are you from….????

i was standing in front of the administration offices few weeks back, when a faculty member of the academy rushed up to me and asked, “are you the exchange student from japan?”

as usual, i smiled back and replied, “no, i’m not.”

he continued, “oh, i had heard that there were two students here on exchange from japan….”
okay, and so you assumed that it was me because i fit the ‘japanese’ look.

i had already met the exchange students and so i replied, “well, they are two guys…and it’s not me. i am a student here in the MA program…”

i guess it was awkward, so he said, “welcome to valand!” and shuttled off to wherever that he was going.

“thank you,” i shouted back, even though i’ve already been here for six months.

***

isn’t it funny how people think that it is okay to simply guess your nationality or ethnicity or background just by looking at your face. and unfortunately, since i have that supposed ‘asian’  look (small eyes, brown face, straight black hair), more often than not, people simply don’t bother to ask me where i’m from. they like to play the guessing game. like dumb charades…where my ‘face’ automatically becomes the ‘gesture’ and they feel the need to guess my nationality. as if i am inviting them to play it.

like only last week in my swedish language class, the teacher was taking attendance, going from student to student. he reached my desk and blurted out, “China???”

&!@#%*#(@$%#$@%)@#$%)#@$%N@#$%

but i maintained my composure and played along, “NEJ.”

“Japan.”

“NEEJJJ.” try again.

“Vietnam.”

“NEEEEJJJJJ.”

it had to stop. “Nepal.”

“aahhhhh…wooowww…i would have never guessed.”

NO, OF COURSE NOT. you would have never guessed. And that’s why it would be polite to simply ask me the right question, “Varifrån kommer du? Where are you from?” I could be from anywhere in the world, regardless of what i look like. I could have been born in Canada, raised in Korea and living in Nepal. whatever happened to the ‘we live in the globalized era of the 21st century.’

in another similar incident, the (swedish) guessing guy was actually apologetic after asking me if i was from china. “sorry for that…it’s also true that i could be from another country too…”

“yeah of course…like you could be from…” before i could end my sentence with ‘USA’, he interrupted…”like Norway!”

hahahhahahaha i found his choice of country quite hilarious. but anyway, he could have been from china too if he had settled there and felt like china was his home.

***

but even us nepali people aren’t without flaws in this guessing game. we are always ready to say, “she looked like bahun or he looked like rai.” we do it all the time, when it comes to our diverse ethnicities. while we talk to each other, we are already creating an equation in our heads – flat small nose, pointy nose, big nose, small eyes, big eyes, no eye lids, thick eyebrows, straight hair, wavy hair, etc. etc. etc. and then people get confused when it comes to me. they ask me, “how are you a ‘burathoki’ when you don’t look like one?”

let me run away with that question for now.

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4 thoughts on “are you from….????

  1. I really enjoyed this post!

    I get this quite a lot of this as well. I was born in Germany and moved around the UK every year and a half of my life. The question where are you from can be quite annoying and I always get answers like “oh, so you’re German then” umm no.

    But it is even funnier when, like you, people decide to tell me what I am. The most common have been Polish, German, Ukrainian, an Arab, Scottish and Spanish – all completely unrelated. But my most favourite has been when people have asked me whether I am from Nepal! Each place surprises me each time.

    Take it as a compliment that you have such an interesting look about you! :)

  2. I can completely relate! I was born and raised in the US and my ethnic heritage is Mexican, Irish and German. My Indian husband’s family has said I look Kashmiri, Punjabi and Nepalese. We live in the UK and I am constantly asked, where are you from? Once a shop keeper asked and I said the US. “And before that?” My mother’s womb! Another time I was at a London restaurant with my Polish friend and she was convinced our waiter was Mexican… “go on, ask him where he’s from” she said to me. I refused and so she did. Guess what he said? Nepal! People are just so eager to fit everyone in a little box and when they can’t it drives them crazy. Hopefully with the increase of mixed race people and globalisation this will reduce.

  3. Welcome to the Scandinavia, i have been asked that question numerous times. From Italian, Spanish to Indian and Bangladeshi, they have asked me where i was from and to their surprise they ever seem to seen a Nepalese person before. I guess its the Diversity we have in Nepal, i always laugh it up and even let them guess when they ask :p . Try to have fun with it rather than getting Annoyed !!! Spring is stating soon and summer would be the best time there in Sweden. Take care and Hope you are doing well.

    Regards from Finland.
    Anup

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