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  • Forfatterens bildeRebekah Olson

Hey, where are you from?

How we politely ask questions about a person’s nationality and home.



Preface


Remember that when we want to learn where someone comes from, it’s important to first think about whether or not that question might come across as offensive [meaning: rude, inappropriate, impolite, hurtful].


For some people, nationality can be a sensitive topic and we want to be respectful of others as much as possible, whenever possible.


Here's some example of people who might not want to answer this question:

  1. Some people might not feel a strong identity with one specific place in the world

  2. Some people might not want you to think of their home country when you think of them

  3. Some people might think you are implying they don't belong here

  4. It may seem that you are telling them they look so different that you knew they weren't from here

  5. Some people may just miss their home and find it sad to talk about

Some people though are very proud of where they come from, of their hometown, home city, home state, or home country. These people will probably be very happy to share information with you about where they come from.


Indeed, if you ask my partner, he'll tell you I talk too much about my home.


So, while we cannot always directly ask someone, “hey, where are you from?”, there are some situations where asking this question is socially acceptable and even welcomed.


For example:

  1. You're at a work conference, with people from all over the world

    1. It is assumed that everyone is from somewhere else

    2. So, we can ask, “where are you from?”

  2. You have a new coworker at work

    1. There is a high chance they've just moved here

    2. So, you can ask, “are you from around here?”

  3. You are in one country, and taking a class for the language of another country

    1. If your teacher is a native speaker, you can assume they are not from here

    2. So, you can ask, "where in are you from originally?"


And when someone seems open to talking about their home country, or home city, we can start asking more detailed questions about where they’re from.


Let’s take a look at some ways we can talk about where people come from, below!


 

Geography


North, south, east, west, northern, southern, eastern, western

  1. Are you originally from the northeast?

    1. Yes, I’m from Boston, Massachusetts in New England.

  2. Is your home south of here?

    1. No actually, my home is about 20 miles north of here.

  3. Do you come from western Europe?

    1. Originally, I grew up in eastern Europe, but we moved to the west when I was 10.

  4. Are you from southern France?

    1. No, I’m from the north.


Proximity / distance

Far from, around here, near, close to, a long (time to get somewhere)

  1. Are you from around here?

    1. Yes, I grew up very close to here.

  2. Does it take you very long to get back home?

    1. No, my home is only about four hours away by car.

  3. Is that near England?

    1. No, Japan is quite far from England.


Language

National language, speak, language, spoken, native language

  1. What is your country’s national language?

    1. Where I’m from, everyone speaks French.

  2. What are your native languages?

    1. In my home country, we speak Spanish and Portuguese.

  3. What languages are spoken in your country?

    1. We mostly speak Bulgarian, but when I was growing up, we all learned German in school. Now, students all learn English instead.

Currency

On the / use the + euro, dollar, ruble, kroner, peso

  1. Is your country on the euro?

    1. No, Norway is on the kroner.

  2. What is the currency of your country?

    1. In Mexico, we use the peso.


Political systems

Monarchy, democracy, parliament, president, chancellor, prime minister

  1. Does your country still have a monarchy?

    1. Yes, in England, we have a queen.

  2. Who is the president of your country?

    1. We don’t have a president here, but our Prime Minister is Mr. Smith.

  3. What is your country’s political system?

    1. I’m from Canada, which is a parliamentary democracy.


Landscape / scenery

Lakes, mountainous, flat, hilly, on the coast, on the ocean, near the sea, green, forested

  1. Are there lots of lakes where you come from?

    1. No, but because we are right on the ocean, we get to swim often in the sea.

  2. Is it very mountainous in your home country?

    1. No, the Netherlands is very flat, which is perfect for biking but not great for hiking.

  3. Is it very forested back in your home state?

    1. Yes, we have many trees that are green all year round.


Landmarks / fame

Monuments, famous for, known for, skyscrapers, a waterfall, a mountain

  1. What is your country famous for?

    1. My country is known for its writers, poets, and philosophers.

  2. Does your country have skyscrapers?

    1. No, but we have the Eiffel Tower, which is our favorite monument.

  3. Is your country where Mt. Kilimanjaro is located?

    1. No, but Victoria Falls is in my country, and that’s one of the world’s largest waterfalls.


Weather / climate

Sunny, rainy, cloudy, hot, cold, dry, arid, humid, wet, desert, rainforest, tropical, seasonal, temperate

  1. What’s the weather usually like where you’re from?

    1. Oh, it’s always sunny in my home state.

  2. Is it very humid where you come from?

    1. Yes, it rains all the time back home.

  3. Is it very cold where you’re from?

    1. No, I’m from a desert, so it’s very hot and arid.

  4. Does your home country get all four seasons?

    1. No, I am from a temperate climate, so we do not have much variation in weather or temperature from season to season.


 

Sample Dialogue


Mike and Emily just met at a work conference in New York. Here's how their conversation might go:


Mike: Hi, I'm Mike.


Emily: It's nice to meet you, Mike. I'm Emily. Are you enjoying the conference so far?


Mike: I'm not sure, because I'm actually really tired. My flight to get here took so long.


Emily: Oh? Are you from very far away, then?


Mike: Yeah, I'm from Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.


Emily: Oh, wow! I've never been to Scandinavia before, what's it like there?


Mike: Actually, the Netherlands isn't part of Scandinavia, but we are very close to Denmark, and not too far away from Sweden or Norway. It's very beautiful there because we are right on the sea.


Emily: That sounds lovely. Is it also very mountainous?


Mike: No, the Netherlands is really flat, which is nice because we bike everywhere. What about you, are you from here?


Emily: No, I'm from Portland, Oregon, over on the west coast. It's really forested and beautiful, too. But it rains a lot.


Mike: We have that in common then, because it rains a lot in Amsterdam, too!


Emily: Oh, then maybe I won't visit Amsterdam, after all!


 

There are lots of ways to learn about a person's home. Next time you meet someone new, why not try asking them more about where they're from - you might just make a new friend or discover a new place to go visit 🙂


My home: the Pacific Northwest

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