Monday, August 9, 2010

Where are you from?

Kyle and I were at an awesome dinner party last night. The evening was a part of the eaTable Supper Club series (you can read about the idea on founder Stacey Greenberg's blog) and was an amazing experience in more ways than you could imagine. The food was delicious, perfectly paired with red and white wines (thanks to the genius of Michael Hughes). The company was even better. I sure hope we get invited again.

Somewhere between the mezze platter and the "Cool Me Off" Gazpacho, however, Kyle and I were confronted with a question that we have been having difficulties answering lately. No. Nobody asked when we were planning to have kids. It was seemingly simpler than that. Where were you before coming to Memphis, Margot asked, and we were both at a loss for words.

Well... right before we moved to Memphis, we were living in Freiburg, Germany. Before that we were in Central Pennsylvania. Before that... Sofia, Bulgaria. However, Kyle is from San Francisco (even though he spent his high-school years in Connecticut) and I'm from a small town right outside of Sofia. Now let me catch my breath.

We need to simplify our story. Or our life. I don't know.

I was still thinking about this when I came across the following little story over at Marginal Revolution:

I order my bagel from a gentleman with a thick New York accent and he eyes me suspiciously. Finally he grunts out, in a tone slightly less than that of accusation:

Server: "Where are you from?"

(I pause. There are different answers to this question, depending who is asking and where you are. Is it about where you were born, where you grew up, where you live now, and in the latter case how specific should the location be? In Ghana I should say "Washington," though in Portland that answer fails. In North Carolina I can say "northern Virginia." In Arizona I should say "Virginia." In El Salvador I try "Falls Church.")

I answered, after a pause, with a feeling of insecurity:

TC: "New Jersey"

I feel relieved. We are not alone in this.


Photo via Guccio


  1. Oh, I know this question :D My partner and I were recently in Amsterdam. Every time we got to know someone new, they asked "Where are you guys from?" In order to simplify things, we got used to just say "We are comming from Germany" (well, I'm bulgarian and my partner is half-sicilian, but we both live in Germany, so it's kind of true that we "came" from Germany)
    Everytime they looked at us with a big question mark in their faces and said "No, you are not! "

    So Simplify doesn't always work for us :)

  2. When I lived in Malaysia a lot of young people would demand to know where I was from -- once an upstate NY friend was visiting and we were beseiged at a waterpark. We discovered the baffling answer that made everyone just go away: "Schenectady". Especially when pronounced like my friend did -- with a lispy whistle in it.

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  4. RoBlitz:
    Simply doesn't work, I know. When I say I'm from Memphis... people ask, but where are you FROM? When I say I'm from Bulgaria, they think I'm referring to my grand-ancestors. Argh.

    Love it! LOVE it!!!

  5. Anna:
    The reactions to my answer help me quickly identify the people that I have a lot in common with.

    Spot on!!!

    P.S. Speaking of Nashville, Kyle and I are coming to see The Pixies at the beginning of September. We should get together for coffee or something!

  6. Petya, you are too quick. I deleted my post as I thought of a funny story to add. So here it is again. And yes, we should definately meet. What dates are you in Nashville?

    Petya, you are definitely not alone in this. You just touched another topic I often think about and discuss with my husband as we get asked that question a lot.

    My favorite exchange is the following (with an older gentleman, in his 80s, in Southern California).

    “So Anna, where did you say you were from?”
    “Bulgaria” (Big question mark on his face)
    “No! Bulgaria!” (The question mark is getting deeper)
    “Do you speak Spanish?”
    “Yes. I do.”
    “Oh, okay, I’ve been down there. I’ve been to Chile.”

    In the past 8 years my husband and I moved from France to Phoenix, then Miami, Los Angeles and now Nashville. None of us grew up in any of those places so every time we move we wonder what the simplest answer would be. Well, there is no simple answer and that’s the best part. He grew up along the US East Coast and I grew up in Sofia and that definitely formed who we are today. But what brought us together is our common passion for learning about and experiencing new cultures, people and places. We feel we belong to a certain mindset before a nationality. I have found it a lot easier to connect with people with the same worldly perspective regardless of whether they are a Mexican in LA, a Midwestern in Chicago or an Indian in Nashville, than with people who grew up a lot closer to me but were never comfortable with hanging around people from far away places. So yes, when I meet new people in Nashville I do have a hard time answering the question. I came from California but I am not all about style, sushi and granola (as some around here think). And yes, I am Bulgarian but my “English is very good” . I’ll be a citizen of the world (sorry about the terrible cliché) regardless of where I live. And I have the feeling this is true for mostly everyone who reads your blog. The reactions to my answer help me quickly identify the people that I have a lot in common with.

  7. I think the trick is to have fun with it and/or to try to beat them to it. Though I have not been that many places and typically don't even pause to answer Bulgaria (that of course is usually followed by a story of how then I ended up in Richmond, VA of all places so I guess it is complicated in a way) is all of the aftermath/related comments or lack thereof that get me. I too have been passed for Spanish (plenty of times!) and to be honest the "your accent is cute" or even worse "you seem to have a Russian accent" and all versions of the above used to drive me nuts. So at one point I grew so tired of being the one that got asked the "Where are you from?" question so I started to ask first. Catch them by surprise, get the ball in their court...totally changes the subject :) BUT! It does make a difference who the person on the other side is. I believe there are people (myself included) that are genuinely interested in how you come to be at a certain geographical point at a certain time in your life and your journey to get there. Some...well they could just care less and then the question becomes either irrelevant or stereotypical.

  8. If time permits I usually return the question "do you want the short or the obnoxiously long version?". An obnoxious amount of folks then demand the long version :)

  9. My freshman year of college, all my postcards to Bulgaria were sent to Bolivia first and then re-routed to Eastern Europe. ;)

  10. This is hilarious! Really? Well, I have often thought of just saying that I am from Bolivia because what I do for living is marketing to Hispanics and some question how a Bulgarian can do that. But I have never even been to Bolivia :D