Where are you from?

A stupid question or an easy conversation starter?

A stupid question or an easy conversation starter?

 

It's always the same when you meet new people during your travels, be it in a hostel, on an excursion or over a beer late at night. You start chatting, and after a few sentences, the daunted question will come on stage like a has-been celebrity that cannot leave the limelight. It is the same old:  "Where are you from?". Of course, this is a valid question. But what strikes me every time is that it is usually brought up before even asking the most basic question: "What is your name?"

Why is it that your origin is more important than who you are? Or do people truly believe your nationality defines who you are?

In the light of recent political developments with nationalists on the rise basically everywhere around the world one could easily jump to the conclusion: yes, it matters a lot where you are from, and it's getting more and more important.

What speaks against this assumption is that travellers are usually quite open minded folks. In the last months of extensive travel, I have not met a single Trump, Erdogan, Wilders or Le Pen supporter (at least no one admitting to it), although I have talked about politics more than on any journey ever before.

So what is it then about this "where are you from" question? I started asking fellow travellers about this phenomenon, and the answer was basically always the same: it's about kicking off a conversation, about overcoming insecurity and anxiety when running into new people. It's just an easy way to start off. The question is then usually followed by a bunch of stereotypes. "Oh, I love ... weed (if you are Dutch) ... blond chicks (Danish) ... skiing (either Austrian or Swiss) ... Messi (Argentinian) ... beer (German, not many people have understood the States are now the heaven for beer lovers)."

And while such stereotypes are annoying, they make you feel like you know something about that person already. You think you connect. That can be reassuring when you are travelling alone for a long period. Nevertheless, I now started to change the rules of this game. I always introduce myself immediately and ask for the name at the very beginning of every chat. And when asked for my nationality I now only reply, but do not ask back. That irritates the shit out of people. Give it a try! You’ll end up with better conversations.
 

Chris Rump

 

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Christoph Rump

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