Why are people in the UAE obsessed with where you’re from?

I would really like to know

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Photo Credit: https://vsco.co/achowba/gallery

I don’t know if this is a mutlicultural city thing where people know they’re mixed with people from different places so they tend to ask this all the time, but I find it very weird and uncomfortable that if you meet someone in the UAE for the first time, regardless of the scene/setting, with the first three questions you will definitely be asked, “So where are you from?”

The weirdest part for me is, I’ve never met or seen someone for the first time and thought “Damn, I need to know where you’re from”.

What do you people do with this information?

I remember my first set of conversations with people when I moved to Dubai, and everyone without fail asked me “So where are you from?”, and every time I looked dumbfounded for a few seconds wondering why would you want to know this before I responded “Nigeria”.

The silliest part is answering the question and then getting the oddest responses from them trying to relate some part of their life with where you’re from to keep the conversation going, “Oh, my colleague’s sister’s mother’s child knew someone that live beside Nigeria”. Sigh.

I really don’t want to think it’s “just for conversation”, because there are a million other things you could ask, I mean, use the setting and be creative. I think it’s a little more than more than that though, so let’s explore a few options:

  1. To figure out their tribe? If I’m being honest, I don’t really think it’s this because the people that ask me this question are not usually black, but I can understand it if a black person is asking this question to maybe figure out who’s “their people”, but again, it’s still just an odd question to ask. I was at the gym today and this black guy walked up to a trainer and I watched how he said “hello, so where are you from?” before he proceeded to even try to make conversation. Definitely weird behavior.
  2. To size people up? Do I need to explain this? I think you get it. Plus, I wonder if people ask so they can align whatever bias and prejudice they’ve cooked up.
  3. There’s indeed very little to talk about? Maybe it’s this, maybe people just don’t know what to bring up in conversation and that’s why they ask the question to see where it goes.

Anyways, here are few other really great alternatives:

  • Do you do crack? (Drugs aren’t allowed in the UAE so this is clearly a joke)
  • Is your wife cheating on you?
  • Have you ever been arrested?

PS: Maybe I’m overthinking it, it could really be innocent. Another part of me wonders if I find the question weird because I’m Nigerian, and Nigeria has such a bad reputation internationally, hence, my hestiation to be affiliated with it. Nonetheless I still think the question is weird and unnecessary, and there are a plethora of alternatives.

Written by

I complain about things (I care about) // Software engineer // Currently building Selar.co // douglas@selar.co

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