DEAR MISS MANNERS: For some time now, I have been wondering how you respond to the question "Where are you from?" if you are not really from one place. I am half American and half Arab. I was born in the Arab country, but I have lived both there and America, and English is my native language.
If I am living in America and someone asks me where I am from, giving the other country will make it seem as though I am a foreigner when I'm not. And if I am in the Arab country, saying that is where I am from always causes people to ask me why I don't speak Arabic.
In the future, I am planning on living in a state other than the one I have previously lived, so if I stay there for a significant amount of time -- say, 10 years -- is it correct to say I am from this new state? Or is where you are from referring to your hometown? I am quite confused about this.
GENTLE READER: That is because you are trying so earnestly to answer a question that is probably offhand, although occasionally impertinent. The problem is not that you have mixed ancestry and have lived in several places -- most of the American population has -- but because you are not looking at why you were asked.
Here is a Miss Manners rule: Don't pay close attention to opening questions from new acquaintances. They are only trying to get the conversation started. Most of them, that is. She will get to the others afterward.
Depending on what you would enjoy discussing, you might name the country where you were born and say that although you live here, you've just been on an interesting trip back there; or you could name the state where you've been living and say that you are sad or happy to leave it; or you could say you're moving to the new state and say why. If none of these approaches appeals to you, you could respond, "I've moved around a lot. Where are you from?"
It is only if there are persistent follow-up questions in an attempt to lead the conversation in a nosy direction that the inquiry should be considered offensive. "No, where are you really from?" is a tip-off, with its insinuation that the true ethnic or national identity is being hidden and the outrageous suggestion that it must be disclosed to a new acquaintance.
The answer to that is a conversation stopper ("I'm sorry you don't believe me") and the signal that it is time to start a conversation with someone else.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there a polite way to tell my boss that "thx" instead of "thank you" or even "thanks" at the end of an e-mail kind of defeats the purpose? Thx.
GENTLE READER: Yr wlcm. And it is going to get worse as written English twitters away. Miss Manners is sorry to have to tell you that you are bound by the rule against criticizing others, and the likely consequences of criticizing your boss.