Where are you from?

12 Jan 2012

When we meet new people they often ask "Where are you from?". For a lot of people it is an easy question. But for others it is tricky and can bring on a lengthy answer your interlocutor might not want to hear. Often, if you mention more than one place, they will ask you to choose a country or language as your favourite one. It is like asking a mum to choose between her two children. 

I feel French. My parents, grandparents and close relatives are French. But I often, now, want to add that I have lived 13 years in England (most of my adult life) and so feel a little connection to Britain. While living here in Germany, I am connecting more easily with the British expat community rather than the French one. Yet, I am the first one to drive over the border and get my monthly fix of French foods.
I have been reading a lot of articles recently about ethnicity, culture and language that have made me think about my children's future. How will they answer the question? Will they be confused? Will they be annoyed? Will they have a clear preference?

Madalena Cruz-Ferreira at Being Multilingual talks about a phrase which is dear to our family: Minha pátria é a língua portuguesa (My homeland is the Portuguese language).
I am really wondering what my children will consider to be their home and consequently their language. My daughter was born in England, but now lives in Germany. She speaks 4 languages. My son was born in Germany. Both have a French and a Portuguese parent. We will, most likely, move again in the future. They technically have two nationalities (even though they currently only have one... don't get me started on the Portuguese bureaucracy... that's another blog topic). I wonder how they will reply to the question "where are you from?":   I guess that is that part of the multilingual and multicultural upbringing. Something that needs to be explained and valued (in my opinion).

I completely agree with Madalena Cruz-Ferreira that "belonging to more than one place means that you don’t in fact belong anywhere" is a myth. I feel that belonging to more than one place or belonging to more than one linguistic group (more than one language) makes you see the world differently, enriches you and makes you a better person. But this is hard to explain to people. Preconceived ideas and myths are still deeply rooted in terms of multiculturalism and multilingualism. 
I just hope my children will grow up to be wonderful confident people opened to all cultures. 

Check out this wonderful art project about mixed race/ethnicity: The Hapa Project. In their own words, it "was created to promote awareness and recognition of the millions of multiracial/multiethnic individuals [...]; to give voice to multiracial people and previously ignored ethnic groups; to dispel myths of exoticism, hybrid vigor and racial homogeneity; to foster positive identity formation and self-image in multiracial children".

Note: this article was edited in April 2014.


  1. 4 languages, just like us. Just swap Portuguese for Arabic here :)
    I share your thoughts about hwo will our children perceive themeselves, their identity. Only time will tell...
    Thanks for posting about hapa, such a fascinating project.

  2. I am so intrigued by this question and your post. I grew up as a monolingual in the US. I started studying in Germany at age 21 and returned so many times that Europe feels like a second home to me. Then there is my husband, who is from the Netherlands and has lived in the US for 7 years. He feels very little attachment to his "homeland" (except maybe for missing the snacks he can't get here in the States). It's hard for me to understand his lack of homesickness for the place where he grew up. And now I wonder how our 2-year-old will someday feel, growing up in the US, visiting family in the Netherlands, but speaking German with his mother at home.
    What a wonderful world to live in where such multiculturalism can exist!

  3. I agree multiculturalism is great and so important I think in today's society.

  4. When people ask me where I'm from, I say England. If they ask me to specify where in England I either say "near Newcastle" if I can't be bothered to explain or "I'm from the army" if I want to give a truthful answer that will always, always end in a long discussion. I'm not multicultural (both my parents are from the same town), but army brats have the same problem :-)


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