No, where are you really from?

Dom Joly

'Growing up in Lebanon to British parents, I was always a touch confused' - Credit: Dom Joly

The comedian with wanderlust reports from Cheltenham

Regular readers of this column might remember that I’d been given a DNA test kit for Christmas. After what seems like an eternity, the results are finally in… 

Growing up in Lebanon to British parents, I was always a touch confused. I had brown eyes, black hair and olive skin. At boarding school in the UK I was always accused of having ‘a touch of the tar brush’ (a serious, nasty racial slur, indicating that you might not be of white ancestry).  

Now, let me make this very clear. If I was Lebanese, or Turkish, or whatever, I would have absolutely no problem with it. In fact I would be proud to be of any heritage.  

The problem for me was that, as far as I knew, the accusations were not true. I was of English descent, with ancestors on my father’s side who were originally Huguenots from a village called Moudon In Switzerland.  

This was what I’d been told since birth and formed my sense of identity.  

Being accused of being Arab was annoying because: 

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A. It wasn’t true.  

B. It questioned my whole sense of identity, of who I was. Had my parents lied to me? Was I adopted?  

I was pretty sure that this was not the case, but it bothered me a lot when I was younger. As I got older and could actually choose the company I kept, it became less of an issue. I did, however, often face that insidious question: ‘where are you really from?’ It seems harmless, but the implication is often that you don’t really belong. 

Well, now I know where I’m really from.  

I am 99.5% European.  

Although it was what I had been told I was, it was a relief to find out that my parents had, as it turned out, been telling the truth. 

I am 76.4% British and Irish; 6.3% Scandinavian (Finnish); 1% French and German; 5.8% Italian; 0.7% Spanish and Portuguese; 0.1% Ashkenazi Jew. There was a spare 9.7% that was more unspecific (broadly North Western European).  

The Finnish angle worries me as I am currently writing a book about conspiracy theories, and one of these theories is that Finland doesn’t actually exist. As it so happens, I am off to Helsinki very soon to check whether it does. Finland is actually not part of Scandinavia so the results are wrongly written up in this case, anyway.  

The Italian part of me, I think, relates to the Huguenot background as it indicates matches in Switzerland.  

The big surprise was that I was 0.1% Ashkenazi Jew. I’ve always thought it unfortunate that the word Nazi appears in this description of Eastern European Jews. I messaged my friend David Baddiel, comedian and author of a quite superb book Jews Don’t Count. He is my go-to expert on all things Jewish. I showed him my result and asked whether this meant that I’d have been gassed by the Nazis? 

His answer was, ‘I think not. Although it was probably better not to ask.’ 

Tracy-Ann Oberman, the actress and spirited defender of all things Jewish told me: ‘I think you’d have been OK. You need 10% to be gassed. Would you hide us in your loft?’ 

The answer to that would be a resounding ‘yes’.  

Some people are suspicious of the efficacy of these tests. My wife Stacey also did one and she received the news that she was 99% Scottish. This was along the lines of what she had been told so, overall, I’m pretty impressed. I am also now able to answer in precise detail the next time somebody asks me where I’m ‘really’ from.

Follow Dom on Twitter: @domjoly

Dom’s latest book Such Miserable Weather: An English Staycation is available to order from