11 August 2017

"Where are you originally from?"

"Where are you originally from?" I didn't realize how this question could be so ignorant and borderline racist. I heard this asked in public in a conversation I overheard, and it actually made me think.

See, I was in Antwerp a couple of months ago. I was in an Indonesian restaurant, and I was dining by myself. Behind me, there was a group of 4 diners, and one of the waiters in the Indonesian restaurant happened to be black. These diners asked the waiter, "Where are you originally from?"

At the very least, that shows their ignorance. I mean, hello, don't you know that there are black people in Europe? Don't you know that Belgium used to have colonies in Africa, and there's a high chance that descendants of these people eventually immigrated to Europe at some point? So is it really surprising to see a black person who speaks perfect Dutch and English in Belgium?

The waiter responded, and told the diners that she was from Rwanda. It probably would have been nicer if she was indeed local. And really, I think she was just being nice, because she was young, young enough and fluent in Dutch and English that it was more probable that her parents were the ones who immigrated from Rwanda, while the waiter herself was born and raised in Belgium.

This episode happens so many times in other parts of the world too. You know, Asian Americans who were born and raised in North America, getting asked "Where are you from? No, really, where are you really from?"

Some people just cannot grasp the reality that some countries can be multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. And no, not all Europeans are white. Nor are Americans for that matter.


  1. If the diner is Indonesian, I could relate to her/his question.
    We are not multicultural country. not everybody speak fluent foreign language.
    It is always a "big thing" if...say, a white male speak fluent Indonesia even local dialect :D
    Turn out the male is a mix race who was born and raise in Jakarta

    1. Ceritasikiky,

      I don't want to make a big deal with respect to where the person who asked the question came from, but I can definitely tell you it was asked by someone from a very mono-cultural country. The diner asked the question in English, but the diner's native language is something I also understand and speak fluently. And I am not even mentioning the conversation that ensued after that question was posed to the waiter.

      Speaking of Indonesia, I disagree with the statement that Indonesia is not a multicultural country. There are plenty of ethnic groups native to Indonesia, from a language perspective alone, there are more than 700 languages spoken in Indonesia, and that makes for a very multi-ethnic mix I must say. Being multicultural doesn't only mean being a melting pot of multiple non-European cultures in a European location.