Expat Advice: How (and why) to duck “Where are you from?”

Many American and UK tourists think that they are sweet, inquisitive, well-mannered and polite Edna from Ephraim or Burt from Broughty Ferry but they are not. They are Ida the Impatient and Ian the Intolerant. Whoever and whatever they are at home, on the road they are Priscilla the Picky, Helga the Haggler, Richard the Rude and Stefan the Skinflint.

My dear, I don’t have time to correct tourists, I am much more concerned with protecting the locals, but I will venture into the fray for a wee moment to spread clarity.

Don’t answer the question “Where are you from?” unless you understand that the person asking wants something from you. Yes, of course there is a chance you will get pulled into a nice shop, given tea, regaled with stories and you buy, at deep discount, a lovely do-hickey that makes your heart sing. That’s one ending.

Another ending is that you will get lambasted for your country’s political decisions. Or you will get stuck listening to the story about how this person’s brother’s wife’s brother moved to your country and…

“Where are you from” is a common way to snag a person’s attention in the Middle East as most people from the UK and North America love to talk about their hometown and, yes, this type of conversation can end happily. Or not happily.

The 2.8946 % of the population who are genuinely nice may end up with a new friend. But most people answer, get into a conversation and then realize that they are being made fun of, hit up for money or expected to buy something. Sigh.

Do you walk around YOUR hometown asking people where they are from? Nope. And there is a reason for that. Because you don’t want to make new friends by asking people random questions. Let this be a lesson for you.

So when you get asked, smile and walk away. Yes. Walk away. And no, “But it’s rude to not answer a question!” Sigh. What’s ruder – to walk away or you answer, engage in conversation, realize your are expected to go into the shop and THEN walk away. If the person is standing near a shop you are interested in, answer with “What a lovely shop” and keep away from geography and/ or politics.