Social Etiquette and Good Manners/Asking about Person's Nationality


Hello Jay:  My American-born friend has an unusual last name, and is often asked what her ancestry is.  For example, she attended a seminar and the presenter asked her (in front of many people) what her nationality was after he read off her name.  She said that she is uncomfortable talking to strangers about this.

I am not sure how she should respond. (I suppose she could say she is American, but they probably want to know her ancestry.) I would greatly appreciate your advice.  Thanks.

Dear Alicia,
Asking someone their nationality is inappropriate, especially today when stereotypes are being branded almost daily. You are correct in suggesting she reply she is American. That is the truth. However, that is not the issue here. If it is the origin of her name that is the real question, she might answer that her name originated in whatever region it did originate in. There should be no shame in claiming one's natural heritage. Another response that can change the tone is, "Why do you ask?" People are then required to explain themselves, or perhaps realize they've crossed a line and either rephrase the question or make an apology. This is a question she will encounter more and more, so she should have a pat answer at the ready, and be proud of her heritage! I hope this helps.
My best,

Social Etiquette and Good Manners

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Jay Remer


I am happy to answer any questions about social or corporate etiquette as well as questions regarding international protocol. It is important to practice civility. It is contagious.


I am certified by the Protocol School of Washington as a consultant for corporate etiquette and international protocol. I have been entertaining and giving advise on entertaining for over 40 years.

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Graduate of Protocol School of Washington

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