Saturday, 3 December 2011

"No, where are you from originally?" - My most dreaded of all questions

The Patronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (photo taken by me in summer 2011)

Little interlude from fashion today so I can have a small rant. I recently read an article on the Guardian website on exactly this subject and thought I would share my thoughts on this with all my lovely blog readers.

So what's all the fuss about? Basically, I've found that being slightly brown seems to invite endless questions about my heritage. You would be amazed at the number of times this has happened to me, usually with taxi drivers who are trying to bond with me over our shared ethnicity which I happen to know absolutely nothing about. Like the writer of the article said, I know it's not meant in any nasty way but when I'm getting a taxi I would prefer small talk about the weather as opposed to trying to create a family tree for the imagination of some bloke I've never met before.

So a brief breakdown of my family history (note the irony that I have to do this to support my point):
- My grandad and grandma (on my dad's side) meet in Malaysia in the 50s - he was in the RAF and she was a nurse tending to British soldiers posted over there.
- He asks her to marry him and she moves back to the UK with him.
- My dad is born in the UK.
- My dad marries my mum (who is white British).
- I am born in the UK.

So, as you can see, my immediate family have not lived in Malaysia since the 50s, that's about 40 years before I entered the world. I have visited Malaysia once in my life (see my post The search for my Asian persuasion) and, as much as I loved it and was interested to find out about my heritage, I still feel 100% British and don't really have any connection with Malaysia.

However, people do not seem to be able to accept that I don't feel completely and utterly in love with my 'homeland.' A typical conversation usually goes as follows:

Taxi driver: So, where are you from love?
Me: *sighs* Manchester
Taxi driver: No, originally
Me: Well, I was born in Somerset? (for those that don't know, this is a county in the South of England)
Taxi driver: Oh okay, well what nationality are your parents?
Me: They're both British
Taxi driver: You're funny!
Me: .....
Taxi driver: No but really, what nationality are they?
Me: No, I'm not lying to you, they really are both British.... Although my Grandma's Malaysian, but her family are of Indian descent.
Taxi driver: Oh right that's it!! I'm from X town which is also in the massive continent of Asia so you definitely know such-and-such a person and have visited such-and-such a place - we have so much in common!

This is usually the point where I just sit back in my seat and nod along and wait for the taxi ride to be over. (If we've not exhausted the topic of my heritage, we usually move onto my degree which is also usually a great area of concern - what else can I do with a degree in Humanities if I don't teach?!)

It's not that I take any offence from questions of ethnicity, I'm just sick of being asked. People have been emigrating for thousands of years, it's no longer some amazing feat like it may have been when someone realised that some materials that floated were strong enough to carry people and goods across a stretch of water.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this? Should I just accept it and calm down? Or does anyone else find it annoying when people don't believe your take on your own heritage? Feel free to rant below.


  1. i feel your pain girl! when i went travelling people would ask us where we were from and we'd always say england and they'd assume we lived in london, then most would go 'you lot dont look very english' - i'm half malaysian, my friends are half algerian and half german. it was so annoying to explain over and over again!!

  2. that was funny story :) I've got Central European white skin tone - despite my type of beauty is mix of bavarian and ukraine roots, but my grand parents and parents have Pilish nacionality so do I. And this is amazing. Both of us should be proud of being so special :)

  3. this was really interesting! thank you for sharing cause you brought up a valid in interesting point :) xoxo, saskia

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  5. this sounds painfully frustrating! i'd just be jealous of the tan 99% of the time. icy white over here