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I'm an alien worker here in USA. This happens a lot when I start chit-chatting with a stranger, he/she would ask "Where're you from?" "China" I say. Then chances are the following question would be "Which part of China are you from?"

I never figured out the best answer to the "which part" question. I guess average Americans don't know world geography as good as the rest of world knows about America, so why bother asking "which part"?

Then I thought this might just be a polite way of keeping on the conversation. Sometimes I tried to give a specific answer like my province or the nearby famous city, but almost always got a "I don't know where the heck is that and not interested in knowing" face. Otherwise, I'd just give a general direction like Southeast, but that makes me feel I'm being too perfunctory to the nice guy. Either way, the topic is quickly switched over with a bit of awkwardness.

What do Americans expect when asking the "which part" question? Is there a short yet nice way of answering that question without having to give a geography lecture?

  • They are trying to be friendly and make small talk. Trying to show interest in you. Turning it the other way, I live in Japan and almost NO ONE knows anything about the detailed geography of my home state (but I certainly do not belittle them for that). So I start with something like "The Great Lakes Area" and give a more specific answer in the person shows more interest. – curious-proofreader Oct 12 '16 at 4:24
  • @curious-proofreader I see. I was probably confused because by my mother tongue's habit, a person must already knows several parts of the place (at least on map) before asking "which part are you from". Thanks! – Eamin Zhang Oct 12 '16 at 4:36
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    Perhaps the people asking the question are not average Americans, and do know something about the geography of China, even if not your specific part. So you say e.g. "A small town near Shanghai", and they might say "Oh, I was there on vacation once..." or "I don't know much about that area, what's it like?" – jamesqf Oct 12 '16 at 5:56
  • @jamesqf Thanks:) You sound very nice. That's what I wish their response would be but usually nothing like that comes back. – Eamin Zhang Oct 12 '16 at 6:09
  • People in the UK tend to be less than well informed about detailed geography, both domestic and foreign. However, many of us like 'Chinese' cooking (I'm fairly sure it's tailored to UK tastes) and would recognise 'Canton', 'Sichuan', 'Hunan',and 'Shanghai'. Though we wouldn't be able to pick the regions / city out on a map. And we might still call Beijing Peking. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 12 '16 at 8:48
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You are right, people often ask stupid questions based on ignorance and thoughtlessness. Now I will answer the question that you didn't ask -- what should you say in response?

Say something charming and intriguing about the place or region where you grew up, with a brief geographic orientation so they can imagine it on a a map. For example:

My partner is from a tiny village in northern Germany, that has two small grocery stores, one gas station, two churches (one Lutheran and one Catholic), and a one-room public library that is open two afternoons per week.

Now, this person knows at least twice as much about the geography of China than he did before he asked!

You follow up by asking them where they're from.

  • You just made me laugh man :) – Eamin Zhang Oct 12 '16 at 5:42
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When someone keeps a conversation going with you, it shows that they are interested in you and also they're trying to be polite.
In your case, I guess they except hearing a big city like Shanghai or Pekan but your answer somehow confuses them. I suggest you try naming a popular city when answering that question for example somewhere near Shanghai. I guess that would prevent encountering awkward situation.

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    Thanks a lot! Actually it is actually somewhere near Shanghai. – Eamin Zhang Oct 12 '16 at 5:06
  • Nice, this fact may help you with that :) – Juggernaut Oct 12 '16 at 5:07

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