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(originally published in The Charlatan, January 21, 2001)

Hey man, where are ya from?

“Hey man, where you from?”

Five words, repeated ad nauseam on university campuses all across this fair nation we call Canada. Five little words, uttered without thought when Person A meets Person B.

But what are the ramifications of such a question? We don’t stop to think about it often, but the answer will inevitably pigeon-hole someone with regional biases.

Case in point.

“Hey Joe, where you from?”

At this point, I have to stop and decide how much this personal really wants to know. Reluctantly, I respond.


“Oh, so you’re from Vancouver, eh?”


Actually, I am from Prince Rupert, a city on the north coast known for its halibut fishing and a beautiful harbour.

But this is only part of the story, see. I lived in Prince Rupert for seven years, after which I came to Ottawa (three years ago). My parents have since moved to Mackenzie, B.C., an even smaller, even more northerly town. And, before moving out west, I lived in Northern Ontario and New Brunswick.

“Oh, so you’re from Vancouver, eh?”

Yes, I am from Vancouver. Yes, I do know where you can find some weed. And yes, I do see the Canadian Alliance as a viable political force. OK? Let’s drop it and move on to where you are from, oh ignorant new-found friend.

“Yea, pretty much. And you?”


Which is, of course, pronounced ‘Toronna’ for anyone who hails from there.

Now as much as I hate the B.C. stereotypes, I admit, I do the same.

“Toronto, eh?” I respond, emphasizing the second T. “That’s cool.”

And I move on, because everyone knows Torontonians are pretentious.

I never stop to think that this new friend of mine may have spent 13 years in suburban Moose Jaw and knows how many different varieties of grain can be found in the Qa’Appelle Valley. Nope, he’s from Toronna, all he cares about is finding directions to Le Chateau or the Gap.

It’s harder, obviously, for those of us who have had several residences in our day. Because as much as these regional stereotypes suck, they are nowhere near as bad as the bored look you get when you try to answer The Question honestly.

“Hey Joe, where you from?”

“Well, I was born in Thunder Bay, but I never really lived there, we just had to go to the hospital there because my parents lived in Marathon, and the doctor was away or something. After a year, I moved to Fort Frances, you know, it’s right on the border with the States. Anyway, after that, it was out to Saint John – well, the suburbs actually…”

“Uh dude, I was just asking…”



“Oh, I love Vancouver!”

And so it continues.

There are some throwaway questions in this crazy language. “How are you doing?” is a fine example. Nobody REALLY cares, so answer away, “fine.” But don’t make “where you from?” one of these questions, make sure you really want to know when you ask.

Because my name is Joe, and I am a central-eastern-weastern Canadian. Or something like that.