Corrugated City

Monday, 21 April 2008

Where you from?

If you look even vaguely foreign in Chile, you'll hear the question, "Where you from" all the time. For some reason, Spanish speakers often it's ok to verbs out of a sentence. At first you think it's nice that someone is interested in you. Then it becomes annoying. Then you realise that most of the time, the person asking isn't actually interested in you at all, s/he just wants to show off to you and/or their friends that they can speaking really good the Inglish. 

On Saturday, we found an entertaining way of ridding ourselves of this unwanted attention (we just wanted to go out and have a good time, not babysit beginners English speakers). Whenever we were accosted (at least 5 or 6 times in the space of a few short hours), we would answer, "China", "Burkina Faso", "India" or another country we were clearly not from. When they didn't believe us (god knows why), we'd say that not every person from a country looks the same and it's very racist to think so. We were left alone pretty quickly. Try it sometime. It's fun. 

18 comments:

Barbaridad said...

When somebody asks me here in Paris where am I from, usually I say that I'm British...

...and they believe me.

I like to play those games too :)

Anonymous said...

...In Australia I still get asked where I am from - actually I get asked: 'What nationality are ya?" in which case I say "Australian" (technically, and according to my passport, that is my true nationality)...after 30 odd years living in this country and a reasonably broad Aussie accent, I still get a 'stop shitting me!' look on their face! - so much for Australian multiculturalism!

Patricio

Dan said...

I'm so thin, soft-spoken and relatively unobjectionable that people usually can't believe I'm from the United States.

Matt said...

B, it must be your blond hair and blue eyes.

Patricio, well that both surprises me and doesn't surprise me at all. Australia is a pretty multi-cultural country but my experience there was that it's not actually all that well integrated. Most of my friends there were from Italian, Korean and Arab descent (the charmingly named 'wogs') and they all considered themselves Aussie first and foremost (their parents didn't though). But at the same time, the Anglo-Aussies, especially the ocker knob-heads seem to feel that only they are real Aussies. It's a bit of a weird situation and one that obviously spills over into unpleasantness on fairly frequent occasions.

Anyway, when we met up, I thought you spoke really quite good English. For an Australian, that is :)

I guess for me, the constant asking of 'where you from' gets annoying partly because I know that even if I were to live here for another 50 years, I would still get asked that same question. And that means that no matter what I do, I will always be considered an outsider, an interloper by the general population. I find that a little sad and frustrating.

Dan-unobjectionable relative to who or what? Hitler or a fluffy little bunny? And I'm not sure how you managed to stay thin what with all that ice-cream and cheese you were eating. How's the fruit business, by the way?

Barbaridad said...

no, dear, it's because i like to talk in english with a very poshy accent. actually one of my friends from Leicester told me i can talk like the Queen...drunk :p

Matt said...

Does the queen get drunk?

Emily said...

Matt, I know what you mean about knowing you'd still be asked where you're from in 50 years. I'm not Chilean, I don't want to be Chilean, but it's still very frustrating to me that where I'm from is seen as an important topic of discussion for so many people here (along with "you're so tall" and "you speak good Spanish"). It's hard to really explain why, but it does give you that sense of being an outsider. I also find it strange as I'm from a part of California where everyone is an immigrant and looks different, and it's not unusual to hear people speaking a language other than English, so to me it's strange that it matters where I'm from. I'm here now, that's the important part!

Matt said...

Emily-yep, i agree completely. One of the few things I miss about living back in England is the rich multi-cultural society that exists (and the ethnic food of course). Sure there are problems but if, for example, I want to know the time, I like being able to walk up to anyone in the street of any race or colour and assume that they're British and not think "god, are they going to understand me?" I don't have pre-conceived notions of whether they'll speak English or about where they're from. I just assume they're from Britain.

Here, anyone who looks vaguely different is assumed to not understand anything or be foreign and I find that a bit depressing. Still, it's not all bad. Looking like me gets me out of speeding tickets and other driving violations ("Velocidad? No comprendo senor. What? I can't do a U-turn and drive up a one way street the wrong way?") and into bars ("what queue? No comprendo.") Sweet :)

And if there's one thing I really enjoy about living here on Cerro Concepcion, it's the village atmosphere-I may not have met everyone here but I've at least seen most people and they've seen me. People know I live here. They know where I live. And because of that, I never feel like an outsider here on my little hill. I feel at home.

Anonymous said...

...I think that Chilean's inquisitiveness with where 'foreigners' are from also stems from the country's geographical isolation and, as you pointed out, relative racial homogeneity. Chileans are obsessed with wanting to know what brings people to Chile and what people think of their country (something Australians are also obsessed with...). They also have a perdetermined notion of what a Chilean is and isn't - quite puzzling given Chile's obvious identity crisis!

In the past, migrant groups (primarly those of white, European ancestry) arriving in Chile have lived in fairly tight-knit communities with many quickly moving up into the higher echelons of Chilean society thereby providing little interchange and contact with the general 'mestizo' population.

Things are obviously changing for the better with many people making Chile their home choosing to live amongst the locals in more 'common' areas. However, attitudes are difficult to shake off and for many Chileans it is still and oddity to see a tall, blonde and blue eyed person shopping along side them at Lider, drinking at their local pub or walking down a local street miles from the well worn tourist precints. Hopefully with greater interchange, this attitude will wear off over time.

But still, if the worse that can happen is having to be annoyed by the 'where you from?' question, then you're doing pretty well! Spare a thought for the poor bolivianos, peruanos, people of African or Islamic origins living in Chile - I'm sure that a lot put up with much worse!

Patricio

Matt said...

Worse than 'where you from?'. If you're suggesting blatant discrimination, impossibility in moving up the social and economic ladder and having to have your baby in a hospital toilet worse than 'where you from' then you're terribly, terribly mistaken.

Still, you're right...and my gripes about Chile don't change the fact that being British here is a major advantage and one I'm not averse to playing up to as and when necessary. But can't I have it both ways-no annoying questions and being able to get away with murder?

Anonymous said...

....maybe tell them that you won't answer any of their questions until they shout you a beer per question- and if any of the questions are dumb-arse ones that you'll up the toll to a pisco sour....that should get rid of them soon enough!

Oh! thanks for your compliment on my Ingrish...we try our best here in Straya.

Patricio

John Hyre said...

I get that all the time, pretty much everywhere, even here in the States, I have Northern European features with Latin moreno shading, product of German, Spanish, Irish, English, Lebanese mix, in rough order of percentage, definitely a "mutt" (or "mongrel", for the less charitably inclined). In the vast, vast majority of cases, it is the benign curiosity of interested people. Leads to some fun conversation, when one is in the mood for such. I really do not see any sinister overtones to it. When asked in the States (rarer than it once was due to idiot political correctness), the context is invariably you are American first, but like most Americans, your people came from elsewhere....so,like, where & stuff? No harm there, very much the opposite.

John Hyre

Meredith said...

I've just moved here to Valpo a few months ago, teaching English (of course). Being blond and pale, I can't go five feet without "where you from," "what you name," etc. If I don't answer they call me cuica....but I've found that headphones solve the problem nicely. Beyond that, my terrible Spanish helps a bit.

Anyway I've enjoyed your blog, it's very informative, and would love to throw a link to it onto mine if you don't mind.

Matt said...

Patricio-pimping out my time...that's a fantastic idea...

John-it's frustrating here because it happens all the time and because it's actually an issue as Emily pointed out. It gets really boring hearing the same question every day from people you're just not interested in talking to. It'd be fine if it was Pampita asking me. But it never is.

Meredith-I think it's quite a lot worse for foreign girls. You guys get filthy comments to go along with the simply boring 'where you from?' (or at least the 'where you from?' usually has another purpose when coming from a guy to a foreign girl). That kind of unwanted comment I fortunately don't have to put up with. I just get giggling school girls and their middle aged mothers following me around the supermarket...but at least they don't talk to me..!

Matt said...

Meredith-by the way, I really enjoyed your blog, there are some great stories and beautiful descriptions on there. I've added it to my Bloggers in Chile list. I keep my Chile blog links there, not on this blog as the list is quite long.

Meredith said...

Thanks! I'll have to look at the other blogs on the list.

Barbaridad said...

so you get stalked by school girls? now that's a sign, dear. probably you're not as old as you think you are ;)

Matt said...

It's the mothers stalking me, not the school girls.