After nearly 1,500 years of English language, it is my pleasure to announce that the question “Where are you from?” has been officially cancelled. No one can use it anymore.
We had a good run, but everyone’s favorite stock conversation starter will not do anymore in the 21st century. Now that the phrase is banned, there is less chance of you embarrassing yourself in front of someone you’ve just met by basically saying: “hold my beer as I flaunt my preconceived opinions about you based on your country of origin”. Now that we’ve retired the question, we’ve saved ourselves from blank, stupefied stares when the answer is something like Suriname, Myanmar, Azerbaijan, or Burkina Faso. Now that we’ve liberated the dance floor from the clichéd pickup line, people who have no intention of actually dancing can scurry back to the bar. Now that it’s more appropriate to utter Lord Voldemort’s name than to ask “where are you from,” I can freely live out the rest of my life without people hearing my answer and then thinking that I’m from Greece. People of color will be thrilled to learn that all this means that the common followup question “ok, but where are you really from” has also been irrevocably deleted.
Yes, I know you’ve been to Croatia (everybody has been to Croatia); how nice of you to ask me a question about myself and immediately turn it into a story about you!
My sympathies go out to places like Amsterdam, London, or Barcelona, where swarms of young people will now have to make an effort to actually get to know this new person in their life instead of instantly trying to box them based on where they grew up, their race, and what they perceive as their gender.
Fortunately, there are plenty of replacements for “where are you from” and they call come down to the basic concept of actually having a back-and-forth conversation. May I suggest:
- “How are you feeling?”
- “How do you like it here?” / “What brought you here?”
- “What’s been on your mind lately?”
- [Recognizing the persons contribution to an event or situation] “Thank you for __.”
- “What has made you proud of yourself lately?”
- Basically anything related to the current event or context, especially when you are genuinely interested in their answer and not just trying to make conversation because you’re uncomfortable.
- (Instead of “Where have you lived”) “Where have you loved?”
Thank you for reading! Tune in next week, when we cancel “What do you do?” to the great joy of many.