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Getting Through : Dealing

Where Am I From? -- The Easiest Question of All!

from Marc - Friday, January 07, 2005
accessed 2028 times

I write this under the influence of a spirit (a nice bottle of Merlot; Yes. Jerseygirl. Again!).

It is human nature to want to place everything in neat, recognizable boxes. That is, whether we like to admit it or not, we can not live without our stereotypes. Stereotypes help us quickly understand those we encounter. We do it to protect ourselves. We wish to protect our pride and our place relative to the next person.

A common question to ask another person is, “Where are you from?” For most people, this is usually an easy, if not the easiest, question to answer (at least in the USA).

First of all, what do people usually mean when they ask you where you are from?

For most people, where they are from is where their parents, grandparents, relatives, and most certainly their siblings are from. This is usually the same town most people they know and interact with on a daily basis are from, went to school with, have their jobs or careers, homes, churches, etc. It is the same town their children will grow up in and so on.

Thus, when someone asks you where you are from, they can get a quick understanding (or snapshot) into what your life was like growing up. They understand, even if only at a superficial level, everything they need to know about you for a first encounter.

However, what if you are not “from” the same town as your relatives? What if neither of your parents were born or raised in the same town as their parents? What if your parents don’t share the same citizenship? What if the country you were born in is not the same as the one you grew up in? Or, if the country you “grew up” in was many countries and they are not the ones you currently live in? What if the country you were born in was not the same as any of your siblings?

In my case this is a very perplexing question. My father was born in America; however, neither of his parents was born in America. My father didn’t grow up in America; he spent his early years in Japan. He did, however, go to university in America but not in the same State as where he was born. Since he joined the group (in his early twenties), he hasn’t lived in America. My mother is Austrian. However, since she joined the group (also in her early twenties), she hasn’t lived in Austria. Of the seven children in my family, only two were born in the same city.

This question then becomes one of the most difficult questions I continually have to answer. It has given me nothing but grief. I am asked it casually by anyone and everyone. I am asked it by people I will work and interact with, future friends, and future girlfriends. I have to answer it on just about any official form I have to fill out. There is no escaping this question.

Over the years, I have attempted many possible responses. These include attempting to subtly change the subject (without ever answering it), ignoring the question (and risk being viewed as rude), deceiving, and downright lying. I have even tried, “What does that question really mean? Where am I from? That places me in a box far more than I wish to be placed. It is more important who I am.” The people who agree with the last response or like it generally end up being boring and overly philosophical (and probably live in a tree). I can live with the lying or deceiving response for a while but sooner or later it comes back to bite me.

When I attempt to tell the truth, at least part of it, this opens up a whole new series of questions I do not want to get into every time someone asks me this question (which is every time I meet someone). When I do this, most will outright call me a liar or give me the eye that says, “Whatever!” The few that do believe always prod further and are rarely satisfied with my response (probably because I do not wish to get into it with them). Usually, I will say something like, “I am from all over” or “nowhere special”. Some are cool with this but will eventually want to understand more and most just think I am trying to be mysterious (which I am).

The inevitable next question is, “Okay. So where were you born.” Easy enough to answer, right?—Actually, I only lived in the country I was born in for two months (my first two) and have never lived there since. “Okay. So, where did you go to school?” Actually, I never really went to school (until college). “Fine. What is your citizenship? What does it say on your passport?” Well, my passport says I am from this place but I have never lived in this country (until about six years ago). “Um . . . Well, where did you live the longest?” That is an interesting question. What do you mean by “live”? That becomes an arbitrary distinction. If I stayed in a city or country for over a year, does that count as having lived there? What if I was only there for six months or two months (but was there as if I were living there)? What if I have stayed there for multiple different times and the sum of that time exceeds two, three, or more years (but none of the individual times was ever more than, say, six months)? Does that count more than if I stayed in one city or country for more than, say, nine months?

Anyway, I think you get my point. Where I am from has nothing to do with where my parents are from or any of my relatives. It has nothing to do with where I was born (what if I was born on a ship in international waters?). It has nothing to do with where I grew up (I have traveled to or have lived in 46 countries to date). It has nothing to do with where I am living now. It has nothing to do with where I will eventually end up settling down (and who knows when that will happen?). It has nothing to do with where any of my friends are from (many have a similar dilemma). And so forth.

I suppose the question is simply irrelevant when it comes to me and my situation. This, however, does not help me one bit. I will, most likely, be asked tomorrow or the next time I encounter anyone I wish to know for more than a minute . . . ad infinitum!

Reader's comments on this article

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from Rain Child
Saturday, July 23, 2005 - 05:37

That has been my most dreaded question my entire life! growing up in Australia with an American accent is a very humiliating experience. Everyone calls you a bloody yank, and then I have to explain that I've only lived in America for a couple of years as a toddler but my father is American, my parents took me travelling, I lived all over south east asia, and now I have this weird accent. It gets so incredibly tiresome, and I have probably tried all your various responses just to try and get them to shut up! My friend who had never left Australia in her life used to actually say she was Californian, but that got her into strife if she ever met anyone who'd been there and started asking questions about it.
(reply to this comment)
From rockyv
Saturday, July 23, 2005, 05:53

Rainchild where are you from in Australia?(reply to this comment
from Solo
Friday, June 17, 2005 - 11:20

I say i went to boarding school it is easy and efficient. Also if any stupidity comes out of my mouth about my past I just say it was a religious boarding school and bash it to hell. It is fun and I get to present it in a humorous light. Like telling stupid stories about my childhood and stuff. It makes good material, I tell it in a stand up comedian sort of presentation (Sadly I have no talent). I say "Man when I was in boarding school I got beaten so badly I thought I was supposed to sit on my head until I was 14". Stuff like that, anyways my opinion doesn't really count so feel free to bash. Later.
(reply to this comment)
from xolox
Friday, June 17, 2005 - 09:24

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
I tell people the truth, or nothing at all. It wasn't my idea to be raised where I was, the way I was, so, I see no reason to be embarrased in any way. If people start asking too many questions, I tell them so, or I'll just ask an uncomfortable question of them and when they refuse to answer the issue is settled. For me lying and making up a past is a waste of too much energy.
(reply to this comment)
from Bad Poet
Monday, March 21, 2005 - 17:30


When I was 18 I was asked about my past so much. I think it's because I stuck out like a sore thumb back then. Now, hardly anyone asks unless I say something that doesn't make sense to a normal American childhood. I've finally figured out how to avoid the subject most of the time.

Back when I was 18 I wrote this shitty poem and would give it to people who started asking too many questions. People would either stop asking questions because they were afraid I'd give them another poem, or they would think I really was a princess which led to some pretty hillarious rumors about me.

Define me not by what you inquire,
Are you really right to ask?
Must you know my secrets prior,
Of my roots, my life, my past?

I'm here today, is it not enough for you,
That I laugh, I cry, I live the way you know?
With one step back, I forward more than two
But must you know what brought me so?

I could tell you a tale or three
About a princess in a castle.
Or you could hear about another me
I can make one up without a hastle.

Why should my past define who I am?
No crime have I committed
Other than run away from someone's plan
That against my wish they fitted.

So you if like what you see
Please leave it at that.
I'm becoming the me I want to be
And my past should never change that.
(reply to this comment)

Friday, June 17, 2005, 09:44

You've been a bad, bad poet, and Jesus has notified me that he doesn't want to take your spanking for you this time!(reply to this comment
From sassy
Friday, June 17, 2005, 07:55

I'm not very good with words, but i wanted to say i really like this poem, it really hits on the way it is for most of us. The past has done enough damage, why bring it into our new lives? My greatest fear is being 'found out' :)
(reply to this comment
from jack420
Monday, March 21, 2005 - 16:23

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

I tell people my parents were in the army (yeah.. um.. The Lords Army?!).

Once I was at a bar when one of my employees introduced me to an attractive lady as his employer. She seemed to take fancy in me and asked a little about my past. I was feeling down and really needed the company so I opted to not scare her away. I told her the story of my ideal childhood:

I was raised in a suburban home to good, loving parents (my dad is a dentist..), I owned a beagle named Walter, I went to Benson Polytechnic high school (I'm so on it, I even named the high school!!) and eventually college before starting my business.

When I was done with my well fabricated and solid story, I tried to steer the conversation away from the subject. She told me she didn't believe me one bit. I asked why? She told me my young age, attire, mohawk and speech impediment made my story highly unlikely. Turns out she was a shrink in development (school).

I told her the more interesting story involving constantly moving as a child because my parents were in a deranged cult. She didn't believe that story either. I quickly found some great reason to leave the table. When I came back around she had asked my friend the truth. While he didn't know much about where I came from he had heard a little about TF from my brother.

I still got laid that night but it got me thinking about the proper answer to that question.

I now usually avoid bringing up my past at all unless absolutely neccessary! If my past is brought up it usually has something to do with places I've lived. So, I don't talk about anywhere I've lived outside of the country I am currently standing in. Should it slip (Damn you, Alchohol and Weed!), I tell people they were in the army. Should they press for more information I explain my father is French so my parents had multiple options of places to live without the issue of needing visas. If they push for further explaination I say "Look! I had an abusive childhood! So unless you want to see me crying, sucking my thumb and peeing my pants all at the same time, leave me the fuck alone!!"

As it turns out most people want to see me doing that.

(reply to this comment)

From roughneck
Friday, June 17, 2005, 20:17

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
"crying, sucking my thumb and peeing my pants all at the same time...most people want to see me doing that."

LMAO! Fuck me*, dude, that just may be the funniest thing I've read so far this year!

Yeah I know this comment's a couple months old, but hey, like a tv show re-run, if I haven't seen it before, it's new to me! :D

(*figuratively speaking, of course.)(reply to this comment
from tudaisy
Monday, March 21, 2005 - 14:13


I tell people that I'm from the country of my nationality/passport, and then when they ask me what I'm doing in the US, I usally say, "allot of bad decisions brought me here", and trust me they never go further then that
(reply to this comment)

from saywhat
Friday, March 18, 2005 - 20:11

Standard reply to said question: "fuck off" or "trust me, you do not want to know!"
(reply to this comment)
from Jerseygirl
Sunday, January 09, 2005 - 05:18


The only bad thing about some of my "spirited" rants is that they take on the form of emails to my good friends and siblings. This wouldn't be so bad in itself if I wrote to them on a regular basis, but, I'm not too sure my charcter is being perceived correctly when after months of no communication they receive a profusive email declaring my undying love and devotion to them along with my latest brilliant theories on life.

Anyways, in response to your article, I usually tell people that I'm "global". It seems to confuse them enough that no further explanation is necessary. You'd be surprised how many people have no idea what that word means. If the person is an antagonistic Bush lover I just tell them that I'm from Canada and that usually sends them muttering on their way. The real concern for me is usually with friends I've known for awhile and by that time we've exhausted the small talk (which I despise anyway)and it becomes necessary to figure out how to take it to the next level which is a very mind boggling dilemma to me.
(reply to this comment)

From sassy
Friday, June 17, 2005, 08:01

I solved this problem by not having any close friends, Too many questions, and just telling them to leave it alone never works cause now they are your friends and they are all concerned about me, well fuck that I dont need anyone asking any questions, I won't have my child even hearing the phrase The Family International, never mind hearing I was in it!(reply to this comment
from JohnnieWalker
Sunday, January 09, 2005 - 00:12

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

My response to this question is something along the lines of:

"Well, I used to be in a ball on one of the rings spinning around the heavenly city spaceship until an angel escorted me to Bonn, Germany where the mother I chose prior to being born gave birth to me and, along with my father, proceeded to raise me in dozens of countries on four continents while they actively proselytized and recruited members for the religious sex cult they were part of. Later on, I backslid, got a System job and began working for Mammon like the rest of the Flatlanders. I am now a proud blood soaked Vanadri and bitter enemy who will either live in shame and everlasting contempt under a bridge by the River of Life, or die in the Battle of Armageddon, depending on if you believe in a pre- or post-Trib rapture.

...So...what brings you to the insane asylum on a beautiful day like this?"
(reply to this comment)

From Jerseygirl
Sunday, January 09, 2005, 05:19

Hilarious!(reply to this comment
from JohnnieWalker
Sunday, January 09, 2005 - 00:12


(reply to this comment)
from Tim R
Saturday, January 08, 2005 - 19:51


I have run into this problem too, I usually just tell people I grew up "Everywhere" and that covers it.

(reply to this comment)

from Ne Oublie
Saturday, January 08, 2005 - 17:57

Average visitor agreement is 1 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
I love telling people where I'm from, and then watching the incredulity and disbelief in their faces as they wait for the punchline! I've got a pretty good story, that is close enough to the truth that I don't have to worry about it, but is still 'normal' enough to get by. It's a great conversation-starter in any case.
(reply to this comment)
from another thought
Saturday, January 08, 2005 - 15:50

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

As Vicky said, "Poor Marc!" If you choose to pursue the "my parents were missionaries" thread, keep in mind that there is, among evangelicals and the like, a subgroup known as Missionary Kids, or MKs. Kids with parents who are Americans or whatever, but who are born and raised overseas. In later life they often have all sorts of problems with identifying with their "home" country because they really identify with where they were raised.

Interestingly, the attrition rate -- those who fall away from the faith of their missionary parents -- is high -- about 70-80%.

I think a lot of studies have been done on the subject -- maybe some material is online.

Or just tell people to read "Poisonwood Bible."

(reply to this comment)

From another thought
Saturday, January 08, 2005, 16:05


TCK. Just did a quick google search for MK, and came up with another term -- TCK -- third culture kid. This includes diplomats' kids all sorts of people. Then there are ATCK -- adult third culture kids.

Lots of interesting reading if you do a google. Interesting, one of the biggest problems is when people ask "Where are you from?"(reply to this comment

From Marc
Saturday, January 08, 2005, 16:54


Yes. Also check out:

I especially like the quote, "While Third Culture Kids usually grow up to be fiercely independent and cosmopolitan, they also often have trouble 'fitting in' with anyone who hasn't had the exact same combination of cultures that they have. As third culture kids grow up they become Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs). Some of them come to terms with the tremendous culture shock and loss that they have experienced. They gain a broader understanding of the world through their varied experiences, while others spend most of their adult life trying to come to terms with those same issues."(reply to this comment

from Joe H
Saturday, January 08, 2005 - 15:06

This one is actually quite simple (to answer; the question is exceedingly complex): Just look them in the eye and with a knowing smile, say "I'm from wherever you want me to be, baby" He/she will think you are weird and/or a pervert and ask no further questions. Hail Satan!
(reply to this comment)
From Marc
Saturday, January 08, 2005, 15:32

Nice Joe! Actually, I believe you and I have tried this answer before (?). Unfortunately, I can't say that to a prospective boss or dude. What about Lucifer?(reply to this comment
From Joe H
Saturday, January 08, 2005, 16:49

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

Yes, I am nice. But I think you meant "Nice, Joe!" Back to the topic at hand, I've found most people leave you alone after "Lots of places."

I think I will start adding an occasional "Lucifer" for good measure into my interjections that used to reference God. Let's see "What in the name of Lucifer is going on here?" I like!(reply to this comment

From celestej
Saturday, October 04, 2008, 04:42


  I love this article, I almost wrote one addressing this exact same issue before I found it.  I live in LA, where this question is even more prevelant.  I've gotten to the point where it kind of pisses me off to be asked where I'm from.  It's a question that for most people is simply answered but in my case causes a sudden wave of anxiety brought on by painful memories.  If I tell people I lived all over they immediately ask "military family?" and seeing as that's the only possible explanation that Jim From Ohio could comprehend, I smile and nod agreeably, and then DEFLECT DEFLECT DEFLECT.  I ask them everything I could possibly care to know about themselves and thier lives.  They won't have a chance to interrogate if you're the one asking all the questions.  By the way Joe H, you are funny, my man.

(P.S.  I realize I am commenting on a lot of old articles, which may seem wierd, but it's just something I have to do.  I've missed out on so much during all the years I had no idea this site existed. I feel deprived-sniff sniff)(reply to this comment

from Moronic Minimee
Saturday, January 08, 2005 - 11:05


I think most of us meet this dilemma.

In my case, I've come up with a watered down half-true, non-lie story.

Since I've been telling this to all since I was 15, it now rolls off as if it were real.

My dad was a language teacher. (Yep, he taught the foreign folks the local language. But he isn't my biological father.)

Parents were catholic, so I have a bit of knowledge about the bible. Don't know the details. Religion was never my cup of tea.

Yes, their religion did not allow abortion or contraceptives, hence the astronomical number of children in my family.

Well, my dad was transfered a lot when he was young, so I never really been in the same place too long. (I won't mention one time our home was raided, so we jumped out the window and ran.)

First sexual experience. Young. Hey, it's the norm now. Oh, just some girl. We both wanted to experiment.

Yes, my elder sister does not look like me. Mom had her prior to her marriage.

And so on. This works perfectly fine, because I've learned to accept that this is my past. On the other hand, I cannot handle intimate relationships where I would have to bare all. I can't trust anyone if I haven't told them, but it's always a gamble.
(reply to this comment)

from lisa
Saturday, January 08, 2005 - 09:32

Average visitor agreement is 2.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 2.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 2.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 2.5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 2.5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
This is 2005, people no longer expect everyone to have neat familys. How many different reasons are there for traveling all over the world? There are alot of kids who have experianced the same thing who have nothing to do with the Family. Its not like traveling as a kid marks you out as a freack, sure its different but who cares. Most people are only asking to be polite anyway.
(reply to this comment)
From conan
Friday, March 18, 2005, 20:10


Woah! Where is it that you live? (reply to this comment

from mugthebug
Saturday, January 08, 2005 - 08:40

i usualy tell people where i was born and then add my parents were crazy and took my sisters and i around the world to enlighten us
(reply to this comment)
from half truth
Saturday, January 08, 2005 - 07:31


I just tell them, "I was born in ... (which happens to be my passport/citizenship country) but my parents left as missionaries when I was 4. I have grown up all over the world and have left the missionary group." It gets them over the fact that I never lived in once place for long, and most people aren't too fussed about a missionary, as long as they don't find out that a missionary is not really a missionary.

Alternatively, you could tell them you are a Kingdomite, or from the Heavenly City which is in the moon and one day, you will rule the world for 1000 yrs..........
(reply to this comment)

from Vicky
Saturday, January 08, 2005 - 04:33

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
Kisses for poor Marc!!! Hmmm, why don't you just tell people you were found on the doorstep of a church as a newborn? At least people would probably be too shocked to think of any questions to ask!
(reply to this comment)
From xolox
Friday, March 18, 2005, 21:44

Best answer yet!(reply to this comment

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