Oliver, this is for you. Since you have my blog open all the time, I should really give you some more entertainment.
People often ask the question: ‘where are you from?’. Such an innocuous question really. It’s a conversation starter/filler that gives people a frame of reference. Oh you’re Irish? You probably like alcohol, potatoes & complaining about the weather.
I often wish that people would not start off a conversation with this question, upon meeting me. I find that sitting down and listing out where I am from makes it boring and irritating for everyone (including me), that has heard it before. Often my friends groan: ‘ughhh here she goes again!’. I think the same thing guys. It may look like I enjoy it, but I don’t. I’m just being polite. People get offended if you don’t answer their questions.
I have tried several ways to answer the question over the years. Sometimes I lie. I used to say ‘It’s complicated.’ Unfortunately that just made people want to know more. So I dropped that method quickly. Sometimes I simplify where I am from for convenience.
How I actually like people to find out where I am from is in a more organic and progressive way. By mentioning places I lived in like a bomb mid conversation. ‘Ohhh yeah! When I lived in Zurich I did that…’ Or ‘Well, when I lived in Singapore I…’. I prefer it that way because I enjoy the expressions people make: ‘Wait… What?’ It’s fun. It makes a story that I have repeated hundreds or thousands of times in my life less annoying for everyone involved.
It’s gratifying. I enjoy being unexpected. I enjoy being different. Anyone who knows me at all, knows that.
Unfortunately that doesn’t often happen. Usually people will ask where I am from. Largely because people cannot quite place my accent. Is it British? Is it Irish? Is it American? The answer to that is both none of the above and all of the above. Like my origins, my accent is a mongrel puppy of the three. Depending on my mood, where I am, who I am talking to and what I am talking about, different aspects of my accent will come forward.
Interestingly, people often pick just one version. I do think it is all they hear. People have INSISTED to me that my accent is American (and the other accents too). I have never been to America and when I hear Americans, they sound different to me. They also think I most emphatically do not sound American. They think I sound British or Irish.
That used to irritate me. It doesn’t any more. People hear what they hear and I have no control over it.
The next stage in the ‘where are you from?’ Questions is usually: ‘which country do you identify MOST with?’ Or ‘What is your passport?’
This still irritates me. What you are doing is attempting to put me in a box, to give you a frame of reference. You are attempting to make me fit into your stereotypes. You are asking me to pick a piece of my past, a piece of my identity, of my experiences and lord it above the others. You are asking me to divide myself up for your comfort.
I do not have a favourite country. I do not have one nationality that I cherish above the rest. I am formed out of all of the places that I have lived. I am linked to all of then. Experiences that contributed to who and what I am occurred in all of them. Must I really pick and choose?
‘You’re passport is Danish. Clearly, this makes you Danish. Done. Dusted.’
Part of me is Danish. Of course, how could it not be? I have been visiting Denmark my whole life, I have family here, heritage, memories. This does not mean that that is me in my entirety. I have the same in Ireland. Bar blood relatives I also have the same in Luxembourg and Switzerland and Singapore. I grew up in those countries. I am from all of them.
Everywhere I go, I am a foreigner. I was born in Luxembourg. If you ask my friends from Luxembourg if I am Luxembourgish, they would say no. Not really. Ask the Danes, am I Danish? No. Not really. Ask the Irish, am I Irish? No. Not really.
People like me, are called ‘Third Culture Kids’. There are so many of us out there. The world is getting so small, and people everywhere are moving around everywhere. The question where are you from has become more and more defunct to me. Take Oliver (heeey), he’s from Canada but he spent a bunch of fairly formative years in Dublin. So is he just from Canada? I don’t think so. A part of Oliver is most definitely from Dublin and asking him to reject that, his experiences and memories and all the growing up he did during his university years (we all change and grow so much during university), would be deeply unfair.
I think that that applies to a lot of people that have ”just one” nationality. We do not fit in the boxes that we used to. The world is very small, and we are all slowly diffusing into each other with time. People travel to a new country, like Oliver did. A Canadian in Ireland. Then he went back to Canada. Still a Canadian, but more now.
Culture shock does not just happen when you go somewhere with a completely foreign culture. It also happens when you go home, after living abroad.
And honestly, the continents we live on are constantly moving. Unless you live on a Craton, geologically speaking, the land you identify with will probably no longer exist within a few hundred million years or so.
I should add that I do understand that some people really do identify with their country. I can’t deny them that. Look at the Irish that moved to America. They held on to their identity so hard that generations later still firmly believe that they are Irish. Or ‘American Irish’.
Speaking of that, I once saw an episode of wide swap where there was an American Irish family that had a plaque saying ‘Failte!’ in their hallway. The woman said: This means welcome to our home! It’s pronounced ”felt’. Failte actually just means welcome and is not pronounced ‘Felt’. My best friend Olwyns eye tends to twitch when I remind her of this. I just wanted to add this in, in case she reads this, so I can remind her again. Love you.