If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that I am originally from a small country in Europe. I have been in the US of A for 10+ years and I feel it is important that I constantly work on improving my English. However, since I came to the US as an adult, in my mid twenties, there are limits to how much of an accent I am bound to have, regardless of how hard I try to lose it (I heard the human speech apparatus is completely formed around the age of 12, making it hard to achieve perfect pronunciation in new languages thereafter).
Anyway, people who know me well tell me I have a light and ambiguous accent, as in -- people cannot decide where I am from based on my accent and that appears to bother them. The ambiguity certainly comes from me learning British English in school and then picking up American English at the different places I lived in the US, and all this within the rigid constraints of my decidedly mature speech apparatus.
So I have an accent; I would say that about 50% of people will ask me about it within the first 10 min of chatting. Of the other 50%, some notice it but don't care (for which I am grateful) and some simply think I am from another state in the US.
Anyway, I get asked "Where are you from?" a lot. I am sure most foreigners do. Now, I don' t particularly mind the question, especially if it comes up as part of an otherwise pleasant and meaningful conversation. I don't think the world owes it to me not to inconvenience me by the question; I will forever be asked because of my accent, and people are simply curious for the most part and don't mean anything, good or bad. But, as with anything that gets repeated ad nauseam, I get, well, nauseated with the question: sometimes I wish people would simply assume I am from wherever and spare me the inquiry. People say that a thicker, more regional accent might help there... Presently, I am working on my English with a Klingon accent.
Now, while anyone has the right to ask me where I am from and that's an inevitability I have to live with, I do not have be in the mood to discuss my roots at the drop of a hat, in particular when it's the people who happen to overhear me talking to someone else or people with whom I share a routine 10 second interaction. Therefore, the goal of this post is to explore how to best deflect the question "Where are you from?" when I am really not in the mood to reveal my origin to a complete stranger, and do so while minimally embarrassing the person who asked and preventing my day and his/her day from being ruined.
At present, I try to deflect these unwanted conversations by giving hints that I don't want to talk about it, but some people won't take a hint. So I need to get better at throwing hints, need better hints, or perhaps need to throw something more hefty in lieu of hints! :)
Here are a couple of recent examples of unsuccessful deflections.
Anecdote 1 (today, at the pool with family -- I am out of town on vacation this week)
I have been at the pool for 20 seconds and have exchanged 2 sentences with my son (all in English), to the effect of "Honey, no running around the pool," and "Come inside, the water is really great!" A woman sunbathing nearby decides to chime in
Woman: Where are you from?
GMP: We live in GMP Uni City.(Hint 1: I will pretend you are not asking what you are asking)
Woman: (obviously missing hint 1 or deciding her curiosity is more important)
Oh, no, I am asking because of your accent! (She is obviously thinking that having an accent is news to me and she needs to break it).
GMP: (rolling my eyes) I am from Europe. (Hint 2: I know what you are looking for but don't really want to go there)
Woman: (deciding she needs to know and obviously not taking hints) Yes, but where in Europe?
GMP: I am from a small country called GMP Wherefrom.
At this point comes the usual: her face shows that she has no freakin' clue what the country is or where it is, but she sure doesn't want to visit.
And then she asks: So, do you like it in GMP Uni City?
At this point I am irritated and alarmed, because this question often leads to asking what I do and when I plan on going back to my country (because presumably I better not stay here). I say "Yes" and turn to tend to my kid and the conversation is over.
So maybe she's just curious/friendly, maybe she's xenophobic. Likely, some combination of the two, as most people are. I am choosing to believe that most people just want the best for themselves and their families, and if I or the likes of me are a threat to their jobs or well-being, she has the right to hint I am unwelcome. I know that xenophobia is much more rampant in parts of Europe, and always tell myself I am fortunate to be in the USA and that little annoyances are part of the deal.
But, the fact is, at this point I am upset and it takes half an hour for my adrenalin to go down. So you see why I need to get much, much better at deflecting.
Anecdote 2 (more amusing)
My son and I are getting a table for 4 at a chain restaurant, saying that my husband and other son will be joining us shortly. The host asks to put my husband's name down, I spell it, he comments it's strange, I concur, and then host asks where we are from, at which point I say Europe, he asks yes but where in Europe and starts leading us to our table. I say "Why don't you try and guess?" knowing well it would never happen. So he guesses random countries in Europe, I smugly keep saying "No", and about halfway through the map of Europe we are seated and the host leaves us with "Enjoy your meal" and the mystery unsolved. In this case, unlike with Anecdote 1, I don't think the host cared particularly about the answer, so he didn't push it and I appreciated it.
So dear readers, any new ideas on how to deflect "Where are you from?" if it arises in passing, brief, meaningless interactions, without embarrassing the person asking or having to explain myself?
When I am grumpy, I just say "I'd rather not discuss it," but it invariably embarrasses the person asking. When I am in a particularly cheerful mood, sometimes I will play the guessing game from Anecdote 2. When I am very short on time, I will sometimes simply lie and say I am from a European country that's well known and respected, such as Germany (people breathe a sigh of relief after this one and leave me alone). Perhaps I should just say I am "from a kingdom far, far away"? Haven't tested that one yet, I am hoping it gets some giggles. But I am afraid the giggles will be followed by "Seriously, where are you from?" yet again.