As an adopted teenager, I think there is a fine line between being curious and being nosey, especially when it comes to personal issues such as adoption. Most kids will point out the obvious: "Oh, that girl/boy does not look like their parents, they must be adopted." While many people will observe that I look nothing like my parents (observation skills 100+). To a certain point, the finger pointing and stares get up my grill.
I believe there is a certain etiquette and code of conduct, when it comes to being curious and asking a person about their personal life (in terms of being the adopted or foster child of that family).
1. "Do you miss your biological parents?"
Okay, first things first, most adopted children have not met their biological parents. Many of us, commonly in places such as China, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines, were placed in orphanages shortly after birth. For some of us, we were lucky enough to remember being with our biological parents; whether the memories were amazing or traumatic, they are still lucky enough to remember what their mother and father looked like. However, I think the only time a person should ask an adoptee this, is if they are close friends/family. This type of question is very personal, so please understand if adoptees are hesitant to talk about being adopted at all! Many adoptees, although I cannot speak for anyone but myself, have mixed feelings and this type of question should be asked with caution.
2. "Do you speak your native language?"
If you know the person enough, you wouldn't have to even ask this. I think asking this sort of question is fine; however assuming the person speaks their native language is a bit pushy. As a resident of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, many Chinese-Malaysians assume that I can speak the language and proceed to dribble out words that I do not understand. Funny experience; one time in Starbucks a barista (who was Chinese-Malaysian) saw me and started to ask for my order in Chinese. I politely said "wo ting bu dao," (which means I do not understand) and then in my most utmost Australian accent, I said, "I'd like to get a hazelnut latte please." This was met with a face of confusion, for which I took great pride in smiling back.
In case you are wondering, I do not speak Chinese. Despite attending Chinese school once a week religiously on a Saturday morning, I am not gifted in languages; however, I can speak a little bit. Moving on.
3. "Would you meet your biological parents if you were able to?"
I have been asked this several times... my answer? I honestly do not know. I think this is a very personal question, and should be asked if and only if you know the (adopted) person very well. Some of us are extremely lucky to be able to track down our biological parents: and in some cases (from what I have heard) it has been an amazing experience.
4. "Do you remember the orphanage you came from/grew up in?"
Orphanages are probably the most horrible and traumatic part of an adoptee's life... contrary to what you vision, orphanages are often overcrowded, not the cleanest and have a very low nanny/caretaker to orphan ratio. I honestly do not remember the orphanage, and I am glad I do not. However, I am sure that out there, there are a few adoptees that vividly remember how traumatic orphanages can be. I have seen videos/photos of my adoption, and I can safely say that orphanages in China are overcrowded, full of malnutrition children with fat bellies and hollow cheeks and scars or face deformities. Asking if we remember the orphanage is a very personal question.
5. I have the left the best question until last: "Why were you adopted?"
Every child in an orphanage deserves to be adopted and loved; no child should grow up alone in this cruel big world. This is probably the question that draws the line from curiosity to nosiness. Asking an adoptee why they were adopted is an extremely personal question that is often answered with "I don't know." Asking this type of question is the equivalent to asking, "Why didn't your biological parents want you?" Many adopted children might strongly feel rejected and unwanted; this all stems from the fact they were left to survive in an orphanage for adoption. The real question people often mix this up with is, "Why were you put in an orphanage?" In China, there used to be a strict one-child policy; there are many reasons why parents give their child up for adoption. I think it is psychologically damaging for a child to find out why were they given up for adoption: so please, before you ask someone this, think twice.
I hope this post was informative and not too boring, keep a look out for my next blog coming up soon!