"Where are you from?"
The question we all get as soon as we move from our country. An innocent ice breaker to start a chat.
As soon as someone can tell that we are not locals, maybe because of our features or that slightly different accent when we speak .. The question comes, "Where are you from?”
I remember being in Qatar during the winter of 2017. The innocent 20 year old me approached a friendly looking girl to start up a conversation.
I went up to her with my simple question, “So where are you from?” yet that simple question left the girl completely confused. She was about to answer, but then she paused to think.
I asked myself if there was something wrong. Why didn’t she just answer right away. Asking someone where they are from should prompt an easy answer right? Much like when you ask them for their name or their age, and they answer right away. There is no need to think.
Looking confused and she humbly asked me back, “Do you mean where I was born? Where I grew up? [or] Where do I live?”
Okay, now I get her confusion, it was clear. She is a globetrotter. She didn’t even know where she was from! I didn’t even know what I wanted to know from her anymore.
This made me think a lot. What am I actually asking for when I ask "Where are you from?" What should others tell me?
I have lived in "only" three different places in my whole of 21 years. When others ask me where I am from, I used to always answer with my birthplace: Naples, south of Italy.
Then I started living in another city in the north of Italy, and sometimes to the famous question, I answered with I am from Bologna.
Then, I moved again.
The truth is that each place has shaped me in a different way. Each city has given me something important. Of course I was born in the south, right by the seaside and this is still a big big part of me, and it has clearly made most of my memories. My roots are there: my family, those unbreakable relationships.
But then, Bologna has shaped me into the young woman I am today. It has given me most of the people I now share my life with. It has taught me so much.
Moving to the north has clearly affected my relationships with the people in my hometown, and how I now perceive that place.
Now that I have moved again, I can already feel Paris shaping me and my personality. I can already tell that the frenetic rhythm of the city is changing me. Perhaps giving me a new feature and a new approach to life.
So where am I from? How can you compare places when each and everyone has contributed so much to the person you are today? When they have given you the people you share your life with?
That girl I asked the question of, was born in the Emirates. She grew up in Morocco whilst her family was living in Saudi Arabia, and after doing university in Argentina, she was now living in Egypt. She wasn’t bragging asking me back what I wanted to know, she was genuinely confused.
What does “where are you from mean?” Ask yourself that question, and from there, ask yourself “then, where am I from?”
The answer might surprise you.