Thursday, December 3, 2009

Where Are You From?

A friend of mine posted this question on Facebook last night and asked a bunch of us to respond. Ironically, it's one I've been pondering for the last few days, because I get asked this question all the time and I frequently ask it of others.

Being from the U.S., I'm always curious where others have come from and what they consider home. I'm always equally-parts struck by people who have lived in one place for decades and by people who have moved around a lot. For a long time, my family thought I would be the one to settle down near them and my sister would be the one who moved around a lot. It's been the opposite. She's stayed in the Washington, D.C., metro area and I've moved in and out of the area three times since my family relocated there in the late 1980s.

It's been similar with my ex and now with Emm. My ex was born and raised in California and, with the exception of college, an internship, a mission, and a stint with a company in Washington State, she's always pretty much lived in California until we moved to Washington, D.C., for four years. Similar situation with Emm: she grew up in Arizona and went to college there, then lived briefly in Canada before settling in the Pacific Northwest. She's lived there ever since until recently. I have extended family members who have never left California or Utah and others who have moved around a bit.

Since I've been in Europe, I've met a load of people who have never moved out of one canton in Switzerland into another, because the expensive of "importing" your goods from one city to another is expensive. Same with moving from one country to another. If you've settled in France, you rarely move to Switzerland or Germany or vice versa unless you're willing to pay some hefty duties and tariffs. Quite often, if you do make a cross-border move, you sell your car in France and buy a new one in Switzerland, because it's cheaper than importing from one to the other. I'm sure one day the EU will figure all of that out.

That being said and returning to the topic at hand, I'm asked all the time where I'm from. I can't simply say, "The United States," because everyone knows what a big continent that is. I usually go with this as my response:
I was born in California, spent 17 years living in Utah (where I never learned how to ski. That always appalls scheelaufen lovin' Swiss), lived in Virginia for a year, then Austria for a year and a half. Came home and lived in Virginia for another five years while I finished college. Moved to California for grad school and stayed for eight years, then moved back to Washington, D.C. where I lived for seven years. I recently moved to Washington State, but only lived there three days before I came to Switzerland and I now live in France.

I should probably go with, I'm from California and Washington, D.C.
Here's the thing, though: when it comes right down to it, I want to say I'm from California, because that's where I was literally born and where I came into a big part of my self-identity as an adult. California holds a very special place in my heart and the only place I regret moving away from. On the other hand, I do love Washington, D.C., as a place to experience culture and politics. (Not so much work, though. I like to have a life and be defined by more than just my job.) And yet, I don't feel I can say I'm from California or from D.C. By the same token, I can't really say I'm from Langley, Washington, either, because I only lived there three days. I do hope to live there longer. I guess, my bottom line is, I don't know where I'm from at the moment and I'm sort of adrift.

So, when people ask where you're from, what do you say?

Photo source: Google Images, "globe".


Gilahi said...

Atlanta, because when I say Decatur, people who have heard of any city by that name assume it's in Illinois. This despite my accent.

Maya said...

I never know what to say either. Are they asking where you grew up (this is, however, not where I was born)? Or, where you call home now? Is there a time limit? I'm not sure if I should say Flagstaff or Seattle.

Cele said...

I remember this from when I lived in Germany. It was kind of a way to connect with other Americans, a way to bond. Germans just wanted to hear about the weird Americanish.

You might try this line.

"I was born in California. How much time do you have?"

You have a diversity of locations that will intrigue most listerners. That and you put people at ease with your style and delivery. You are very nicely down to earth.

Cele said...

Oh, and despite at the time I'd only lived in Oregon three years it is where I would tell people I was from. I left CA for a place I could love - it was a great fit.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Gilahi: That's hilarious! Oddly, I've heard of Decatur, Ga. That's probably because I worked in the paper industry for nearly a decade...

Maya: All good questions, 'cause if you went with where you were born, your answer would absolutely not fit you.

Cele: Oh, excellent suggestion! I like your line. It's perfect. What I find so interesting is how much Americans move around compared to our EU counterparts. In these parts, they say where their country of origin is and where they live now and that's pretty much it. Maybe they're on to something...

Wicked H said...

Well I was conceived on the grounds of a State Mental Institution. My Father is a psychiatrist and was working there and was given "on campus" housing. Then we moved every 4 years: Wilington -DE, Peoria - IL, Louisville - KY and then settled back in Annapolis -MD. However, my roots are Turkish.

Whew - that was exhausting.

C. L. Hanson said...

Wow, my story is only too similar to yours!!

I was born near Chicago, but my family moved away when I was a baby, and I haven't lived in that area since. Then we moved every couple years until we settled in MN when I was about ten. There we stayed until I left for college (and my parents are still there), so when people ask, I usually say "Minnesota".

But when it comes down to it, I lived in Bordeaux for as long as I lived in MN (and had such life-changing events as my wedding and birth of my kids there). And I've lived in New Jersey for about ten years total if you add it all up. And now my family has settled in Zurich. So my real answer to "Where are you from?" is "Hard to say..."

BTW, I found your blog through your comment on Main Street Plaza, and I'd like to add you to our blogroll. Can I put you in the "former Mormon" category or the "Believing Mormon" category?