The question, ‘Where are you from?’ is starting to get difficult…

Posted on 28.11.2013

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In case playing “where in the world is GMSanDiego” isn’t fun enough, the question of where I’m from is growing increasingly harder to answer, and has a lot to do with which language I’m speaking, and to whom.

I should start at the beginning, to explain the issue:
I was born in New York in 1981.
We moved to MD in 1986.
I was in Baltimore (MD) from 1999-2009.
I moved to Germany in 2009.
I left Germany in 2013.
I’ve been sitting in England since August 2013.

It was actually something close to simple when I still lived in the states. I was born in New York, but often said that I was from Baltimore, since that was where I chose to live and had spent the most years of my life, as it was still a part of MD and only 40 minutes away from where I grew up. I certainly wouldn’t claim Bel Air, since I thoroughly disliked the place and was so excited to leave. 10 years by choice in Baltimore was the best answer to that question. Baltimore felt the most me, the most like ‘home’. Let’s not even get into the fact that my family hasn’t even been in the US for 100 years yet. Those guys came from Italy. So am I from Italy, by default?

In my own mind, I was from Baltimore. That got tricky when I moved to Germany, where every form I filled out wanted to know the name of the city I was born in. I was born in West Islip, NY. So in Germany, even though I would just say ‘I’m from Baltimore’, I often got corrected by the people holding my forms in offices, ‘no, here it says you are from New York’. Ok, fine, I can claim that, but I don’t sound like it so much. Just so you know… my accent is neither New York nor Baltimore, it is a silly mix of mid-Atlantic, thanks to that International College I went to. But please, check my current US mailing address, if you will. It’s still in MD. Where I moved from.

I also went through that terrible process of going back to Baltimore and realizing that even though MOST of my friends are there, that it is no longer my home, and that I can’t live there again until the weather gets milder, so…. never? That was really heartbreaking.

Now things are starting to get complicated, across multiple fronts. Now I’m sitting in England and teaching my students online. I forgot to change my location on Skype, so my students think I am from Germany. It was a normal question for the past month for my students to ask why an American lives in Germany, why do I sound so American? I figured out how to change the location, but still the questions came… ‘you’re an American, but you’re in England?’. Yeah… about that…

So I had this issue on the phone the other day, while making my last valiant but weak effort to get some kind of travel health insurance for my pre-existing-condition-having ass. I was calling companies in the US, from my UK phone number, and explaining the situation. I was told, repeatedly, that I am a UK resident for calling from the UK, and that I can’t retroactively purchase US travel health insurance once I have already left. Explaining that I am a bit stranded here and that my last health care coverage from Germany ran out (and is no longer valid as I am no longer a resident) got me nowhere. I invited all of the people I spoke to on the phone to speak with the UK tourist board, who CLEARLY have me listed as a tourist. I am not trying to live here, I’m just here.

Don’t get me started on how shitty traveler’s health insurance companies are in general, I think I’ve already written that post.

Regardless, here was another issue of my saying ‘well technically I am a resident of Middle River, MD (my dad’s home address and MY address since moving to Germany in 2009, which I file my US taxes from every year) and a US citizen, so I am eligible for the health care and the company rep on the phone telling me no, I am no longer in the US and therefore, effectively, not their problem.

Awesome.

I am officially without a country at this point. I am, on paper, registered in the JNK to Amanda in Baltimore, and have filed my taxes in Baltimore as a resident of MD again, and just about every single piece of mail or mail-order goes to my address in Middle River, MD. But I’m not from there, not really, and I’m not physically there, mostly ever, so we has a conundrum.

222939_536315957170_6763679_nAnd now, I’m taking Japanese lessons. In my first lesson, we worked on the phrase ‘I’m from…’ as I will certainly be saying that an awful lot. I remember a previous trip to Japan when we met a bunch of schoolgirls at the Asakusa temple (pictured left). They wanted to know where we were from, and my friends who spoke Japanese said that they were all from America, but that I was from Germany. I didn’t quite understand WHY at the time, but last week my Japanese teacher explained it to me as I learned the phrase.

Because I am sitting in England right now and this is the place I will leave when I fly to Japan, I will have to tell people I meet that I am ‘from England’… and then I will have to specify that I am American. This will, apparently, not be too confusing for anyone. When I visited Japan the last time (and most times), I had flown FROM Germany to visit, and therefore, Germany was where I was ‘from’. Technically one of the girls in that picture with us is ‘from Brazil’ as in, she was born there, but she lived in California at the time, so she was ‘from America’. And I consider her American.

I have been from FAR too many places. As it stands, I am currently from New York, Baltimore, Germany and England. And soon, I will tell people that I am from Japan. While that’s awesome, I am starting to get concerned that I am obliterating any ideas of ‘home’ or ‘roots’ that might start to form. I guess that was always the plan, to see the world and live in all the places, but I wonder when I DO decide to settle and stay somewhere, where that will be. And then, where will I be from?

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Posted in: language, life, travel