What questions do you ask when you meet new people? What makes people ask you “Where are you from?” at a party, before they even engage in a meaningful conversation with you? Is it a genuine interest in your origins or is it a compulsive search for a label they need to put on you as if to place you as a pin on a mental map, before they can talk to the real you. Not everybody can get as far though…
So many times the people who do this, immediately carry on rumbling through their collage of broken memories and bits of information they gathered along their lives, that relate to the place you named.
More often than not, the main label you get will attract a string of other labels and interpretations of geographical, historical, political or sociological facts related to the place in question, maybe even unrelated to your person at all.
Sometimes you get the people who just like to exhibit how knowledgeable they are about your place, other times you get those who, under the influence of a more subdued ego, will want to show how interested they are in various aspects of your place, by asking you lots of questions about it, in an eagerness to talk to you about something… anything, to start with.
Your interest in these conversations is insignificant – at this stage nobody stops to ask themselves if you actually want to carry out a dialogue on this subject. You feel trapped by feelings of politeness. You either acquiesce half-willingly to a few minutes of a dead-end conversation, or simply give them a chance to shine in their own monologue on a theme that you know it won’t advance your knowledge or your present feeling of well-being. Sometimes you rationalise your generosity with those minutes of your life by convincing yourself that it actually makes the other person a little bit happier in the process. But does it really?
I’m at a stage in my life when, having established within my system that I don’t actually have to go through this every time someone is puzzled by my accent and can find no other way to deal with it than to ask the inevitable, unsolicited, unimaginative and utterly boring question ‘Where are you from?’, I’m facing the dilemma of which card should I play in response, from my handful of possibilities…
Should I choose the weakest link and tell them the straight answer and then let them have their little ego-boosting monologue? Should I turn that monologue into a dialogue? In this case, we’d be there, talking about something I’d rather forget … until the early hours of the morning, given my predisposition for in-depth discussions!
Should I play my Joker, by telling them I’m from Planet Earth and ask the innocent yet rhetorical question in return – ‘And you?’
Should I play the loser, insignificant card, indicating that I’d rather talk about more interesting things? A stronger card perhaps – ‘Who cares about that, anyway?...’
If I happen to have an equally strong retaliating card in my hand, something on the line of ‘You tell me about yourself first!’ I may play it, although this would invite an equally boring twin monologue, which would rob me of the following minutes anyway. This also implies that I’m volunteering those minutes away!
A two-edged, more disarming card would be ‘What? Do you want to label me already?’, but one never knows if the response to this would in fact be an expected retrieving reaction, or an even more offensive one, leading the conversation into unexpected, murky avenues…
If I didn’t possess any card in my hand, in line with the same suit, I would just venture a different suit altogether, in which case I’d rather play the strongest one in hand: ‘I’m a Hungarian princess, who lost all connections with my family during years of historical turmoil, but I’m in the process of writing my family tree, so leave your email address with me and I’ll notify you of future discoveries’.
My trumps card though – the one that wins them all – the one I never had the guts to play so far… goes like this: ‘I don’t know!’ and I would allow myself to secretly rejoice in the moment of puzzled confusion this would bring about unexpectedly, before I’d continue… ‘You see, my house burnt down in an accident a few years ago and I suffered this terrible amnesia with regard to my origin… and sadly, nobody can help me put the pieces together, as all the related paperwork was lost in the process. Anything else you’d be interested in talking about?’