Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Where are you from?

The question is heard often when travelling, and understandably so. But I am asked this question rather often at home. The question took on a different flavour while I was in Viet Nam and Thailand – I did not mind it so much.

But in Australia, this quite banal question riles me. One particularly aggravating exchange:-

It's 6.00pm. An Asian looking girl, in a suit, is standing at a bus stop, presumably waiting for the bus. That Asian girl is reading a novel and leaning against the wall, her head excited about the possibilities of travel and a holiday in the very near future. A boy, roughly the girl's age, approaches and stands beside her. The boy keeps looking at his watch in exaggerated and distracting movements. He finally leans in towards the girl and says:

Him: The bus is late.
Me: Mm.
Him: Where are you from?
Me: I'm sorry?
Him: Where are you from?
Me: What do you mean?
Him: Where are you from?
Me: (You do realise that you are just repeating yourself, don't you?) Um, Brisbane.
Him: No, where are you really from?
Me (looking perplexed and feeling angry but remembering my partner's generosity towards people): I'm really from Brisbane.
Him: Oh, I get it.
Me (not aloud): (Do you now?)
Him: Where are your family from?
Me (sighing): Viet Nam.
Him: What are you doing here?
Me: Waiting for the bus.
Him: No, I mean what are you doing here?
Me: I live here.
Him: No, like are you studying?
Me: I live here. (repeating himself worked for him)
Him: Oh, wow. So are you from the north or the south?
Me (my generosity – what little there was – gives out. I am exasperated.): I am from Brisbane.

He laughs. As if I made a joke. I look at him. As if he is an ignorant racist. He realises at least that I don't seem to want to talk to him anymore and becomes quiet. I return to my book.

In Viet Nam and Thailand, and probably other developing nations for which tourism is one of their main industries, the question is a way of engaging the traveler, before trying to get some money out of them (usually). I find the children who call out: “Where you from? Where you from?” particularly adorable. More so when I wander over to tell them and they respond with blank or fearful or surprised expressions. I grin, they grin.

Perfect communication. Just a joyous way of saying 'hello!'

The above exchange (verbatim with some blogger licence) is a convoluted way of saying 'I'm racist and have heaps of preconceptions about Asian women, belonging, identity, and no sense of general etiquette about waiting for a bus.'

1 comment:

laziicat said...

i usually just ask them back:

'where are you from then?' and make it it a big issues. that usually shoos them away..

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