Third Culture Kid Dating; adults who have spent their developmental years outside their parent's culture

Where are you from?


How many times have you had that question? I think this topic has been done again and again. But I think the reason that it’s been covered so many times by third culture kids and global nomads is because it happens so frequently in our lives, and it always takes us 20 times longer to answer the question than anyone else.  And we either feel uncomfortable or arrogant in answering the question.

I think we (TCKs) all have that little 1 minute speech memorized by now.  I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly trying to shorten it.  Because I just always feel that it sounds so pompous: “My dad is French; my mom is Belgian. But I’ve never lived in either of those countries. I was born in Tokyo, moved to Dusseldorf, Johannesburg, Vienna, Hamburg and then did my undergrad in the US.”  And I have no desire to sound arrogant about it. There’s no reason to be.  I mean, come on, the majority of us (TCKs) only traveled around the world as a result of one or both of our parents’ jobs. It’s not from our own risk-taking behavior.  What are you going to do as a kid? Say no? Question it? Why would you? You’re five years old. And after the first or second move, it becomes so normal, that you never really feel the need to question it. I wasn’t bothered. I absolutely loved it.  If I had the choice to do it again in the exact same way, I would. 

This is why I don’t think people should be impressed by our ‘where are you from’ response. I’m much more impressed by people who say they’ve traveled since they left their parent’s house.  Living somewhere for six months, a year, in a foreign country on your own. That’s amazing.  It means that you were willing to take that risk. To go off on your own and see where it would take you. Not following the regular path of uni and that full-time job. No, you chose to pack your bags and not stick to what everyone else expects of you: your friends, your professors, your parents, society in general, really.  I’ve met people who have traveled a lot since they were 18, and they’re always surprised when I say how fascinated I am by that.  It’s a completely different thing.  Yes, I’ve lived in different countries. But that was because my parents moved around. And, well, after I continued moving around (Boston, Auckland, London) because that’s what I knew.  I loved getting out of my comfort zone. But I had years of practice.  I’m more interested by those people who didn’t do it when they were growing up and yet have this yearning and curiosity for different cultures (purely from their own interest).

And that’s why, I don’t think it’s ‘impressive’ that we, TCKs, have lived in all of those countries.  Our parents were impressive, maybe. As they took that risk, to be expats, to intentionally move to another country and have to learn a new language. To learn new customs.  But us?  We just followed.

This is why I try to shorten my spiel when I’m asked where I’m from.  I’ve tried only saying “French-Belgian”, but it never works. They’ll just ask me why I have an American accent.  Which, to be fair, I completely understand. If I heard someone with a British or American accent, of course, I would just assume they’re from the UK or the US.  Why would they be from Europe?  I mean, I get it, all of my cousins and extended family on my dad’s side have such a thick French accent when they speak English.  So immediately when you meet a French or Belgian person, you think they should have that sort of accent when speaking English.  It’s misleading.  How do you feel about all of this?  Are you also constantly shortening your response to the question ‘Where are you from’?



8 thoughts on “Where are you from?

  1. Oh God, the inevitable question. I thought at one point of answering “Do you want the long answer or the short one?” and I did once. It was meant to be a joke, but I don’t think it had the intended effect. One time, I actually lied and said I was from Boston. Because I knew I would never see those guys again. Then at one point, I remember saying “It’s a long story” and the man I was speaking to just left it at that.

    For the time being, I tell people I’m French. It’s way easier for them to understand.

    • I feel like I’m hearing myself talk Skanlaf! I’ve definitely done that before. I’ve said that I was from New York City or just said I was from the US. You know? It’s when you’re so tired, and it’s like you said, you know you won’t see them again.

      Love the ‘It’s a long story’. Surprising, he just left it at that!

  2. Reblogged this on Out of Place, Just in Time and commented:
    Well spoken!

  3. Wow I feel like you are inside my head. This post reminded me so much of one of my earlier posts

    • I just had a read through your post “Okay, but where are you really from”, found it hilarious. And it’s so that. People always want to ask, ok but come on, seriously, where are you from. And then they want to simplify it by asking questions like “Well, where are you born?” As if that will make it clearer! I was born in Tokyo. Or they’ll ask something like “Well, it’s what passport you have. What kind do you have?”. The fact that I have two complicates things. And the fact that I’ve never lived in the countries in which the passports are from!

  4. Haha, that’s an excellent point. I think there are two questions people often ask: ‘What do you do?’ (status question) and ‘Where are you from?’ (allows an individual to place a cultural/social label on someone. Easier when you can fit someone in a category). And you’re right; I ask that question every time I meet someone new!

  5. I usually get “where’s the accent from?” – because of the residual R’s from my (Southern!) American accent, but my non-American vowels, most go for next-best and guess Canada. It’s exasperating – do you really want to know, or are you just making conversation?

    If I start explaining:

    I’m a bit of an accent chameleon. My parents are Australian, I was born there but we left when I was 2 and then we lived in multicultural settings (including 5 years in North Carolina, 8 years on a missions base with 65 different nationalities/accents) across 3 different countries (5 primary schools, 5 high schools) until I was 16, spent 10 years at “home” before I saved enough money to bail, ended up in London where I worked for a massive construction management firm where most of my colleagues were expats, lived in Afrikaans share houses for 4 years, moved back to Australia in 2005 due to an “on death’s door” grandmother, but not before qualifying for and getting UK citizenship & a so-far-unused EU passport…

    They’ve usually glazed over before I get to “until I was 16″.

    So my short version is, “I was born here, but grew up travelling. The accent’s from about 20 places.”

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