Where Are You From?
The four words that send a chill up adoptees' spines—or at least mine.
I should clarify that I am of “Asian” descent, adopted into a white family and brought up in the U.K. Looking different to my sisters who were born to my adoptive parents led to many similar types of questions, which will be covered in future articles.
But, back to the questioner who presumably thinks the dreaded question is to break the ice. They probably innocently think they’re being polite and showing interest in another human, but little do they know that they’re about to accuse me of lying and question the identity of someone they have just met. I mean, we all know—because we all do it—that within seconds they’ve already put me in a box and are just wishing to get confirmation.
Unfortunately for them, the lid to Pandora’s box is about to be lifted... We know differently. We know where this line of question is going to lead. We know what the next question is going to be, even if they don’t yet! We know the depth of the question and why the reflex to those four words will lead me to fire back: “Mind your own FUCKING BUSINESS YOU NOSY TWAT (NT)!”
However, it seems that social norms say this is an unacceptable first retort.
So, then, the inanely familiar game begins, depending on the time of day and one’s current mood, or the phase of the cosmos, determines on which path we go forth. Here’s a selection of possible scenarios, though we know (and have experienced) that there are many more….
Scenario 1: The Dumb-Arse-Non-Believer Questioner
NT: Hey, where are you from? Me: The U.K. NT: No, I mean, where are you really from? Me: I was born in the U.K. NT: But, I mean your heritage? (Hinting that they’ve cleverly noticed the higher tone of melanin in my skin) Me: I was actually adopted as a baby to white parents. NT: Ahhhh, so do you know your heritage? Me: My mother was from [country] and gave me up for adoption as a baby. NT: Ohhhh, that’s so interesting…
This now leads to either: 1. Have you ever met her?—Mind your own business! 2. Ahhh, so you’re [stated country]!—No, I’m British, I told you. 3. That’s so interesting. I’ve always wanted to go to [any country similar to stated country], what’s it like?—AAARRRGGGHHHH, FUCK OFF!
Scenario 2: The Sucker Story: A made-up story I use to amuse myself, usually when I’m going into my second or third “fuck-off” of the day)
NT: W.Y.F? Me: The U.K. NT: N.I.M.W.Y.R.F? Me: I’m not sure, I was adopted at birth. NT: And, you don’t know your heritage? Well, you look kind of dark-skinned, so you’re probably [insert country here—relevant or not]. (Thanks for that, as if I didn’t notice/know already) Me: Well, I was found in a basket on a church door step. NT: Awwww...that’s really sad (head slightly tilted in mock sympathy). But, at least you were adopted/saved/rescued. Do you know anything about your parents? Me: I have some newspaper clippings. NT: OMG! Really? That’s so sad, not knowing where you’re really from. Me: FUCK OFF!
Scenario 3: Full Moon Version
NT: W.Y.F? Me: FUCK OFF, YOU FUCKING NOSY TWAT!
Scenario 4: The Believer NT: W.Y.F? Me: The U.K. NT: Ahhh, where in the U.K.?
(There we go… Take my word for it, if we say we’re from Timbuktu, we probably are!!)
I’ve wrestled with this for many years. Why does it create, at minimum, 1000 emotions ranging from rage or embarrassment to bewilderment (and many others in between) and why is my answer to their question still not believed?
We all feel the need to find a box to put people in; however, only when these NT questioners have received the answer they’re after, do they feel comfortable to continue a no longer wanted conversation. I think most of us (adoptees, especially) are the same.
However, if I ask the question to most people, and the reply is “America,” for example, guess what? I believe them. I don’t question whether their great, great, even greater grandparents came over on the Mayflower and declare that really, therefore, they are actually European and should be treated as such.
If I give a response other than the one they want or that doesn’t fit their pre-designed box, why am I the one who feels uncomfortable? I don’t want to have to go into my adoption story, or my history, with a stranger. It’s personal. After all, it’s my story. Why should I have to bear the weight of unburdening someone else’s need to put me in the right box?