“Where are you from?” I get asked this question a lot, and rarely is it not awkward. This is because rarely are people asking me this question out of genuine interest in my background as a person and how they could relate to it. It’s more like, “Why are you brown?” Or “Why do you have a scarf on your head?” Or “Why is your last name so hard to spell?”
Of course, people would never ask me those questions, because that would be rude. So instead they ask me, “Where are you from?” and I stutter and stammer through a long-winded and absolutely-none-of-their-business explanation of actually I live here but we’re really from there but also I was living in a different city which is where I moved from but actually my parents are Egyptian, which is what you really wanted to know, isn’t it?
It’s not that I have a problem telling people I’m Egyptian. I’m proud of where I come from, and I’m proud of my culture and every aspect of my identity. My issue is that whenever people ask me this question, they’re always giving me this look. If you get this question a lot, you know what I’m talking about. Wide eyes, slightly cocked head, that look of curiosity that comes over their faces as they try to place you. It’s a look that makes me cringe on the inside, because I know that once I tell them what they want to hear I will confirm what they already believe – that I’m not “from here,” that I’m a foreigner, an outsider, something to be categorized in a box with all the other strangers.
This is why I’ve been training myself to say “I’m from Michigan,” every time I get asked this question. I’m not really from Michigan – I wasn’t born there and I didn’t live there long enough to consider it my hometown, but it was long enough for me to have a couple childhood anecdotes from there and remember the name of my school and suburb we lived in. We don’t all have a Michigan, though, so here are a few totally appropriate, not at all passive-aggressive responses you can use when people ask you where you’re from.
These are all pop culture inspired. You have been warned.
1. “I’m from another dimension.”
2. “I’m from this timeline! I swear! You have iPhones in the past – I mean, now. Now. This is the present. Not the past.”
Then run away.
Bonus points if you add something like, “You haven’t seen a guy wandering around here, big guy, brown hair, kinda surly expression, voice is strangely monotone? No? Okay, just…stay away from him, alright? Trust me on this one.”
3. “I’m from a small town. You may never have heard of it. It’s not on any maps.”
If they insist, pick the fictional small town of your favorite show – Beach City, Gravity Falls, Tree Hill, Stars Hollow – really, the possibilities are endless.
Bonus points if you say, “THE CITY OF TOWNSVILLE” in the voice of the PowerPuff Girls narrator.
BONUS Bonus points if you use the name of a fictional town that is not the primary location in your show of choice; think Eagleton or Ocean Town.
4. “My mother’s uterus.”
5. “South Africa.”
This is great, because South Africa is a very diverse country – anyone can plausibly be from South Africa. If anyone asks why you don’t have an accent, just say, “South Africans don’t have an accent. Charlize Theron doesn’t have an accent!” Bonus points if you act super offended.
Other possible options for this tactic include Canada and New Zealand. Use Ryan Reynolds and Anna Paquin as your celebrity example for each country respectively.
6. “A galaxy far, far away.”
7. “Uh, um…damn it! Ever since I got into the witness protection program, I keep forgetting my backstory. Listen, if you see anyone around with a serpent tattoo, don’t mention you saw me, okay? Thanks.”
Bonus points if, instead of serpent tattoo, you mention a tattoo you ACTUALLY HAVE. But only if it’s visible to the person who’s asking.
These will either be conversation enders or conversation starters. Have fun!