I've gotten good at politely avoiding these people: "Sorry, not interested." Every so often they get pushy, and I'll explain to them that I prefer not to conduct business transactions on the street. But I try not to say too much. Because frequently, whenever I so much as open my mouth, they jump on my accent.
"Where you are from?"
I think they're trying to be friendly, to get me talking, perhaps willing to donate (or even entertain them while they stand on the street, probably bored out of their minds). But this question has the exact opposite effect. I'll mumble something hurriedly (the other day it was, "Here, I'm from Bristol.") and leave as quickly as possible.
I HATE being asked where I'm from.
And I should say, this doesn't just happen with charity workers. I get it from the supermarket, from people at the bus stop, from cafes. Everywhere I go, I get asked "Where are you from?"
I don't mind so much when it's part of a conversation. But if it's out of the blue, to me it's the equivalent of saying, "You're not from around here. You don't belong." Because, obviously, they're not asking the people with British accents "Where are you from?" I don't mind the question as a tourist, but as someone who's lived in Bristol for four years, I resent being told I don't belong. I can only imagine how annoying this is after twenty years.
Growing up, I was told never to ask where someone's from. I was taught that even if someone has a different skin color to mine, or a different accent, they can still be American. Maybe that's not so much of a British sensibility.
But perhaps I'm being too sensitive. I truly don't think these people mean to be nasty or exclusive. At best, they're curious. Perhaps I just don't like being asked personal questions on the street.
Because minutes later, I went into my favorite deli (Chandos! Love them!), and the two guys behind the counter were debating whether Matt Damon would run for US President. I placed my order, and then one of the guys, one I've chatted with before, asked, "Hey, where are you from again?" and I didn't resent it at all. He wanted to include me in the conversation, get the American perspective on whether Matt Damon would run (uhhh... no).
The funny thing is, I love talking about where I'm from. I love discussing Chicago, snowy winters, the Great Lakes, US politics, American food...
All of this made me wonder whether maybe I need a new "Where are you from?" policy.
Perhaps I should be less prickly and say, Chicago, or Michigan, or the US.
Or perhaps I should take the opportunity to let them know that I find the question upsetting, and I wish they wouldn't ask it, because it implies that people with different accents can't belong here.
More than likely, I'll just glare, mumble "Here," and hurry away again.
What do you think? Is it a fair question? How would you answer it?