The question that some people hate to be asked, hate to ask, and some find utterly backward and politically INcorrect. As far as I’m concerned it is a crying shame to ignore this incredible inquiry that can open up so many doors that connect us with each other, revealing fascinating and colourful stories and truths about different cultures and places.
I’ve discussed this question with different people on my travels and if they find it offensive or not and some people do. Not so long ago I was at a meeting in Birmingham with some delegates attending from London. One lady sitting next to me on appearances looked Indian, and had a strong accent, a sort of posh Indian/English accent, I call it. I was intrigued to know which part of the Indian sub continent she could be from, and when I asked, she rather pompously threw her head back and replied “I am a human being” and refused to answer my question, as if it was far too primitive for the likes of her.
Not to suggest that all people from London think one way and everyone else thinks otherwise, but I have often found some folks having a sense of superiority over this topic and often regarding themselves as in a minority and different to the rest of the country regarding their respect and value of diversity. They would not dare ask this question as they live in a global melting pot and are immune to difference, too cool to ask such a silly question, where are you from? Yes there may be some truth in this matter when we look at voting patterns and where some of our crazy right wing parties are more popular, but in the end I think not asking this question does not make one somehow morally superior, more intellectual or global minded than anyone else. There are people from all over the world living in Britain’s different cities. There will be certain contexts where knowing someone’s history, background, birthplace and roots (whatever you want to call it) may be irrelevant, but for me to really connect with someone this is something that I usually like to know, and eventually it will come up in my conversations with people I interact with.
I appreciate for some people it may not be easy to answer this question at all, if they have been living in so many different places, and maybe with parents from different ethnic groups and countries. Still, I love to hear their story. Yes we are all equal and the same in many ways, but in many we are not and this is what makes the world so fascinating. Why disregard the parts of us that make us so fabulous and unique? I also appreciate there will be some situations where people may ask or be asked this question in such a way that can be offensive and rude, so there is some sensitivity around it, its not straight forward!
We are inquisitive human beings and love to travel. We want to eat great food, catch the sun and see beautiful sights, as well as learning something new, engaging with local people, finding out about the history of a place, values, arts and culture etc. I love finding out about different traditions, fashions, perspectives, politics, histories, way of living, loving, problem solving, just about everything and of course my favourite; food.
When I leave the UK and people ask me where I am from, I reply England, but often get a look, so explain my Indian heritage. This does not offend me at all. England is the place I was born and grew up, but to others my skin colour suggests something more. I am proud of my Indian roots and grew up with the culture, so more than happy to talk about it.
I want to improve my knowledge of the world and its peoples and become a better person in it. I don’t need to get on a plane to do this. I can do it when I go to my corner shop in Birmingham. When I am waiting at the bus stop. When I am getting a taxi ride with my driver. If I’m so cultured, open minded and a global thinker, why do I need to wait until I am in a foreign country before I ask questions and learn new things? I am so lucky to live in a city so diverse, so if I see you around and ask you where you are from because I find you interesting just like every other person on the planet, please don’t be offended or feel like I have treated you like you are exotic.