What country are you from?

Saturday afternoon. After a class downtown, I am rushing to meet my family at the cinema to catch the new Pixar film “Up”. With several bus changes involved, timing is crucial. I burst out of the Skytrain doors, clatter down the steps and sprint to the bus stop for the final leg of the journey. Victory! I’ve beaten the bus by two minutes. Beaming, I reach into my back pocket for my bus pass and realise it isn’t there.


I take a seat and search frantically. From the front pocket of my bag, my cell phone begins to vibrate. It’s my family, calling to get an update on my location. I pick up, and in the corner of my eye I can see the bus edging forward and the queue of people trickling onboard. Finally, my searching fingers find the slippery plastic of my bus pass in my backpack, and I hurriedly hang up the call and gather my bags. As I turn towards the direction of the bus, a woman comes very close to me and blocks my path. “Excuse me, what country are you from?” she asks.

The question takes me aback. The driver is moving away from the curb, and so I stammer something about Vancouver, and rush to the door. It swings open, I get in, and we move away.

Sinking into the blue plastic of the nearest seat, I am muddled. Days later, I still feel confused about the incident. I’m confused why do people ask questions in such invasive ways, why endless questions about identity and origin irritate me, and what is the best way to respond when accosted by others. I don’t think the question was ill-intentioned, but experience tells me that if I had stayed around for a few minutes longer and we had spoken, the answer “Canada” would not have been sufficient, though this is indeed where I have lived most of my life.

And so dear terry readers, I’m interested to hear what you think. There is a moment in the 1998 film ‘You’ve Got Mail” where Meg Ryan sits at her computer and types out an email to the great cosmic void; the act of writing is the main thing, the answer not as relevant.

In my case though, I really am interested to hear what you think.

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Shagufta is a UBC Political Science graduate with a passion for interdisciplinary thinking, writing, travel, reading, tea, and interesting conversations. She hopes to combine all of these things in her life work someday. For now though, she studies social policy and planning at the University of Toronto and shares her adventures in and out of the classroom at http://seriouslyplanning.wordpress.com.