“Where are you from?”

March 26, 2006 2:26 PM

I’ve been in Australia for close to 18 years and I still get asked, “Where are you from?” Asian-Australians are irked by that question, especially those who were born in Australia. To them, the question is almost an insult, to the point where they’d either ignore the question or hautily reply back,

Australia. Where are you from?

Personally I don’t mind the question unless of course the inquisitor is being derogatory about that. If asked, I just straight out reply,


And if the conversation continues in a meaningful way, I’d usually add on,

I’ve been here since 1988.

And you’d see their brains ticking over calculating the years. By the nature of my pubbing and clubbing, I get asked that a lot because the places I go to are predominantly white in clientele. To me, them asking the question is a sign that they want to know my ethnicity or race without seeming rude about it. I rather “where are you from?” than say,

What country are you from?


What race are you?

I see myself spreading “knowledge” and the more Anglo Aussies that I enlightened the better. Because that can only be a good thing. They are especially tripped out by the fact that the Chinese race can be found in almost every country in the world.

So you are Malaysian but Chinese? *puzzled*

When I explained to them that just like there are Italians and Greeks born in Australia, there are Chinese who are born in many different places outside of China, they’d go, “Ahhhh.” I could sometimes almost see a light bulb turn on above their head. *bing*

Of course occasionally I’d meet ppl who really know their cultural and geographical stuff. Some would even turn out a phrase of perfectly intoned Mandarin or Malay. And some also know that the Malay peoples in Malaysia and Indonesia are the same albeit differing slightly in culture.

So really, keep on asking me where I’m from because I don’t mind it. But come to me and say,

Are you Japanese?

… and you can expect an evil look. 😉

[tags]Australia, Malaysian, Chinese, race, multiculturalism[/tags]

16 thoughts on ““Where are you from?”

  1. blinkymummy

    I was in Melbourne for a short trip when 2 Caucasians came up to me to ask for bus directions.

    Them: Do you if we can take Bus No.X to ABC?
    BM: I’m not sure. I’m not local. But I think Bus No.Y goes to DEF which is near to ABC.
    Them: Thank you. Where are you from? You speak very good english.
    BM: I’m from Singapore.
    Them: You speak English in Singapore? I mean… You speak very good english.
    BM: Yeah… It’s the medium of instruction. Everything is taught in English.
    Them: WOW!!


    Singapore is too small to be noticed.

  2. mooiness Post author

    BM: actually some young Australians are ignorant that way, especialy those who have never been outside Australia. That’s another one of those irritating statements, “You speak good English!”

    To which the correct response should be a sarcastic, “Thanks! So do you!” 😉

    I blame the education system here really.

  3. CherryRipe

    I so relate to that post. However, i don’t get irked any more when people think i’m Korean or Japanese (it used to happen a lot). I just laugh it off and respond that them i’m Swedish, and why the *heck* can’t they tell?!

  4. ally

    OMG i know exactly what u mean its really quite irritating!!

    especially when u say ur malaysian and they’re like oh…so ur malay? and ur like..no i’m CHINESE

    then there’s a pause before they say…but u just said u were from malaysia.

    seriously! how long have they been living among asians?! melbourne is FLOODED with them and u assume everyone from malaysia is malay?!

    thick headed dolts

  5. Snowflake

    I can totally identify with that!
    Normally I just say I am Australian and most would stop there.

    But those who keep on asking and asking …. Then I will tell them a long winded story something like “My parents are 100% Chinese, I am born in blah blah blah …. and now blah blah blah blah blah”

    Then I will NEVER FAIL TO ASK “So where do YOU come from?”

    Most would say Australia. If I am pissed off that day, I would add “No no, where is your ancestories?? Because you don’t look aboriginal to me.”

    They then will see my point.

  6. mooiness Post author

    cherry: Swedish! Good one!

    cupcakequeen: link away!

    koyuuken: then they’d try and speak broken Japanese with you. Screw that. 😛

    ally: I think the confusion lies in the fact that they think “Malay” is the term for citizens of Malaysia, as opposed to the race. Hence, “how can you be Malaysian AND Chinese???” 😉

    snowflake: ah, good response there. Mental note. Maybe I can get to use it.

  7. virgin_undergrad

    yeah, was about to ask you waddsup with the ang moh facination about japanese ppl. me and my friends got quizzed several times at the Deen about whether or not we’re jap. and when we tell them that we’re singaporean and they just go ‘oh..’

  8. rachael

    when i say “sydney” nobody believes me. or then i say, “i’m local”, because after sydney i moved to perth. then it goes, “where are your parents from?” i could write a fill in the blanks script.

    a more genteel way of asking these kinds of questions lies in asking, “what is your heritage?” i think this is a more tactful way, and implies that they want to know about your background as a person, not what race or ethnic group you fit into.


  9. mooiness Post author

    rachael: “what is your heritage” is sorta similar to “where are you from” but true – yours is more tactful. Asking where one’s from automatically assumes that you must be an immigrant. 😉


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