– Oh hey, are you Maïra?
– Yup, it’s me!
– Really? I didn’t think you’d look like this. You said you were an American.
– I am American.
– But where are you from?
– But I saw you and thought ‘It can’t be her, that’s not what Americans look like.’
– What would Americans look like?
– Well, when I saw you I thought you were an Arab.
– Well, I’m American.
– But where are from?
– I said, America.
– Where are originally from?
-Where are your parents from?
-Where are your grandparents from?
– I don’t believe you!
– It’s true.
– You must be a latino! I know there are a lot of latinos in America.
– I’m American.
– Not Brazil, Colombia?
– I’m American.
– Where were you from 600 years ago?
– I wasn’t anywhere. Where were you 600 years ago?
– Okay, I mean where were your ancestors 600 years ago?
– I am being totally sincere here. If I were walking in the street and I saw you I would think you were an Arab. You must have an Arab ancestor somewhere.
– I’m American.
– Why do you look so annoyed?
– I have a headache.
– But you’re pointing at your ear.
– I think I need to go.
– I can drive you!
– No, it’s okay, I’d rather walk down the hill for a service, then switch to a bus, wait for the bus to fill up, then walk up another hill. The journey takes about one hour when a drive would be just 15 minutes.
– Oh, okay, it was nice meeting you. I still want to know where you’re from though!
– Do you really wanna know where I’m from? Well I’ll tell you where I’m from. I. came. from. a. vagina. Where are you from?
The Iranian poet Ali Abdulrezai said at talk in Cambridge ‘Whenever anyone asks me where I am from, it feels like a rape.’ Although I was slightly bothered he had said this next to Nasreen Parvaz (who had just spoken about her memoirs dealing with imprisonment and torture, and being asked where you’re from is really just a minor annoyance compared to that) it struck a chord with me. Yes, I am tired of this bullshit question, I thought. So I went to speak with him after the talk. He laughed at my remarks and asked me where I was from. It was mildly annoying. The above conversation, though of less direct symbolic significance (no-one defined a sentence as a rape then proceeded to use that sentence on me), was extremely annoying. Maybe because it dragged on. Maybe because the person didn’t have any Persian poetry to compensate their annoyance. Not wanting to tell your OkCupid date where you’re from can also be mildly irritating to them. Not as mildly irritating as them not getting your hint.
Sometimes even I ask where people are from just to know if they speak another language or have lived in another country. But it’s really just small talk. Wanting to skip small talk can be mildly annoying to some people. Less mildly annoying than being asked where you’re from when you’re tired of the question. When you’ve already told them you were from somewhere. When you know that person asking is going to say something along the lines of ‘Ah, Brazil! Brazilian people are beautiful’ or the worst I’ve gotten ‘Brazilian people smile all the time. Why don’t you smile?’ Basically, I’ll tell you where I’m from if I feel I can have a civilized conversation with you about the matter, but otherwise, you’re not the kind of person with whom I’d feel comfortable discussing this topic. Which is where the metaphor of rape is quite a good one.