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by Abigail Van Buren

Customer Is Insulted To Be Asked About Her Accent

DEAR ABBY: Is there some sort of etiquette regarding inquiring about someone's country of origin?

While making polite conversation with a customer in my retail shop, I noticed she had an accent and asked where she was from. She became very evasive and seemed offended that I had asked. She actually refused to answer my question.

I tried to recover from the awkward situation, but I can't help but feel I insulted her somehow. Was I wrong to ask? -- FRIENDLY RETAILER IN KANSAS CITY

DEAR RETAILER: Perhaps. Some immigrants to this country feel the question you asked is a very personal one. There can be various reasons for it. The person may feel self-conscious about his or her accent, and you can't know the political situation in the person's country of origin or whether he or she has encountered bias because of where he or she came from.

Read more in: Etiquette & Ethics