to answer) at the sorts of ‘community meetings’ organised by bureaucrats from local, state or federal governments.

It’s assumed that unless they’re the 70-year old professional letter writer politicians roll their eyes at, the average punter stays at home.

Hence everyone there almost has to be ‘from’ somewhere. In most cases that ‘from’ is another level of government, or the same level but a different department. At other times they’re from an NGO.

But if you’re none of the above it can be a bit awkward, and the proportion of non-affiliated (or non-twisted) attendees is often low.

I loved the exchange in The Games where John Clarke is trying to demonstrate what an open, multi-cultural country we have and asks one of the staff members where he’s from.

Cabramatta says he.

Oh, but your parents, where are they from?

Oh, right, sorry: Wyong.

Right, but your grandparents?

Oh, they were born in Victoria, cause their parents came out for the gold rush.

Where was I born? – Canada (Or Victoria, BC Canada)
But where where were your parents born? Canada
But where were your grandparents born? Canada, Scotland, Canada and USA
(But When did your descendents come to North America? 1650)
:) :) :) :)
My nephew would add that one of his parents was born in Cape Verde Islands

Why do you ask?

j :):):):):)

“Well, our family emigrated to Australia in 1871. What about yours then?”

So, are you saying that you’re “more” Australian than someone whose family arrived later than 1871? If this is the case, aren’t you guilty of the same attitude that inspired this post in the first place?

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