So, What Are You?

Hello good people of the Internet,

Ah the what are you question. Anyone who is mixed or is ethnically ambiguous has heard this question.

I’ve seen countless videos on YouTube regarding this topic and often, the mixed person feels unhappy or offended. It seems this stems from the feeling of… Oh you don’t look like you’re from here, so clearly you aren’t, therefore I demand to know what you are so that I can validate my own opinion.

A lot of people like me have struggled and/or experienced an identity crisis, I haven’t, so I may not be qualified discussing this topic, but I can provide an alternative point of view.

Do I feel offended by the question?

Nope (unless the person is intentionally trying to offend me or is incredibly ignorant that it’s offensive).

To be honest, I don’t mind if someone asks me this question. Or thinks that I’m not a local. If you’ve read my previous post on What It’s Like Always Being The Foreigner, you know that I’ve never felt a belonging to one place. This might be why I don’t feel offended. Because, I, myself don’t feel like I’m from this place.

I think those of us who are mixed can sometimes be sensitive and defensive (there is a reason). Many have experienced difficulties fitting in, laughed at for their ‘foreign’ food, being neither here nor there – so there no solidarity group to defend you if there is a racial comment directed towards you, so I get it. For those of you who have asked this question and have received an irritated/upset response from the person you are talking to…chill out, you don’t know what they’ve experienced or what memories they are carrying. Their reaction is not about you. It’s an accumulation of past experiences. I do agree that if you are from a country and you are consistently asked what you are and where you’re from. You feel you are treated as an outsider. Us humans are social creatures, we crave belonging, so when we feel we are denied this… Of course we are going to be upset. Try to understand and remember, if a mixed person appears to overreact to ‘simple’ question/comment…. It’s not about you.

I thought it would be fun to tell you guys some funny interactions I’ve had with strangers.

15 years old. Airport: I was with my Mum at at airport on the way to Taiwan and this man approached us and began a conversation. Then suddenly, he looks at me very seriously and goes, ‘No offence, but are you Russian?‘. I said no, and he asked… ‘so what are you?

(a) That was super weird.
(b) Why is it offensive to be Russian? Maybe he was referring to the potential of being wrong, who knows.

~20 years old, sitting alone: I was sitting outside my lecture room squeezing some some report writing and I noticed one university staff walking past me, with his head turned in my direction. He walked back, glanced at me again. Walked past me a third time, and just before he disappeared behind the wall he jumped back and said ‘excuse me, but are you from Kazakhstan?‘…. ‘Nope’ I say… ‘So, where are you from‘.

My life: 

Them: You look kinda Asian. What are you?
Me: Taiwanese/New Zealander.
Them: [insert opinion about my face and proceeds to tell me all about my culture and their travels. Bonus points if its related to New Zealand or Taiwan and not some other East Asian country.]

Them: Did you know you looked mixed race?
Me: Really? *sarcasm*

Them: [Finds out I’m mixed]. Do you know [insert other mixed race person name].

Them: So what are you?
Me: Taiwanese/New Zealander.
Them: No you’re not. You look more like [insert what they think I look like] 
Me: oooooooook.

Anyway that’s it for today. Have you guys any any funny, weird, different interactions with strangers? I’d love to hear them!



11 Comments Add yours

  1. A pizza delivery guy once asked me if I was Polish. I said no and he looked disappointed. I wasn’t offended…
    I find this bizarre because I don’t think I’ve ever asked someone what they are… That seems rude! I think I’ve only found this information about my friends when it has come up naturally in conversation.
    Also, I’m asked all the time where I’m from because my accent here marks me as different. I’m also not offended by this.
    Interesting read, as ever!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Gem! Yeah it can be a bit awkward. Sometimes you can just tell that the person wants to ask you something but is holding back hahah.

      Yes! The accent! I get the accent thing too, it really throws people. Although, from your accent I thought it was clear that you’re Scottish?

      It’s so funny how that pizza guy looked disappointed. Maybe he had a follow up question in case you said yes? Was he Polish and looking for a friend? You’re right though, it’s never really the first question that I ask when meeting someone new, it just comes up with friends mostly. But if you look like me and have a foreign accent, I suppose people can’t help themselves haha.

      Thanks for reading! 😀


      1. I think people wonder if I’m Scottish or Irish and so rather than risk offending (which I wouldn’t be) they just ask where I’m from. And then proceed to ask me if I know Joe Bloggs from Inverurie 😂
        I reckon the pizza guy was Polish and looking for a friend. This would have been around 2004 when Polish people were being encouraged to emigrate to the UK so it’s possible I guess that his community was quite small.

        I guess you’re right, people can’t help themselves! As long as they ask politely it’s okay to be curious though, right?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, I agree. For me it’s all about the intention. If you’re just curious, please just ask away!!! But if you are being a horrible person, then that’s a different story. But in that scenario, I’m not annoyed by the question, I’m annoyed by the attitude of the person.

          Ah I love how you’ve experienced people asking you if you another Scottish person hahah.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Jo Smith says:

    To be honest we are all humans and we all have different personalities. It seems weird to ask someone out of the blue what their nationalism is (at least to me)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! Exactly, we should be human first :). I think sometimes curiosity gets the better of people and they just have to ask.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I get this all the time and so does my husband and I think it so funny! I have had someone come and start talking Spanish to us and then get really mad when we tell them we don’t speak Spanish. We’re Italian and Irish for crying the night!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s amazing! It’s funny and weird how they got angry at you for a language you don’t speak (especially since you guys aren’t even Spanish). Haha this made my evening. Thank you for sharing this!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kinger says:

    Well, living in Taiwan as a foreigner I’m always ‘mei guo ren’, even though I’m not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yes, in Taiwan myself and my Dad got that a lot too. Basically, any white foreigner is American. There has been a recent change in TV dramas preferring ‘British’ characters, but they are almost never played by a British actor (or even someone who can do the accent). The last drama I saw, had someone with a European accent with clearly English as their second language playing British man. It was strange. How long have you been in Taiwan?

      Liked by 1 person

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