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Throwaway account.

I'm originally from Russia. While I've spent most of my professional life in one of the western countries, I didn't manage to fully lose my accent. This always prompts people to ask about my origin. And it always leads to the same conversation that I just don't want to have. Especially these days with the world as it is.

I'm starting a new job which means I'll be meeting a lot of new people. Any advice on how I can avoid answering this question without lying or appearing weird?

I've tried answering around the question by saying that I consider my current country of citizenship to be my home, but I haven't figured out how to deal with people who keep on pushing for my place of birth. I believe it's irrelevant, and I really don't like the conversations it leads to.

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    This Question could be a bit more clear about whether you want to (a) avoid disclosing your place of birth, or (b) avoid follow-up questions & conversation about that country of birth. After having read through the Answers, they seem to vary in their interpretation of which is your actual intent. This leads to a lack of a satisfyingly focused Answer. Oct 17, 2022 at 2:48
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    some of the answers talk about people being sympathetic to not wanting to talk about politics at work. Ime the extent to which this applies varies between countries. What country is your new job based in, as this may affect which option works the best
    – Tristan
    Oct 17, 2022 at 8:51
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    How is this about the workplace, or professionalism? If you want the Posted detail to be relevant, might it matter that you didn't use the English forms "… a personal question" or "… personal questions"? Isn't that partly why people ask about your origin? What d'you see as wrong, there? Isn't the real Question not whether that should lead to a conversation, but why you don't want that? Visiting 20-odd countries, I've been proud to explain my heritage. Why are you not? Why does "the world as it is these days" not make you proud of your heritage? Oct 17, 2022 at 19:46

21 Answers 21

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You have two options:

  • You can go for privacy. That is considered very rude and you will constantly be the target of gossip. If you keep it a secret, people will be intrigued and will only be more interested to find out.
  • You can go for boring openness. You will need to give out a little information, so it doesn't look like you hide something, but make it so boring nobody asks twice.

For this specific situation, you could say "I was born in Russia, but I moved to $country and became a citizen there years ago.

Then every time someone asks something about Russia you don't want to answer, just say "I don't know, I don't keep track of recent developments there" or "I don't know anything about that, that was after I left". The point is: don't be secretive. Be boring. People don't bother to dig deeper into boring answers.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Oct 16, 2022 at 6:18
38

Perhaps just say, in a slightly humourous manner and bold tone, "I was born in Russia, but the less said about that the better! Now,...", and then immediately redirect the conversation so as to give them no opportunity (or need) to follow up with any other remark on Russia.

It will be very difficult to avoid answering the direct question that you are from Russia, or finding justification to avoid it. Most are probably asking only as a friendly gambit or curiosity about the accent, not as an opener for deep conversation about the circumstances. I would give up any hope of withholding this information.

Also, most people are sympathetic to people who don't want to talk politics, or those who (by special association) might be tired of talking about the same political issue, or might even have suffered personal loss. If necessary, just respond to further questions of a political nature with "Please, it's something I'd rather not talk about, if that's alright.".

The trick is to find some way of articulating yourself, including the manner of delivery, that avoids rudeness or sharpness.

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    +1 for redirect. This "stop and redirect" is the basis for successfully changing the subject or stopping bad behavior generally.
    – user134121
    Oct 14, 2022 at 18:00
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    Bonus for the humor and boldness.
    – nickalh
    Oct 14, 2022 at 22:34
37

I'm not Russian but I've lived most of my life in the USA and still have a foreign accent, and I hate conversations about my country of origin, so I can relate.

I've learned that simply answering truthfully leads to a predictable sequence of annoying follow-up questions I don't want to answer for the 100th time. I've also found that simply refusing to answer is rude to the point of impacting future relationship with the asker (this is bad in a professional setting).

No answer is perfect but I've found two patterns that I've tended to rely on over the years:

  1. "I'm from Los Angeles." Now the ball is in their court. Nice people will change subject or ask about LA (what neighborhood, do you know any good restaurants, etc). Rude people will press with something like, "No, where are you really from?" - this person is nosy, so let's have some fun: counter with the non-answer "I moved there when I was very young." ... At this point the persistent ones will switch to, "No, I mean, where is the accent from?" - easy answer, "Oh, the accent is because my parents spoke (language) at home... " still giving no conclusive info since many countries speak that language, while also starting to challenge their simplistic stereotypes.

  2. "I'll give you three chances to guess it." Most people will NOT get it right on the first try (i.e. in your case they may pick any other slavic or former USSR country as their initial guess), and if they do, just ask for two more guesses. Here's the trick: start a conversation about each of their guesses. Oh, country X? Beautiful place, nice beaches, bad food. Have you been there? Do you know anyone else from there? This will stretch the conversation long enough that by the time we get to my actual country, it's time to move on. For me this works because I don't mind disclosing my country of origin, I just don't want to have a whole conversation about it. Only you can decide if this is suitable for you or not.

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    This is a great approach. Pattern 1 is great, but in OP's case I'd recommend generalising the answer if it gets to the language part, as less informed people might jump to the conclusion that speaking russian means being from Russia, and they're back at square 1. Just say "a slavic/eastern european/north asian/however language", "I still have some slavic/etc accent" or something to that effect, if they suspect the person might not be asking in good faith.
    – Kroltan
    Oct 15, 2022 at 14:09
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    @Kroltan YMMV of course, but in my experience once you mention parents it shakes up their assumptions (are you a first-generation citizen or a child immigrant, instead of the adult immigrant they initially assumed?), it also gives you an easy exit for follow-up questions e.g. "so, what do you think of Putin?" - "oh, I haven't been keeping up with that, I'd have to ask my parents" - this is addressing OP's "I really don't like the conversations it leads to" - which I relate to. Also, most people really are just trying to find a good conversation topic, so be evasive until they pivot.
    – Alex R
    Oct 15, 2022 at 19:28
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    +1 This is exactly what I do - sometimes I skip straight to #2 if the person seems decent and in genuine good faith, as it's an easy segue into a conversation that quickly derails the topic. Although in theory #2 only works if your accent is genuinely hard to place, most people are nowhere as good at sussing out accents as they think (and - if they do guess, you can still lie and say "almost!").
    – Ottie
    Oct 16, 2022 at 14:39
  • "Most people will NOT get it right on the first try (i.e. in your case they may pick any other slavic or former USSR country as their initial guess)" I find hard to believe Russia would not be your first guess of a USSR country. Otherwise very good answer. Oct 17, 2022 at 7:59
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    @PierreArlaud one final point. If they do guess Russia in the first try, the response is "you have two more guesses." Yes this is disingenuous but is not an outright lie; you never told them the full rules of the game and the rule is you give me all three guesses and we will discuss, and then at the end I may tell you which one was the correct guess. If OP wants they could say this upfront ("tell me your top three guesses"), but I've never had to do that. Also, the pressure of being challenged to guess correctly causes some people to second-guess themselves.
    – Alex R
    Oct 17, 2022 at 16:17
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Contrary to the other answers, I don't think you need to say "Russia" at all, nor should you bluntly refuse to answer the question. This is because;

  • Most people asking this question actually don't really care about where you come from, the aim of the question is just to feed the conversation.
  • Most people will feel awkward if you flatly refuse to answer a question (e.g. "I'd rather not say"), they wonder if they have done something socially unacceptable.
  • Most people will take a hint if your answer is a gentle deflection. i.e. you don't answer the question, but you say something else that carries the conversation in a new direction.

This is on the list of question I'd rather not answer too. I don't strongly associate with my country, and I'd rather not lead the "getting to know you" chat in that direction.

I tend to respond with "Well I did undergrad in X, it's a great city! How about you, where did you study?". Then they go on to tell me about the place they studied, we talk about the nightlife there, the university and the local food. By that point 99% of the time, any questions about origins are gone. They never really wanted to know in the first place, they just wanted to get the conversation going.

If you studied in Russia, pick the place you got your first job or first house. Doesn't matter what life episode too much, just something the other person can probably relate to.

If someone is being persistent with something you don't want to talk about, the classic advice is to start joking around. "Oh I'm from Jupiter, but the atmosphere is much nicer here, so much more breathable." The next step is "Actually, I live in Y city." It's not quite as blunt as "I'd rather not say", but it basically means the same thing.

As an aside, asking someone where they are from is almost always a bad move. It's othering, and a possible way to discover that you are talking to a second gen immigrant who is quite bored of that question.

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  • There is nothing bad about being from Russia. The problem OP happens later when he answers followup questions. People usually remember what they asked and remember that the question was ignored and sidestepped. The fact that they do not repeat and press for it does not mean that they forgot the question. They will easily find out the answer to the original question even without OPs involvement and would be more curious why is this a big deal. Joking around (especially with those types of jokes) would make OP look even weirder. Oct 16, 2022 at 5:07
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    @SalvadorDali I agree there is nothing bad about being from Russia, but it's also no one else business. Keeping boundaries is good for relationships, keeping boundaries gently is even better for relationships. And I think you massively overestimate how curious people are about other people's history.
    – Clumsy cat
    Oct 16, 2022 at 7:53
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I've been actively learning Russian since years ago and have met many Russians in person, so I understand where your concern is coming from. Here's my take on the issue.

In my experience, Russians don't really understand the concept of small talk. They usually take questions too seriously and often get defensive. When I ask you where you are from, I don't actually care where you are from. A small talk is supposed to be an exchange of smart phrases for fun.

Let me explain you this in Russian terms. Imagine you are an artist of KVN, a popular Russian TV show. And imagine you are performing right now. Your goal is to make everyone smile. It's a funny and very involving exercise.

You don't actually have to say where you are from. Just say something funny and make your conversation partner smile.

And I don't think you should be afraid to disclose your ethic origin. Just talk playfully and you'll enjoy the conversation:

"Where are you from?"

"It's a mystery. I tell no one. But I'll give you a hint. In my country of origin, trains are so slow that it takes a whole week to cross the country by train."

Or:

"Where are you from?"

"I am from the country that elected Trump in 2016."

"So you are American?"

"No, I am from the country Americans believe to have meddled in the election."

Or:

"I've heard you are Russian! What do you think about Putin?"

"Well, he has ensured that divorced Russian women with many kids have a real chance to marry again. You know, a military mobilization is underway, and exemptions are very few - and one of them is being in a marriage with no fewer than three kids."


Update: The last two examples are kinda political, but no one will be able to drag you into a political discussion as long as you don't get serious. Just keep saying funny things and don't say anything serious about politics.

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    Bad answer. Your second and third examples are explicitly political, which the OP explicitly expressed the desire to avoid ("I really don't like the conversations it leads to").
    – user76284
    Oct 16, 2022 at 15:33
  • @user76284 I've added an update to address this
    – Mitsuko
    Oct 17, 2022 at 2:15
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Contrary to other answers on here, I would not shut down anyone's (perfectly-innocent, from their perspective) questions, or draw a line in the sand regarding privacy. Because, it doesn't sound like you really feel the information is private — it's just that, because of issues completely unrelated to you personally, you'd rather not get into discussions about your birth country.

So... don't. But don't do it by shutting people down when they ask questions, do it by answering in a way that gives them plenty of other things to respond to instead, to the point where it'd feel weird for them to latch on to the tiny thread of your birthplace, rather than all of the other details you gave them.

For example, if you're asked "Where are you from?", you could say something like, "Oh, I've lived all over the place. My family's Russian, but I don't have any ties there. But before coming to $currentCountry, I had a job in $previousCountry for N years, working for $companyA and $companyB. Before that I was living in $countryN-2, I had a job for $companyC based in $someCity — which is amazing, BTW, have you ever been there?" And so on, and so on. Just gloss over the precise detail of where you were born — because, it absolutely is irrelevant — if you don't want to talk about that.

But talk about something!

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    Inviting a continued conversation is the opposite of the question's desired outcome.
    – user71257
    Oct 14, 2022 at 18:16
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    @Nohbdy The OP doesn't say they want to avoid conversation in general, just that they want to avoid the specific conversation about Russia. If you just say that you don't want to talk about X then people are sort of stuck because now they don't know what topics are OK for you. Providing some other topic which is acceptable to you is basically a conversational minimum. (Of course you're not required to converse with your colleagues at all, but they would be correct in judging you to be pretty rude which is probably not what the OP intends.) Oct 14, 2022 at 18:43
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    Describing his nationality in any context, even mentioning the country, is the point being avoided. He's attempting to avoid bringing the conversation towards Russia to avoid related conversations.
    – David S
    Oct 14, 2022 at 20:57
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    @DavidS Yes, but at the same time, the OP literally opened this conversation by telling us exactly that. And since, as they say, they have a noticeable Russian accent, arguably the cat's already out of the bag. I honestly feel like not answering the question, especially in a pointed/standoffish manner, "seems weird", which is another thing the OP expressly wanted to avoid. But I think the question can be answered while making it clear that it's not something that should be discussed further.
    – FeRD
    Oct 15, 2022 at 14:06
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    @user71257 "Not owed" is not "not rude". You don't owe someone holding the door open, but if they are on crutches and you are just standing around then not holding the door is pretty rude. Likewise you don't owe your colleagues conversation on any particular topic, but acting like they've committed a sin for accidentally stumbling on a topic you don't like is just rude. It's a common misconception but being introverted doesn't make you bad at small talk or mean that you can't understand the social value of it. In this case the value is "showing new coworkers that you don't hate them". Oct 17, 2022 at 20:38
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"Thank you for your interest but I'd prefer not to talk about it"

Sometimes being blunt is necessary.

If they ask where you're from you can shot first: "I come from Russia, and I'd prefer not to talk about the subject"

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I am also from Russia, working in the US.

Recently, I can manage conversation like:

– Oh you are from Russia, what about [...]?
– Yeah, it's wild... Anyways, how about that ACME account we are working on?

In other words keep the conversation professional, in a tactful way.

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It's pointless to be coy as suggested (guess where I come from, I grew up LA, etc...). And this is in a work setting so not answering may have some downstream repercussions.

"I was born in Russia. I am sure you'll understand why I prefer not to talk about it right now."

That's it. Not being drawn out into further discussions. Not forced to take a position putting down your own people. Which honestly, none of us should be forced to do. No deflection, no making excuses. Just plain request for privacy.

If you feel like it, you can defuse the situation a bit on the first part. You can smile sheepishly. Or make a joke: "You got me! I am Russian."

Stick to the script on the second part however.

Maybe they were just curious, maybe they wanted your insight. You're making a polite request, after answering their question and you are appealing to their own good manners. The ball is in their court.

Most people will have the tact to leave it at that. If not, they are themselves looking unreasonable, rather than yourself.

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  • It's perfectly reasonable to be coy, even in an office situation. These days many companies are concerned about discrimination and data privacy so they may not even want this kind of conversation to be going on. And a vague answer like "I moved around a lot" is common enough to be unobjectionable.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 24, 2022 at 9:39
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I think you are missing a few important points:

  • this question is a standard conversation starter. People mostly do not care 'where are you from?', 'how are you?' or 'how is the weather?'
  • it is very easy to tell where are you from without your involvement. So if anyone really cares, they can guess it with a high probability just by looking at your name or listening to your accent. Or if they have 5 mins and access to the internet to google you
  • the next question and the way you answer or not answer it is the most important part

Of course you can find any way to not answer it or to answer it ambiguously but because of first two points, it would just lead to awkwardness and people will know where are you from in next 5 mins.

Regarding the last point, you told 'it always lead to the same conversation that I just don't want to have'. Ask yourself what conversation does it lead to and how do you handle this conversation.

Keep in mind that the war which Russia started killed at least 5k civilians (~500 children) and at least 10k severely injured (~1k children). Here is just numbers with confirmations, the actual numbers will be way way higher. Severely injured is not a small would, it means missing limbs. Millions of people lost their homes and had to flee. Approximately 10k Ukrainian soldiers have died.

There is no surprise that people might ask you how do you feel about the war that your country started. Mostly because they think that you will reply 'I do not support it and fully against it'. And I doubt that the conversation will go on for more than that and will be inconvenient.

Now, if your answer is something like 'oh, you do not understand, in reality Ukraine planned to attack Russia and Belarus (let me show you the maps how they were going to do this)', then this would lead to a very awkward continuation.

And this is not really that much different from a bar conversation when to a random phrase 'slavery is bad', one of a guys just suddenly tells 'but wait, this sounds like a good idea and I am disappointed we are not doing this any more'.

If you have such ideas, probably you should reconsider your life choices, as the problem is not with a question where are you from.

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    Bad answer. Does not address the question.
    – user76284
    Oct 16, 2022 at 15:38
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    @user76284 the answer clearly address the question. You can either be weird by hiding a basic fact which people already know or can find in 5 mins, or you can address the main issue: how you handle the followup conversation as this is the actual problem here Oct 16, 2022 at 22:31
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    Perhaps you should try actually reading the question: "Any advice on how I can avoid answering this question without lying or appearing weird? [...] I haven't figured out how to deal with people who keep on pushing for my place of birth. I believe it's irrelevant, and I really don't like the conversations it leads to."
    – user76284
    Oct 17, 2022 at 0:01
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    There's nothing weird about declining to talk about politics, as your "answer" insists. You're the one being weird by insisting on it.
    – user76284
    Oct 17, 2022 at 1:39
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    Re 'fully against it' — not everyone is (or feels themselves to be) in a position to openly oppose the actions of a country where they may still have family, friends or other interests Oct 20, 2022 at 0:36
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You should first of all ask yourself, how you identify yourself. Trying to hide your identity, roots and inner values can actually create more frustration, identity conflicts and in the worst case, outright hostilities.

I was raised as a Muslim and still identify culturally so. Then I moved to West and at a time when Al-Qaida etc. was breaking news, it is always embarrassing to be in any social situation where politics get discussed as this eventually leads to some stereotypical depictions. This was a time when there were not many immigrants in where I work and I was an outlier.

Unless you belong to a fringe, controversial group (which is not the case with being a Russian or a Muslim), there is no need to try to hide your identity. My experience is that most people in a company appreciate honesty and also are tolerant enough. If they ask you where you come from, it is largely likely to be out of curiosity. Once in a while, you will definitely come across an immature, idiot who try to hold you personally accountable for politics in your country. You should ignore them.

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  • It's true that many Western companies are trying hard to protect Russian staff and equally value other diversity, but it's still reasonable not to want to tell casual acquaintances your personal information. There's no requirement to tell everyone in the office personal details like religion and ethnicity, and in fact it could create complications if there are e.g. allegations of discrimination, as well as causing other more minor disputes. Not talking about politics or religion in the office is a good rule for a harmonious workplace.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 24, 2022 at 9:42
  • There is no requirement as such. Usually, it is in the mutual interest to work together. It is better to avoid political debates, especially if someone is uncomfortable and OP could use one of the practical advices he got from here. But if OP still identifies partly as a Russian even after immigration, then war is no reason to hide that part of the identity and live in a closet. Trying to do so will create psychological stress, shame etc. which he/she doesn't need to accept as well.
    – kube_ahmed
    Oct 24, 2022 at 11:24
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A simple "I'd prefer not to talk about it" should be sufficient.

If I can perhaps shed a bit of light on this from the other side of the discussion though to perhaps make you feel a bit easier about the situation:

When people ask about your country of origin, it's not like they're trying to dig at you, or be like "you have a Russian accent, you must be an agent of Putin!" or something like that (well, most of the time). When I ask that question (and I do, often), it's more like "oh, you have an accent, that means you're not from here, you probably have something interesting to share with me about your country/culture that I can learn from or talk to you about, or ask about". It's less of a "you're different" thing and more of an "I want to learn about you, and learn more about other countries and the world at large" thing.

Perhaps that puts you a bit more at ease and maybe you'll feel better about engaging in those types of conversations.

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I don't envy your situation.

This answer is about specific case if you are working in a country that has border with Russia.

To invade Ukraine, Russia used excuse of alleged discrimination of the Russian speaking people, and Russian descendants, no matter of their current citizenship. It is not fair for you, but if you will try to work in Poland (declared by Russian politics as second in line for "special operation") or in another country that was recently threatened by Russia, you will be seen as part of the problem. Sadly, because you will be part of the problem, part of excuse Russia makes to attack. Not your fault, but that's the truth here. Unfair to you, but even more unfair to all these Ukrainians killed (or worse) in their own country.

Here, if you will try to be dismissive or secretive about your origin or about Russian being your first language, it will make you look even worse in the eyes of most of the people. Only Russians / Russian speakers / Russian descendants I've seen that were not peer pressured to change jobs and move out I've seen were those who openly hated what Russia is doing and tried hard to use any language and accent, but Russian. So if you want to be accepted, that's what you need to do. I get it, it will be uncomfortable to you. But looking at what Ukrainians suffer thorough makes your discomfort totally meaningless.

You would like your origin to be your private matter. I would like that, too. Sadly, Russia made it into a geopolitical matter.

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If you are joining a new workplace, it's natural for people to be curious about where you are from. Of course, if you're from Russia there will be questions about current events.

The best thing you can do is to defer the question until you have the opportunity to answer it in full with a small number of reasonable people that you've become somewhat familiar with. If you do this once or twice that should be enough to satisfy casual curiosity in the workplace and the information will circulate.

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So, where are you from?
Are you Ukrainian?
Are you Russian?
Are you Russian by any chance?
Is that a Russian accent?

Refusing to reply or deflecting these simple conversation openers (or starters) will be considered rude.

This is what I say, in perfect Italian, whenever Italians ask if I'm… American or English (they never use the term British).

  • No, I'm originally from the UK but I've been living here (Italy) for XX years.
  • (Smile apologetically) “You're right (if someone guesses English) I'll never lose the accent” I say this while shrugging my shoulders 🤷🏻‍♀️.

After 35 years, those types of questions do get boring. When I was younger and prettier, I used to be asked about the English weather, the British monarchy, and whether I missed London but as the number of years living in Italy have increased, and I look significantly older, those follow-up questions have happily declined.

If I were Russian, I would immediately add

  • I hope you understand but before you do ask, I'd rather not talk about Putin or the war in Ukraine.
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  • Ditto, absolutely. I am now German, but still a Brit. What do I think of the current political shenanigans? Not interested, lost my vote after 15 years abroad, it's not my fault!
    – RedSonja
    Oct 17, 2022 at 6:31
  • @RedSonja Yeah, but now you've adopted the country that's still being shamed for WWII. 😉 (And, come to think of it, Mari-Lou A is now guilty-by-association — Or even guilty-by-repatriation? Did I just invent a thing? — for the election of Giorgia Meloni. Man, these days "patriotism" sure can be rough on the ego.)
    – FeRD
    Oct 18, 2022 at 2:50
  • Well, the Brits have the Boer War to be ashamed of. And many more sad events. All countries do, I suppose. But nobody can be responsible for things that happened before they were born.
    – RedSonja
    Oct 18, 2022 at 5:08
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Reading between the lines, I sense you are comfortable with being an ethnic Russian but do not agree with the Putin government and its support for Ukrainian war. I.e: it’s not that you are uncomfortable being Russian, but uncomfortable with stances of the current government led by Putin.

If so, I suggest you draw a distinction between your ethnicity, and your stance on the current government / views of war in Ukraine. Proactive disclosure such as below would let you control the dialogue and acknowledge the elephant in the room on your terms.

I am ethnically Russian, but do not support the current government’s war in Ukraine.

Where I work, I know a few Belarussians, who do not support Lukashenko, but loves their country. When they were asked about politics, they began by drawing a distinction between country and its current government.

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How about "I used to be Russian"?

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I live in a country which speaks the same language as I am originally from but with a different accent. When I talk formally, I default to RP which is the original country I am from and people notice immediately. Even in friendly speak most people notice it. Thus we are in a similar situation.

But I have a solution I have been employing for at least past 10 years: tell them your parents are from Russia and you are from xyz. If you are a citizen and/or spent more time in xyz, practically, you are from xyz. Most people stops questions after this point. If they ask about politics tell them you have no idea. Telling them you are from xyz effectively means you care about xyz and your country of birth/origin has no hold over you.

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  • What is "RP"? Received pronunciation, or something? Oct 24, 2022 at 14:51
  • Exactly, received pronounciation. Oct 25, 2022 at 15:02
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Probably not everyone has the wherewithal to do what I am about to propose, and possibly you do not, and that is fine.

The real issue at the bottom of your problem seems not to be that people are very curious, or that you are very private, but that many folks really want to draw conclusions about you as an individual using stereotypes of geo/politico/cultural groups that they can associate you with. Perhaps this is because, as is often the case, they themselves identify their self by the groups that they belong to. Being from the Southeastern USA, I get this all the time from sports fans: Joe is an Alabama fan, and that is who they are. They want to know who am I, and by "who am I" they mean what sports team I follow, because that is their conception of the self.

This brings up some possibilities for dealing with the root cause of the situation. The most basic retort, then, is "I was born in Russia, but that is not what defines me as a person. I am glad that you would like to get to know me better. What would you like to know?" This gives you an instant opportunity to simply disown any uncomfortable questions that they are asking, to let them know that you're not interested in these lines of questioning, and that their attempts to find out about you are actually failing because they are asking the wrong questions, not because you aren't giving any answers. I, for instance, can respond to Joe by saying "I'm not into sports." Joe may easily interpret this as me being some kind of soul-less robot, because by "self", Joe means "what sports team do you follow." If I'm okay with that, I can leave the conversation there, and Joe will cease to ask me "personal" questions. If I would like to have some kind of relationship with Joe, I will have to disabuse him of the notion that because I don't follow sports I have no soul by showing him that I am. "I'm not into sports - I'm into art. Allow me to tell you all about art!" Possibly Joe doesn't care about art and doesn't want to have a relationship with me, the artist. This is fine, and I cannot force Joe to accept me for who I am, but at least I know who Joe is (an Alabama fan), Joe knows who I am (an artist). There is no illusion on Joe's part that I am some kind of secretive Tennessee fan who is out to get him.

People who are asking you about where you are from, and your relationship to that place/nation/people are trying to find out more about you. They are interested in you. If "Russian" is where you were born, but does not describe your self, then tell them that. It may be hard for them to understand, because Jacques is French, and French is what Jacques is, so that when you tell Jacques that you were born in Russia, but that "Russian" isn't what you are, it requires more than superficial explanation. But, you are a whole person, and I'm sure you can tell Jacques all about the things that you are, without having to elaborate on the things that you aren't.

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Without more information on your background it's hard to come up with a tailored answer, but like many I think it's going to be hard to avoid answering.

However, answering doesn't mean you have to talk about where exactly you lived.

Consider this: "I grew up in a slavic-speaking home". Without any intent to hurt anyone's feelings: slavic languages, to the layman, likely sound pretty similar. That does not disclose where you grew up, nor the language.

You've possibly been exposed to more slavic languages than just Russian, that could make your answer even more evasive.

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  • The OP could list the countries he has lived and worked in, maybe more than two. Turn the question into a positive answer. Travel is character building or so thay say. Oct 16, 2022 at 8:57
  • "profane"? Maybe you mean "naive", "ignorant", "inexperienced", ...? "Profane" means vulgar, or not sacred. Oct 17, 2022 at 15:34
  • @CrisLuengo I actually checked it before using it ;) I was going more for the "Not admitted into a body of secret knowledge or ritual; uninitiated.", I could have used "uninitiated". Layman? Oct 18, 2022 at 11:09
  • I don’t associate “profane” with “uninitiated”. I’m not a native English speaker, but I’ve been using English as a first language for 18 years now. I would guess your average American only knows “profanity” to mean “swear word”, and if they have used the word “profane” they would have used it to describe someone that swears a lot. Oct 18, 2022 at 13:48
  • “Layman” is a good word. Oct 18, 2022 at 13:49
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You could say, in a conspiratorial tone (possibly with a markedly strong accent) "I am an international spy, and this position provides the perfect cover. You understand, of course, why I decline to divulge information." Then brightly, "Now, let us proceed with the subterfuge!"

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