I was once called by a survey company. I began to busily give my opinion about whatever it was that interested them. As we neared the end, the interviewer needed to know some demographic information and he asked me “Where are you from?”
“Canada” I replied.
“But what is your background, where are you from?”
“I am Canadian.” I asserted.
He then asked where I was originally from.
I replied that I was an 8th generation Canadian (at the time, I didn’t know I was also Status Native). He was really stumped…
He told me that he needed to know my ancestry to finish the survey. I know some of my ancestors came from the British Isles, but I told him I have no idea where exactly.
After a few more questions, he eventually sighed and told me that I didn’t fit in the boxes on his form. He had to stop the survey! I found it strange that he was surveying people in Canada – and at that time he did not have a box to check for people who self-identified as Canadian.
Being ‘Canadian’ was not an option
“Where you are from?” is a common question when we meet someone new. Small talk – it is a lot like “So what do you do?” that other casual question between strangers. For the most part the question is just a way to start a conversation, but occasionally I hear people ask and I cringe. Do you know what I mean? When some people ask the question it sometimes feels wrong. I wasn’t sure why so I asked an expert on the matter.
My wife Supriya (she’s the hottie in the picture above) has been asked this question a lot. She tells me that it usually follows this progression.
Where are you from?
… but where were you born?
… where are your parents from?
Most of the time, the person is asking Supriya the question out of simple curiosity. After all, Canada is blessed with an incredible heritage of immigration and an amazingly low percentage of problems. Our cultural mosaic model means that we do not expect people to become the same as us, instead we celebrate diversity among our provinces and people. We are really good at living with differences.
When people ask the question out of curiosity you can tell. They are interested. They want to know you a bit better. What interesting foods you eat at home, what traditions you follow, what musicians and movies you like – and that is not offensive.
Ignorant people asked the question not because they want to understand who you are. They are more interested in deciding if you fit in.
The times I cringe when I hear the question is when the tone sounds an awful lot like “you obviously are not from here … where do you belong?” The question highlights our differences and becomes a barrier between people. The question itself is not necessarily offensive, but a lot depends on the intentions of the person asking.
Is there a better way to ask the question?