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I’m English – a stranger in a strange land. I have a range of responses, both verbal and facial, to my first utterance to someone I’ve not spoken with before. Oftentimes I get the mostly charming, “I love your accent” (sounding like “ass-en”) and the more not-backward-in-coming-forward, “Ooh! I could listen to your voice all day.” Rarely the Can I have your number? of, “Say that again. You English guys sound so … ahhh … haha.” Decreasingly the facial responses betray the utter confusion of the listener whom I encountered in my initial months in Texas. Still, I receive the occasional look of incomprehension, but after years in the Fort, I know my regional vocal foibles and tend to focus my Texas pronunciation on those words and phrases, turning “can” and “can’t” into something more like kin, with a long “i,” and Kant, the philosopher, respectively, for example. Yet I park my car in a space that still sounds a lot like ga-ridge and not at all like guh-raj. My fruit of choice when trying to avoid eating chocolate remains a buh-nar-na rather than a buh-nan-a.

The verbal responses mentioned above tend to be from women. Guys are somewhat more straightforward: “Where you from?” Almost never does this question sound like the initial grilling I may regularly receive if I were brown-skinned or had a “funny” accent or name or any combination thereof. Though around the 2016 election, I did have three or four shit-kickers ask me, upon clocking my foreignness, a range of thinly veiled questions transparently designed to determine whether I was “an illegal” and taking care to check that I was “qualified” to be here. It’s simultaneously enraging and hilarious to be questioned about my fitness to be standing in a small town’s big-box store by dudes with careworn faces that could be 35 or 60 who sport unkempt denim over their ill-kept torsos.

A frequent and always startling and confusing response from a guy is the triumphant call of “Australian!” delivered with a self-congratulatory smile and pointed finger of certainty. As a Brit, I am supposed to reflexively dislike and object to Australians for being both brash and consistently better at cricket than the English are. Honestly, I have nothing against Aussies now that I don’t live in England. Fair enough, I toured Ireland with a friend whose accompanying mate, who happened to be Australian, was the most relentlessly miserable human being I have ever met. Yes, a careless driver mowed me down when I was walking to school at age 7. (Heroically, I got up off the tarmac and proceeded to school, whereupon I was vomiting blood within the hour). She just happened to be Australian. So what if my ex ran off with a kangaroo? OK, OK. The surgeon who basically killed one of my grandparents through medical malpractice just happens to be from Sydney. But, honestly, I am no more appalled to be taken for an Aussie by a dude I’ve never met before than you would be if someone mistook you for an Okie. Amirite? Right.

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I’ve heard and read a bunch of stuff that wants me to believe that “Where you from?” represents a micro-aggression, which is not, as I initially thought, a polite term for the Napoleon Complex or Little Man syndrome. No, it is a real thing because someone at a university came up with it in 1973. A micro-aggression is the everyday slight, insult, or insinuation designed to belittle or marginalize people seen as “other.” I can kind of get behind the idea that “Where you from?” has micro-aggressive potential, but to be fully aggressive, the question needs to be, and often is for me, “Where are you really from?” #notaustralia

2 COMMENTS

  1. I always think that a good answer would be “Does it matter? I’m here now.”
    We get quite a lot of this in Austalia which is ironic considering it’s a country whose ancestors were either criminals or immigrants.
    It would be much nicer for people to ask if you like living in whichever country you are in or what is your favourite thing about it.
    Unfortunately most people default to “Where you from ” as though they have suddenly been placed in charge of border security and have a right to means-test everyone they stumble across.
    Simon

    • Interesting to read that this goes on in The Fort, and Australia. I guess some people are genuinely curious while some can’t help but try to judge those who are ‘different’ or ‘other’.

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