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“You’re not English, are you?” - parenting through it

(33 Posts)
ToddlerQuestions Mon 15-Feb-21 19:24:50

During various lockdowns I’ve been out with the toddler a lot durning the day and this dreaded question is asked, without warning, far more than I’d like and by complete strangers. Always catches me off-guard and I can’t say it leaves me feeling great. Sometimes it also comes up as “where are you really from?”, on the basis that I sound like a Brit but look different. We live in London so hardly a rarity.

Today was another example, toddler waved at a lady in the park, we got chatting (at a distance) and, on the back of some inane pleasantries about the warmer weather she suddenly asks “you’re not English, are you, looking at you?”. I did what I always do when this happens and calmly said “oh, actually we’d better get home”. (I say “always”, it’s happened 4 times in a year.) I don’t trust someone who thinks like this not to say something else weird in front of the toddler, nor do I want to keep talking to them myself.

The thing is, this time, once we left the toddler asked “wot’s English”? I doubt she really understood and I fobbed her off with a cookie because I didn’t know what to say. She is half English herself, but I feel like I need an age-appropriate way to explain this isn’t ok - what have others done, if anything? Or is there a better way to handle this in the moment? I just feel awful about the whole thing yet again and never want DD to feel “othered” the way I do myself over this as she gets older.

OP’s posts: |
NovemberR Mon 15-Feb-21 19:29:43

Really?

When I lived in London strangers never spoke to me.

I've never in my life said to someone You're not English are you? and never heard anyone else say that. Particularly not in London. Maybe you should just not talk to strangers.

Also, what does sound like a Brit mean? I don't know anyone who describes themselves as a 'Brit' and regional accents are very different.

ToddlerQuestions Mon 15-Feb-21 19:42:07

You’re right, I should have been clearer and what I meant is I don’t sound foreign, grew up in the Home Counties. And, yes, really. Which is why I’m at a loss with all this. Thanks for reading.

OP’s posts: |
MistleTOEboughski Mon 15-Feb-21 19:48:08

Why don't you just answer that you are English and were raised in the home counties. This question is rude, of courss, but it doesn't mean they have bad intentions. Maybe they are just nosy but friendly. Do you have an unusual look or accent? If so you could say something to explain that.

NatMoz Mon 15-Feb-21 19:57:13

When I used to work for a bank (phone based rather than face to face) I used to get quite a lot 'oh it's so nice to speak to someone English who knows what they're talking about, what's your name I must let your manager know'

At this point I would provide my incredibly eastern European sounding name that they couldn't spell and would ask me to repeat 3 times.

People are rude. People are stupid. People are narrow minded.

Sumwin1 Mon 15-Feb-21 20:04:00

I think you need to toughen up OP. Tell them when someone asks.... then Fire back and ask them the same question where are you from?

I’m always interested where people are from however it’s not in the same context as you have wrote I wouldn’t ask anybody in a park just like that.

Don’t take it personal... people build a picture in their heads.

I was born in UK so were my parents and I have had people asking if I speak other languages and ask me repeatedly where I am from too.

IrishMamaMia Mon 15-Feb-21 20:08:33

I'm so sorry that your experiencing this OP. It is awful, othering and old- fashioned. More and more people know this isn't the way to behave.
If it happened to me, I'd be tempted to say I'm English and gently try to find a way to make light of the fact that just because you might look different doesn't mean you aren't as English as they are. It is hard to come up with something like that on the spot though.

CeibaTree Mon 15-Feb-21 20:10:55

This is really bizarre that it keeps happening to you - where abouts in London are you when this happens?

JaninaDuszejko Mon 15-Feb-21 20:15:03

I would never ask that question, you can easily tell by accent if someone is British, but I've seen workmates get asked it a lot. It's bloody ignorant. I was in a meeting when my boss was asked it, it's very clear from his accent that he grew up locally whereas everyone white in the room was not English (Scottish, American, etc). I just laughed and said 'he's the most local person in the room' and nothing more was said. But that's me using my white privilege.

Might be worth asking the question in the Black Mumsnetters Section, they might be able to give you more help even if you're not black yourself.

Also, what does sound like a Brit mean? I don't know anyone who describes themselves as a 'Brit' and regional accents are very different.

If you have parents from different countries (e.g.one Scottish, one Irish, grew up in Wales) what other word accuratejy describes your nationality? There might not be a single British accent but it's easy to tell the difference in accents between e.g. 1st and 2nd generation immigrants and tell which grew up in Britain and which didn't.

laidbacklife Mon 15-Feb-21 20:19:09

What is the problem with the question? Is it the tone of voice rather than the actual words? If someone is genuinely curious about your background I’d say that normally has a positive connotation - ie. they like you as a person and want to find out more about you. But if you sense there is a negative tone in the way they ask you then that’s different. I’d be surprised to encounter this level of negativity though in such a multicultural city as London.

helpfulperson Mon 15-Feb-21 20:25:38

I'm sorry but typical MN responses of just deal with it show that people dont understand what it's like to have people questioning your right to be somewhere. I dont have direct experience of the race aspect but have spent my career defending that despite having tits I am the expert they were expecting.

Crackerofdoom Mon 15-Feb-21 20:39:49

laidbacklife

What is the problem with the question? Is it the tone of voice rather than the actual words? If someone is genuinely curious about your background I’d say that normally has a positive connotation - ie. they like you as a person and want to find out more about you. But if you sense there is a negative tone in the way they ask you then that’s different. I’d be surprised to encounter this level of negativity though in such a multicultural city as London.

I believe that the OP is not white and therefore, despite the fact that she has an English accent, people feel able to question her origins.

When we worked in Germany, DH was out for dinner with his boss who was born and bred in Germany but has Turkish parents. DH spoke very little German but the waiter kept asking him to translate because he didn't seem to be able to get his head round the fact that the guy with the darker skin spoke perfect German.

Some people are ignorant and some people are assholes.

I have lived abroad most of my adult life and people always ask where I am from but that is because I am clearly speaking a second or third language when I talk to them. It is not offensive to me but that is because I am not in my own country having my identity questioned.

My children are white but mixed nationalities. When asked they say they are English or Irish or British as they are all of these things. Your DD is the same.

Feel free to tell your daughter when someone is being a moron. Don't feel you have to apologise for or cover for other people's ignorance

grassisjeweled Mon 15-Feb-21 20:41:56

We need more context op.

2bazookas Mon 15-Feb-21 20:47:08

Just give them the hard eye and say "I'm from Hampshire " or wherever you were brought up, with no further explanation.

SavoyCabbage Mon 15-Feb-21 21:13:39

I've been an immigrant and I have to say I found it relentless constantly having to explain myself. People weren't trying to be awful but they did seem to think I owed them my story and also express my gratitude for being there.

I'm always mindful not to ask random people where they are from now.

bourbonne Mon 15-Feb-21 22:04:23

What about a cheery "What makes you say that?". Followed by "I grew up in Hampshire" and maybe "My parents moved here from X country" if you feel like it.

It seems to me that a pattern of immediately ending the conversation without answering the question might inadvertently convey to your daughter that there is something scary and shameful about it, about your origins.

I am sure it is tiresome, even if the other person thinks they are just making conversation.

Mamapep Tue 16-Feb-21 00:15:48

NovemberR

Really?

When I lived in London strangers never spoke to me.

I've never in my life said to someone You're not English are you? and never heard anyone else say that. Particularly not in London. Maybe you should just not talk to strangers.

Also, what does sound like a Brit mean? I don't know anyone who describes themselves as a 'Brit' and regional accents are very different.

I live in London and speak to strangers all the time, especially with my kid in the park. And my (non white but British) husband is asked similar questions on a regular-ish basis.

Mamapep Tue 16-Feb-21 00:24:57

laidbacklife

What is the problem with the question? Is it the tone of voice rather than the actual words? If someone is genuinely curious about your background I’d say that normally has a positive connotation - ie. they like you as a person and want to find out more about you. But if you sense there is a negative tone in the way they ask you then that’s different. I’d be surprised to encounter this level of negativity though in such a multicultural city as London.

The person asking the questions is saying that they are ‘not English’ when they were born here.
They might not mean it negatively and be genuinely interested but it implies the person doesn’t quite ‘belong’ to the country they were born in.

KarmaNoMore Tue 16-Feb-21 00:29:25

I normally answer “yes I am, even if the locals think otherwise, I have lived here more than anywhere else in my life /more than you”

In all honestly I do not care. Having said that... At some points it gets a bit boring, surely there are other ways people can start conversations, it doesn’t always have to be about our differences.

JackieWeaverIsTheAuthority Tue 16-Feb-21 00:32:56

You could be rude back and say “no shit Sherlock, I’ll bet you’re MI5?”

BluebellsGreenbells Tue 16-Feb-21 00:37:44

I get asked the time where I’m from.

I see it as a way of discussing your background and opening up a line of interest. Most people then ask lots of questions about the city I was born in and a few have visited.

I have never felt it to be a ‘you aren’t from here - leave’ question.

I don’t see a problem.

mindutopia Tue 16-Feb-21 12:32:19

It's incredibly rude, sorry. But I don't see why you need to run away from it or that it should create an awkward situation with your dd. I would just answer back honestly, 'I'm from Berkshire. Where are you from?' It will hopefully make people second think how ridiculous they sound. There is no reason to make it a weird thing with your dd either. You just teach her to answer back in the same sort of way. I think at 2, you don't need to really explain it too much.

At 4 or 5, you can have a more age appropriate conversation about the question and how to respond and maybe what people are actually asking about and why. I'm assuming when you say you don't 'look' like you're British, you mean that you aren't white. If that's the case, I would imagine ethnicity is going to come up lots in her life and you'll want to equip her with how to deal with that (and other people's rudeness).

That said, I didn't grow up in the UK (though I'm British), but I have an accent that means it's clear I'm not from here originally. But I'm white. I do regularly get the 'Oh, you don't sound like you're from here' which is true, I don't. Even if I am British and most people assume I am until I open my mouth. But even worse, I do get a lot of 'Oh, you know all those immigrants...' comments, where people attempt to complain about immigrants and hope I'll join in (obviously not). Ethnicity sort of overrides things like accent in people's brains and so many people assume I'm 'like them' because I'm white, even when I'm clearly not from here.

badpuma Tue 16-Feb-21 12:52:23

laidbacklife

What is the problem with the question? Is it the tone of voice rather than the actual words? If someone is genuinely curious about your background I’d say that normally has a positive connotation - ie. they like you as a person and want to find out more about you. But if you sense there is a negative tone in the way they ask you then that’s different. I’d be surprised to encounter this level of negativity though in such a multicultural city as London.

The problem with the question is the assumption that you don't belong. DH was born and grew up in the UK (although admittedly his family originated in France and didn't come to the UK until about 1580). Because of his skin tone and hair colour, people do not believe he is really from the UK - there are a lot of conversations which go

Q - "where are you from"
A - "I grew up in Hampshire but now live in X"
Q - "no, but where are you really from"
A - "my parents grew up in london before moving to hampshire, and their families were in london for generations before that"
Q - "there must be something more interesting, you look very exotic to come from hampshire".
A - "no, there really isn't".
Q - "are you sure"

People who ask the question and who continue to press it when the answerer isn't interested, are basically trying to prove that they are immigrants and usually followed by comments that there is too much immigration and it needs to be stopped...

ToddlerQuestions Tue 16-Feb-21 14:29:50

Genuinely grateful for all the responses, thank you, all food for thought.

I suppose my feelings are heightened both generally because DD is so young and because Covid has made us all a bit more jumpy. So this stuff maybe doesn’t bounce off me as it might have done before.

I do mostly hear this sort of question as a negative one because it sounds like “you’re not the same as us and we see that” and conversations can quickly become unpleasant.

helpfulperson has it - it’s about having your right to be somewhere questioned, directly or indirectly. SavoyCabbage also spot on that there is a sense I owe a stranger my story by virtue of being a bit different.

Crackerofdoom thank you especially for sharing about your children, that’s really helpful to hear. Bourbonne and mindutopia you’re both right I should handle it better with DD, which is why I came here, somewhat with gritted teeth. Ending the conversation was a way of avoiding something more overt being said in front of DD, I guess, more reacting than acting. But on reflection I do need a better way. Appreciate the steers.

Badpuma you did make me laugh, 1580! All too familiar.

I’ll be off to perfect that hard stare and tinkly laugh now. I’m glad I posted this.

OP’s posts: |
Camomila Tue 16-Feb-21 16:43:11

I've had "where is his dad from?" quite a lot about my DC in Croydon so I believe it can happen even in multicultural places...in my case though its always been from mums that weren't white/had non white DC...so I'm pretty sure they were just being friendly/trying to work out if they were the same ethnicity.

I've very occasionally been asked where I'm from because of my name too.

I don't know if its the 'best' way to react but when people ask things like that, I always go into my whole life story (I'm white but not British, DH is British but not white) and then ask the person if they are local. It might be worth a shot if you are somewhere you don't want to leave.

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