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When a simple question becomes difficult


I got a packet in the mail just a few days ago from Australian Immigration.

The packet contained some updated news and instructions for our partner reassessment that is to occur later this year. See, we got the first stage of the partner visa approved at the end of September last year, which granted me temporary residence. This year, if approved, I’ll be granted permanent residence in Australia.

Yay, awesome, right?!

Brooke and Pat at Chocolate Factory tour in Tomsk

Brooke and Pat at a chocolate factory tour in Tomsk

Well it got me thinking about a little issue that arose while Pat and I were out on the Silk Roadistan tour, and it had a little something to do with the question:

“Where are you from?”

The facts are that I live in Australia with my Australian boyfriend, and Sydney is where I now call home. So, for the ease of the matter, I usually just let Pat answer and tell them we were from Australia. But, it doesn’t always feel right.

I hold US citizenship and carry a US passport. I have no desire to become an Australian citizen at this time, and for the first 25 years of my life, I was molded with midwest America values. I am American in my soul, and I hope that someday Pat and I can spend some years living in my homeland as well.

When you tell people that you are from Australia, they immediately think you are Australian.

I found myself on countless occasions trying to explain that I was American living in Australia. Just seems a weird question to stumble over; I somehow manage to do it.

If you are someone living abroad as an expat, how do you answer this question when traveling?


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22 Responses to When a simple question becomes difficult

  1. Ali August 6, 2012 at 6:09 am #

    Ugh I know exactly what you mean! Even when I was living in the US, I always felt the need to say “I’m originally from NJ but I live in Atlanta.” Now I tell people “I’m from the US but I live in Germany.” Longer than the answer they were looking for, but it’s accurate. When I was traveling with a friend a few months ago and people would ask us where we’re from, she would jump in and say that I’m from Germany, which always resulted in strange looks because clearly my English is native. So I’d have to correct her. I’m not FROM Germany, I just live here.

    • Brooke August 27, 2012 at 9:06 am #

      Yep, very annoying isn’t it?! A couple of my American friends that live in Sydney said they went on a tour overseas and were asked where they were from. When they responded Sydney the guide announced that they had a couple of Aussies with ’em! Not quite haha

  2. Kelsey August 6, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Even though I’ve now been living in the USA for almost 4 years, I still struggle with this one, as I’ve moved 32 times in the last 12 years! I grew up in Texas, lived in western MA for a little while, in Boston for awhile, in NC for awhile, in TX again for awhile, then lived in my car for 9 months, then lived in VA, then Korea, and now VA again. It’s *slightly* easier to do the whole “It’s complicated” answer here in the DC area, because very few people are actually *from* the DC area. Even locals ask eachother “So where are you *really* from?”

    If it’s this hard to answer while living in the USA, you should see the confused looks I get when I’m traveling!

    Marc and I have toyed with the idea of moving back to France (since he’s a French citizen) if Romney gets elected, and I cringe at thinking about how I’ll answer that question if we do!

    (sorry for the duplicate – the first one had some errors and the wrong email)

    • Brooke August 27, 2012 at 9:08 am #

      32 times is a LOT! Wow! And France… that could be nice though. Is it only on the table if certain things happen politically?

  3. Cheryl August 6, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    In the airline/travel industry we always and say where we are “based”. If those that work in an office, no one is actually from where they are currently working. When I lived in the UK and was traveling, I would just say to “where are you from?”, I would say “from the US but living in Manchester”. Clarifying took care of the followup, especially if I wasn’t interested in talking anymore 🙂

  4. Monica August 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    I have a really tough dilema like this too. I’m from Wales but when you go to a lot of places outside of Europe, very few people have heard of Wales so I end up telling people I’m English just because it’s so much easier. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been asked where abouts in London Wales is.

    • Brooke August 27, 2012 at 9:10 am #

      Haha yeah that would be so annoying! It’s kind of like when I try to explain what part of the US I’m from. It’s a smaller town, so I end up saying I’m from Chicago… which is like 3 hours away and to the north!

  5. Sam August 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    Enjoyed the post as always. Luckily for me it’s somewhat easier as I never seem to spend more than 2 or 3 years somewhere but still. I grew up in Chicago for 18 years…then spent 5 in Bloomington-Normal. Then I lived the last 2 years in England, now it’s going to be a year in Korea and 2 or 3 years in Germany.

    Even being stationed overseas sometimes I have to explain how I am American. Heck even back in the states one time I had to specify to someone that I was in the US Air Force and not the RAF. (I guess certain phrases I sound a little different or something).

    So although often the conversation often gets more in depth I usually just say I am from Chicago. Chicago is in my blood and soul, and that isn’t something that will change.

    • Brooke August 27, 2012 at 9:11 am #

      Haha I usually tell people I am from Chicago… but mainly because no one knows anywhere else 😉

  6. Amanda @ Farsickness August 7, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    “Where are you from?” has definitely become a difficult question for me. Right before I moved to Korea my parents left the state I’d grown up in so when I return “home” I go to an unfamiliar place. When I was in Kentucky visiting them for Christmas it was confusing. People would ask where I was from and I’d say “Michigan, but my parents live here, but I live in Korea.” I never thought such a simple question would become so hard!

    • Brooke August 27, 2012 at 9:13 am #

      Haha wow that did get complicated for you! And that’s just when conversing with people who speak the same language 😉

  7. Jessalyn August 7, 2012 at 2:29 am #

    So with you on stumbling over this question. Living in Australia, I just say “the U.S.” and clarify further if people ask, although that gets into the where I grew up vs. where I went to college/worked vs. where my family lives now issue. When I travel out of Australia, I run into the same problems you do, since I still tell people I’m American but then have to clarify where I’m currently living (which inevitably gets into the long-winded “why?”) if the conversation goes any further. Some people think it’s really cool and keep asking questions, some get a kind of horrified, what’s-wrong-with-you?! look on their faces, but at least it makes an otherwise dull conversation starter a little more interesting, right? 🙂

    And I’m with Kelsey on the DC area being perhaps the best place for an “It’s complicated” answer to this – everyone expects at least a slightly complicated answer anyway.

  8. Rebecca August 7, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    That’s a hard one. “I’m an American living in New Zealand, Australia, etc” seemed to be the right answer for most for me. But when you are dealing with people in a different language, that is when it gets tricky!!!

  9. Elle of Solo Female Nomad August 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    I know that feeling only too well! I have lived as an expat in four different countries and always have to stop for a moment to remember where home actually is. I just remember home is where you are at that moment!

  10. Amanda August 16, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    When I lived in America and people heard my British accent the next question that usually followed was ‘where are you from?’ my reply was usually ‘Washington’ just to see their surprise.

    I’m not very patriotic, but I’m proud to be British and to be raised with it’s cultures and morales. So I think that’s why I also found it difficult not to answer I was from England.

    • Brooke August 27, 2012 at 9:18 am #

      Yes I think that’s how I feel, too 🙂

  11. Rebecca August 29, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    It’s a tough one, but try it when you live in a place that not many people (bar Australians) have heard of! Q: Where are you from? A: Australia but I live in Papua New Guinea. Blank face. Q: Where? Is that in Africa?
    We were in Thailand recently and a tout came up to us trying to lure us into buying something and of course he asked us where we’re from – the usual trick so they can say something about Australia (Melbourne! Sydney! Kangaroos!). We answered “Papua New Guinea”, he looked at us not knowing what to say and then walked off – so was quite helpful! 🙂

  12. November 27, 2012 at 12:36 am #

    When I read the subject title – “When a simple question becomes difficult”, my first thought was someone pops the question -“Will you marry me?” lol…

    Anyway, I live, study, work in the same country (a small red-dot in this world), so I’d never thought this could be a difficult question. But, yes, I do travel 😉

  13. Carol December 3, 2012 at 2:29 am #

    Interesting that no one mentioned the fact that telling someone where you are from sets up a whole series of preconceived ideas about who you are, some of which may be entirely contrary to who you *actually* are. Being an American (and therefore automatically hated by a large portion of the world’s population) and a Texan (and therefore automatically hated by a large portion of the population of even my own country,) I am acutely aware of those preconceptions every time I answer that question.

    • Brooke December 3, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

      That’s true, and I used to worry about that several years ago, not so much now. Good point.

  14. Vee January 10, 2013 at 11:52 pm #

    Hi Brooke… I’m so jealous that you are an Australian resident.

  15. katie March 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    I completely get this! I grew up in california in a tiny town, and when I was 14 moved to sydney with my mom. This means I have dual citizenship and like Carol wrote about I do usually think about the person who is asking and what preconceived notions they would have depending on what country I say I am from. I like to say America but I know what most of europe thinks of Americans and most of the time I find australia coming out of my mouth more and more.but my confusing accent,or lack thereof, makes for a great discussion.

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