Why “Where Are You From?” May Be a Bad Ice-Breaker

Two Girls Talking

Image by acambaro77

So, you start talking to this person you’ve just met and try to come up with some topic for conversation. Oh yeah, what’s that curious accent all about? So you drop the question. “Where are you from?” is a great way of getting a person to start a mutually enriching cultural exchange, right? Wrong. Let me tell you why.

Granted, exchange students, immigrants, and other people who may, for whatever reason, have come to your country don’t expect to be taken for locals. They are, most likely, well aware of their accent, different appearance or whatever else may distinguish them from the natives. Perhaps, they even cherish your interest in their culture and the chance to share it with you. Still, “Where are you from?” could make your international buddy feel not engaged, but alienated.

Personally, I can’t help cringing at the inevitable question. While I do recognize and appreciate the person’s friendliness and interest, I can’t help thinking, “Is that the first thing people notice about me?” It is not without hesitation that I take this, genuinely well-meant, opportunity to start a cultural exchange. While I’m aware of my “foreignness,” I’d like to think there’s more to me than coming from a different country, however intriguing that aspect may look.

Not to mention the fact that, more often than not, the “cultural exchange” stops at “Oh, that’s cool” because my buddy doesn’t really know what to say. Or, even better, they give me the well-meant, but indefinitely vague question “So what’s it like?”

I’m not trying to advise anyone against asking where an apparently non-local person is from. But perhaps it shouldn’t be the first question that comes out of your mouth. Try something less personal instead.


One thought on “Why “Where Are You From?” May Be a Bad Ice-Breaker

  1. Here is what’s interesting, when I was calling a call-center about my credit card issues I was having a couple of years ago, they guy on the other end of the phone said, “So what do you do down in Houston?” and I told him, “I work as an admin for a CPA firm” and he says “really?.. well how long have you been down there?” and I said “Born and raised” and he shot back and said “REALLY?? You don’t have an accent!”

    Now here is where it gets really interesting..

    Back in 04′ I was spending my first day in Melbourne Australia walking downtown. I was walking along side a local who was about my age and asked him for directions. When we were done with that he asked “So where you from?.. Your American right?” and I said “Yep, Houston Texas” and he said, “Your from Texas originaly?” and I said, “Yep, born and raised in Houston” and he said the same thing, “Really? You don’t have that Texas accent!”

    I tell you Maria, “King of the Hill” has got to go!


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