Tuesday, July 5, 2011

'Where Are You From?'

Simple question, right?  I used to think so.  Not any more.
This past Sunday, while sitting down to lunch in Paris (rough life, I know...), the Americans sitting at the next table looked at me and said, 'where are you from?' as they heard me talking when I sat down, and darned if Americans aren't friendly to their own kind when they're abroad! :)

And, thus the dillema began.

When living in the US, 'from' implied where I was originally from-as opposed to where I currently lived.   And, as most Americans can still detect a slight Southern accent, my reply, 'North Carolina' isn't a suprise.  Since moving abroad however-and especially since fully settling into life in London-I really have no idea how to answer that question.  If I say, 'London' (which I did in this case....), I immediately get:  'oh, wow.  you don't sound  British.'  And, then I usually have to follow up with explainig that no, I'm not British-I just live there. I'm most recently from Seattle.  Invariably, the Southern accent gets mentioned, and then I have to further clarify that I'm originally from North Carolina.

Who ever knew that such a simple question could create such a complicated response!  Maybe I'm just making this more complicated than it needs to be.

So, blog readers....when people ask you 'where are you from?' how do you respond?


  1. I totally agree with you on this one! It really depends who I am talking to. Usually I would say NY but any American knows there aren't too many true NYers out there so if they are American I say NJ and if they aren't then I say NY. Whatever makes the conversation easier to understand. =)

  2. I know. I get into a similar situation when people ask me how many kids I have. Life just isn't that simple. On one side it gives an opportunity to have a conversation starter, which isn't all that bad. But for those who can't deal with the deviations from the "How are you? Good. How are you? Good." exchange and get thrown for a loop, it's a case of TMI. It depends on the day on how I deal with it, and what I think about the person asking.

  3. Why not just say something like "I'm originally from North Carolina but I live in London now". I doubt strangers care to know anything more than that.


  4. Having been in the USA more than half my life now, I tend to start my answer with, "Well, I've spent most of my life here in this state" (at which point the person who asked me the question tends to look at me in disbelief) and then I continue "but I grew up in the UK."

  5. I can totally relate. I don't know why I feel compelled to tell everyone where I've lived. I'm originally from Brooklyn so I try to say that because if I mention moving from Austin they wonder why I don't have a Texas accent and how did I like living in Bush country. Oy.

  6. I'm with Jane - I say that I'm originally from DC but that I now live in London.

  7. I have a friend who is half Swedish and half Thai, which means his mother is from Thai and his father is from Sweden, and He was born in Hongkong. But he's spent most of his life in America. I still remember when i was introduced him and asked where he was from!
    Buy the way in this kind of question i think people tend to answer where he was originally from. African american for example. I mean even though he was born in america and has never been to africa in his life, he might say he's from africa.

  8. Hi Kristina.
    I just wanted to say your blog is fantastic and actually inspired me to start my own... today. I have a blog on another site but mainly use it for sharing funny pics and such.
    I came across your blog this afternoon while researching a possible FUTURE move outside of the US. I proceeded to read ALL of your entries in the past few hours and in the words of tony the tiger "THEY'RE GREAT!"
    Thanks for all of the tips and insight into life across the pond.
    Looking forward to future posts.
    P.S. Have you ever considered a "to do list" for people looking to move to London with links and helpful tid bits?

  9. Hi Kristina

    I'm an Assistant Producer at Maverick TV and we are developing a new series for Discovery named "How to Handle Your Girlfriend's Body". We are looking to cast (part American) couples for a pilot and I was wondering if I can post something up on your blog?
    Lina Hashweh
    0121 224 8346

  10. I guess I better start practicing how I'll be answering that question. I've been accepted to grad school at an American university in London; I'll start next July, so I have a year to prepare. :) I'm from Cleveland, I wonder if Londoners even know what Cleveland is, or would I be better off saying "Ohio" or "The Midwest"??

  11. @Gennifer, congrats on your upcoming adventure! Hopefully, there will be better weather next July when you arrive. :)
    @jaellison...thanks! I haven't ever considered a to-do list to be honest (there's an early post about my to-do list, but that's about it). In truth, since I moved with my company, I didn't have to deal with 90% of what most people have to deal with (thank GOD), and haven't a clue as to how to go about it either!

  12. Thank you! I'm actually hoping the weather stays the same, I've been reading that it's in the mid-60's F in London this week, while here in Cleveland it's in the 90's. I have vitiligo and can't be in the sun, and I have thyroid disease and a LOT of hair on my head, I don't tolerate the heat too well, so save some of that cooler weather for me if you don't mind! :)

  13. It would depend on the context and who was asking. If I were living in London and a group of Americans asked me where I was from I would have gone directly to the NC answer... WI and MI for me. :) That is something I've never thought about... I guess you really don't until things like this happen. Cute post.

  14. I just turned 23 and have moved nearly 20 times - such is the life of a career army brat. We were lucky enough to spend six years in Europe (I was born in Germany) a year in South Korea and spent the rest of our time bouncing between Washington State and Washington DC. I'm currently in Texas for the summer, but am moving to London in 6 weeks to begin graduate school.

    I identify as a German-born American kid. Europe is where my heart is, and it's where I'm going back. When I'm talking to Americans, I usually say, "I'm from the west coast" - it's where I went to college and it's where my mother's family (whom I'm very close to) is from. Seattle was where I spent my teens, and it's easily my favorite city in the states. My father is from California, so again - I feel really comfortable saying, "the west coast."

    I was born in Germany, but I always feel it's a bit duplicitous and misleading to say I'm "from" Germany, especially given that my parents are both American. But should the conversation continue, I invariably mention it. When I move to London this September, I imagine my answer will be something like, "I'm an American, but I've lived all over the world. I was born in Germany, but my family is from the Seattle area originally. And now I'm here in London!"

    I've recently read the wikipedia article on Third Culture Kids - I can relate to almost every description, both negative and positive. It might give you some insight too, regarding the liminality of being an expat!! I think at the end of the day, the difficulty of answering this question just goes to show that people are complex, and it's a beautiful thing. x

  15. * I should have said, "bouncing around EVERYWHERE between Washington State and Washington, DC." I've lived in eight states! I'm really excited to be heading somewhere of my OWN choosing, and I'm glad that place is London!

  16. @Kels: Whew. And, I thought my story was complicated! :)

  17. Haha, I have almost the exact same problem except I'm not an expat. I go to school in Alabama, after graduation in California. People ask, "Why would you come all the way to Alabama?" Then I have to say,"well, I was raised here." Then they're like,"Oh you were born here." I'm like,"No, I was born in Nebraska." "Oh that's why you don't have an accent." *sigh*"Yes."
    Just lather, rinse, and repeat everytime you meet someone or even when a friend from back looks at you like you're crazy for choosing AL.
    *Note: This conversation is usually longer and more drawn out; I did a good job shortening this if I must say so myself. :D

  18. I tend to say "near London", because that is just simpler than anything else, but sometimes I add "but we lived in Scotland before we moved to America". Depends on how much of a conversation I want to start.

  19. @Jessa...LOL. And, I thought my backstory was challenging. :) Your commentary just goes to show that it can be complicated even in the US alone!

  20. Kristina,
    Being a Navy brat, I moved around quite a bit. My dad was born in Panama, but both my parents were raised in Springfield, MO. (Mum was born and raised.)When my dad retired, the shipped us to Springfield, MO. I live in Chicago now, but I like to say that I'm from Springfield because it's the place I spent the majority of my life. I went to elementary school there for a little bit, junior high, high school, and college. I think while in London, the place you identify with most should be where your from. It could be from London by way of North Carolina, or where ever in the US you identify with most.