Tuesday 22 February 2011

Where are you from?

Anywhere in the world you go, one of the first ice-breaking questions you're asked upon meeting someone is "where are you from?" well in the case of a lot of Algerian it’s the Ice-maker not the ice-breaker.

Algerians are a VERY proud nation (a little too proud if you ask me) and are very proud of being Algerian but due to recent events, social unrest, tainted picture of terrorist related activities and islamophobia that is spreading like the plague, some Algerians are more reticent about admitting their nationality openly or without hesitation and a close study of the reaction of the interlocutor.

Apart from the tainted image we Algerians have been left to deal with after the black decade of terrorism and civil unrest we lived through and have been renowned for, in London I noticed there are other reasons for this, the large number of Algerian over-stayers or illegally residing in the UK are shy about presenting their Nationality as and when asked.
How many times I found myself dancing Salsa with an Algerian (How did I know he is Algerian? its like asking if the sky is blue) who when I return the Nationality question to him, says he’s from Portugal and that his name is Maurice only to confess he’s actually Algerian when I say casually “me? I am Algerian” so Maurice do you speak Portuguese? No? OH really well I never….

At least lie about a Nationality you have some knoweldge of, like maybe the geographical location or a few words to save your life. 
Maurice: Si si Grazie Senorita
Me: Maurice, thats Italian...

Question: Why does Maurice, Tony, Pascal (swapping their Arabic names for European ones) and co ask people where they are from, if they can’t handle the question being returned to them.

I am so bored with this question, I am so over it in fact we need a new ice-breaker and no “what’s your name” wont do…we need to come up with something new.

Sitting at a restaurant once, my friend asked our waitress where she was from, whilst I was rolling my eyes at the question, the waitress sheepishly says “I am polish, sorry”

This shocked me to my core…people are now apologising for being here, for being born? Of course I felt so bad; I was extra nice to her and tipped her like Charles Bronson would.

Certain Nationalities have a bad reputation or are usually misrepresented, thank you to the BBC and The Evening Standard for convincing the very naïve UK audiences that we (foreigners) are here to take their jobs, their men and their money.

I will always remember the puzzled looks I get when I freely and casually drop the bomb that is my Nationality on people, some give me sad looks, some give me half smiles and some are so daunted by the revelation they start stuttering silly questions like, so what language do you speak there? I dutifully inform them that we speak Chinese and that we are located near Guantanamo Bay as it’s very convenient for us to visit our relatives. Do you practice Islam there? No we practice Islam anywhere. YOU?

I will continue actively discouraging people from asking this question and will from here on ignore it unless I am feeling generous or am at the Air Algerie boarding gate where words are unnecessary,
This question should be considered rude and categorised with the likes of how old are you and what size are your trousers! Hello????


  1. absolutely and 100% true, i find this question bit rude while others say why we can not ask you where 'r you from?, i just dont like the question, not sure while reading your blog i was laughing out loud, keep us smiling


  2. It has to be said that after the 0-0 against England in the world cup and the few footballers playing in the UK, Algeria is now less frequently confused with our african psudo-homonym, and less assimilated to a black (geographical) hole in North Africa, so we've become more confident about reveling our (true) origin...but, we might still need a (preferably, a peaceful) revolution to stick, once and for all, the country name in the book of modern history (and geography) ;)

  3. Good point Ikosiom, the recent world cup "win" against England has definitely put us on the map.

    I am curious, did you ever get "but you're white? are you sure you're from Nigeria"

  4. I would say that the gradual recognition of dz has gone through different phases, epitomised by the stereotypes and the types of questions asked:

    1) "You have a very exotic country. In fact, I was in Abuja last summer, but tell me how come you're white?
    2) "You're part of France, right?"
    3) "In north Africa? I know Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, but I can't visualise your country on the map?"
    4) "I never thought that arabs could have a fair skin like mine! are you a minority in your country. And you're wearing jeans as well!"
    5) "I heard that they've stopped the elections and that the country is under the control of the army. It must be terrible to live in an authoritarian regime. You must be glad to be free here?"
    6) "Are you a political asylum seeker? have you been tortured? I really feel sorry for your country"
    7) "So do you know Zidane?"
    8) "Do you know Finsbury Park? I heard there is a large community of Algerians..oh, can you explain to me why they make that funny noise when a lady passes by? and why the same people pray on the streets?"
    9) "You murderous terros, get out of here!"
    10) "Are you algerian/algerian, or algerian/french?"
    11) "Are you illegal in this country?"
    12) "I know an algerian who works in as a chef, do you want to me to introduce you to him?"
    13) "My friend got to know this Algerian bloke, and he wanted to marry her after their third date, and she said yes! Are you all that serious in relationships?"
    14) "oh, I work in the City and I have a colleague of mine who's Algerian too...I had another one in University, but he was a weirdo"
    15) "I hate you! you ruined us....since when do you know how to play football?"
    16) "Errr!, you remember that friend I told you about, well he run away from her after three years of life together. What's your problem with women?"
    17) "Ah, you're from Algeria...so are you next?"

    I must have skipped few episodes, but I hope that I haven't missed anything important ;)

  5. Very amusing and true indeed :) I think I must have heard most of these first hand!!
    He left her after 3 years! Lol wonder why!
    I know an Algerian guy, he's a chef! Really!!! What a surprise!
    Thanks Ikosium you made me laugh.

  6. Very funny. But hey, generalisations only become generalisations because they can be applied to people from a certain group GENERALLY!

    Ps, DZ-Chick, you felt sorry for Polish waitress? May I remind you of your earlier blog, Polish Girls - Know your enemy!

  7. yesterday I went to an Italian sandwitch bar for lunch, an Indian girl served me...
    me: Can I have some pasta please?
    Girl: vegetarian or chicken pasta?
    me: vegetarian please.
    girl (out of the blue): where are u from?
    me (surprised): Algerian
    girl(straighaway): did u want some sause on the pasta?
    me (with a f**k-off look): yes pls
    girls: with salad and drink thats £6.75, thank you, bye.

  8. I'm not sure if this will be a consolation to you or not, but.... I'm originally from Canada, despite having been here for ages, I get very similar questions and reactions.

  9. Hehehe! Loved Isokium's list!
    I live in Dubai...and though most arabs here are more familiar with Algeria...I still get that a lot from Foreigners! Especially from some asians (no offense cause I dont usually like to stereotype..) I keep getting the: Aleria is in Africa?? How come you're not black? Sigh!

    Love your sarcasm in your answers DZ-Chick...However...my Djazayrriya pride is still very strong...hence, I do not mind at all getting the 'where are you from' question! Au contraire! I despise those 'portuguese wannabes'wtf?? Yes, I'm Algerian, its the biggest country in Africa (to be!) Ok, our government is fucked up... but whose isnt?
    Plus...usually people are very surprised cause I dont look like the typical algerian (however she may look!) so its always entertaining...

  10. Anonymous 1: Yes I realised the irony ...I felt sorry for the polisgh waitress...I do have a heart :P

    Delboy - All in your head mate

    Formosa - It does make me feel better yes...do you ever return the questions? did you ever feel the same about someones nationality or origin?

    Yasmine - Tant mieux :) and yes Ikosioms list is brilliant.

  11. Although I've been living in another country (far North) for many years, I still get that question too and it pisses me off.
    Sometimes I just ignore the question or ask the person (mostly women) the same question : And you where are you from?

  12. I am like Jasmine Algerian living in Dubai.. not @ all finding this question odd or rude.. in the contrary… still wanna people ask me where r am I from and in return enjoy asking the same just for curiosity and to get more knowledge about other cultures  still proud telling others where am I from although I hear the same stupid shits like: really!! ‘’Woow.. why you r white?’’ Or ‘’ Nigeria is exotic country..’’
    But hey.. we cannot blame people coz of their limited knowledge..

  13. LOL
    I was in Abacus (Thursday) and someone asked where are you from?
    to which I proudly replied Algeria (perhaps also comfortable it will not play to my disadvantage as lots of other things more than make up for the bad reputation).
    They then went on: Big surprised face, then big smile, then "Wow or Oh" then asked "How is Algeria?" can you imagine?
    like "how is the USA?", surely that would have been considered Boratty! I guess you can say "How is Algeria?" is bloody chavvy.
    They were very friendly though, I just politely replied "Good, we managed to draw against England in the World Cup"
    Great night though

  14. @Dz chick, you really had an issue with Polish ladies, haven't you ?;) I want to clarify for you, and perhaps support my country fellow, although I wasn't there with you to see this particular situation. It's all about Polish syntax. I guess she was mistaken by your friend, perhaps he though she is Czech or whatever ( Eastern Europe anyway). I guess she wanted to make point blank she is Polish not any other nationality and it's simply just a crib from Polish language. World "sorry" can be added on the end of the sentence to highlight and reinforce meaning, diffrent from expected. This is how I would explain it. Although I am just guessing but she wasn't fluent in English by the time. At least I hope so:)

  15. Irulana: I think you're the one who hasn't gotten over the Polish nemessis thing! I was being nice about the Polish waitress no!! or did you read something I didn't write!

  16. Hi DZ-Chick,

    I came across your blog while searching for Salsa in Algiers.

    I realize that you now live in London, but I thought I would ask if you know of any good clubs for social dancing in Algiers?

    Any other dance styles or dance schools (Swing, Tango, Kizomba ) ?

    I run a website dedicated to connecting people with dance locations when they travel. Any info you could give me would be really helpful.

    John Hawkins
    Bailaqui: find people and places to dance around the world

  17. Hi John,

    This may help you : http://fr-fr.connect.facebook.com/events/116963205073441/

  18. @DZ-Chick, mea culpa......I oftentimes ask this question.

    It is an ice breaker but also an opportunity to gain knowledge.
    I have, on various occasions, asked people where they were from orginally and subsequently enquired about their culture. It feeds my curiosity.
    I get asked at least 3 times a week where I am from...I certainly oblige: well I am French-Algerian, 'so you are mixed', no both my parents are Algerians and I was born in France, 'so you're French?' no I am 100% Algerian but I am a French citizen!
    Most British people are incapable of locating Algeria on a map of the world so I have to explain that we are actually the biggest country in Africa since Sudan's split, that we are located between Morocco & Tunisia and share borders with Lybia, Mauritania, Mali and Niger. We are Arabs (very diluted but claim so to pretend to be descendents of the Prophet pbuh) and Berbers, we practice Islam (in our own way) and let's not forget we have an execrable temper but at least what you see is actually what you get (well not always, thinking of it!)
    Ultimately we are all from the same place, planet earth and belong to one race, the human one!

    'I am Polish sorry'....they are so used to hearing that they have invaded the UK that they are apologetic about it. I like Polish folks, they have morals and are hard-working so they should be thankful not to be Alg....restricted by their passport. Welcome to the EU!

    DZ great post....ha ha I LOVE the 'we speak Chinese and we are located near Guantanamo Bay' although I am sure there are a few Algerians residing in that region! 'We practice Islam everywhere' what a punch line!
    Asking for the provenance of a person is not as pertinent as asking 'what boxer short size do you wear?'

    Yes Algerians are way too proud and I am confused at to why, I am still trying to figure it out. in the meantime I remain ignorantly proud.

  19. I omitted to mention something, how proud can some Algerians be when they pretend to be something else?
    I came across a 'Maurice' when I first arrived in this country, he was clearly Algerian but claimed to be Italian. He was unaware of my ethnicity, I laughed in his face and exposed him, he denied it until I revealed that I was Algerian too. He was extremely embarassed but not as embarassed as I was for him. I am sure it is a harraga technique to lure women to believe they are Europeans and once the women are in love with their pathetic selves, they can reveal their true identity, marry and get a legal status in this country. Not cool Raoul!


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