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Entries For: January 2009

“ Where do you come from? ”

I am getting seriously annoyed by this question.

Not because it is somewhat intimate and still part of the social handshake, just between “what's your name?” and “what do you do?”. The latter got me annoyed before but I learned how to cope with it already.

No, the reason why I am getting annoyed is that most people who ask do not realize what they are asking for. Indeed, what most people want to know, for the purpose of getting to know someone better, is a condensate of the following:

  • “ where and how have you been educated? ” — i.e. how much do you share my culture;
  • “ what is your ethnicity? ” — i.e. what ethnic label can I stick on you;
  • “ what is your religion? ” — i.e. what is your moral code;
  • “ what is your home? ” — i.e. where do you live and where does your family live;
  • “ who are your friends? ” — i.e. what are your credentials in life.

The place of birth, often expected as an answer to the question, is generally irrelevant. Most often you are not actually interested because it does not help knowing the person better. So stop asking for it first! There are many other interesting — and important — aspects to learn about someone before their childhood history. To start a conversation, just keep it simple and honest — “ tell me about you ” is open enough.

Side note: I am also annoyed at Facebook for translating "Hometown" by "Place of birth" in Dutch. This is annoying in so many ways and does not even reflect any social reality in the Netherlands.


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