I’ve been living in Los Angeles since 1982. It’s my home and probably the love of my life. I sacrificed a lot to be able to live here. Among many other things, I sacrificed speaking my native language.
For the past 40 years, every conversation has started like this: Me: “Hello!” The other person: “Where are you from?”
I think it’s never asked in bad spirit, but it is a bit alarming.
More alarming when I say “Austria” and get a blank stare back. Or I’m asked about the kangaroos. People often confuse Austria with Australia.
I’ve changed my introduction now to “I’m from Vienna, the capital of Austria, in Europe.” My new acquaintance nods unconvincingly and asks me another question. “What language do you speak there?”
“What language? Saheli!” I answer.
A stunned look on my vis-à-vis face: “Really?”
I take pity.
“No, not really. We speak German. A little bit different than the Germans, but we read and write the same language. German.”
I have wondered for the last almost 40 years why there is so little knowledge of other countries, of other languages, of different cultures?
Los Angeles is a melting pot of races and societies. Nobody’s ancestors were born here. Some came on the Mayflower; some came on foot; others had the luxury of arriving here with a stack of money to open a business.
The question “Where are you from?” has many undertones.
Sometimes, I refuse to hear them.
Sometimes they amuse me.
On a good day, I might be in the mood to tease the asker with my answer.
But the question is always there.
And it amplifies that I’m a foreigner, and the asker is unsure how they may feel about it.
Now, as a hypnotherapist and coach, I’ve turned the “dis-ease” of being a person who was not American-born into an advantage.
Yes, I’m from Vienna. Yes, that’s the city where Dr. Sigmund Freud was from and many other world-renowned psychologists. Yes, this is where I am from, I say with pride.
We’re all different; somewhat flawed, but above all, human.
Let’s embrace the human race and the humanity in all of us. No matter, where we’re born.