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Ray Bryars: Where are you from?

I enjoyed reading the Other Voices “An awkward encounter,” by Alexander Teu, in the April 3 The Union. It made me ponder more on some of the things that have been puzzling me regarding racial sensitivities. I was pleased to see that Alexander, who is living in San Francisco, is contributing to The Union. One of the wonderful things about the web is that we can realize that there are so many things that we have in common no matter where we live.

So Alexander was in a popular food market when a bagger with a friendly face said to him “Konnichiwa,” which is apparently a Japanese greeting used mid-day to early afternoon. Now Alexander, who has lived in America since he was 4, was upset that he is often considered a foreigner and is always being asked, “Where are you from?” Unfortunately, he was so upset that he made contact with the manager to voice his concern.

This is interesting to me because I keep reading about non-white people commenting that they are often asked, “Where are you from?” And they often consider this to be racial bias. I don’t get it. I often ask people where they are from if I detect a slight accent or something about them that makes me think they are not native Nevada County. It is my way of being friendly and to learn a little about my neighbors and potential friends in this area.



Yesterday I struck up a conversation with a German lady in the hardware store. We exchanged a few friendly words while waiting to get to the check out. If I pick up a Southern accent or maybe a Canadian “eh,” I’ll be my inquisitive self and ask that embarrassing “where are you from” question.

Personally, I’ve noticed that the color of my skin changes from season to season. In winter I am very white, then in the late spring, if I forget to put enough sunscreen on, I can turn a distinct rosy red, and later in the summer, if I’ve been careful to follow sensible rules, I turn a little brown. No matter what my skin color, I’m the same person.




I was born in England and spent enough years there to acquire a distinct accent. Many people ask me, “Where are you from?” Or “allo mate.” Does it bother me? Not a bit, and I don’t think it should bother anyone, no matter what their skin tone or accent. I like to think it’s people being inquisitive and friendly. It’s all good. Make a new friend and don’t worry about the color of their skin.

I hope you visit us in Nevada County, Alexander, and if our paths happen to cross. I hope you won’t be offended if friendly Ray asks where you’re from.

Ray Bryars lives in Nevada City.


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