When asked “where are you from?” most people have no trouble answering; they don’t even have to think about it…
I (and my two sisters) are in a bit of a different boat: I was born in Greece, to a Greek father and an Austrian mother (and that is a very simplified version of my parents heritage). I spent my early childhood in Greece, with frequent trips to Austria; aged thirteen, I went to school in Austria, with frequent trips to Greece. At age 23, I moved to the U.S. and have lived here ever since (with trips to Greece and Austria).
This was the three-sentence version of my history.
Most people, when asked “where are you from?” can answer with one or two words. And those couple of words don’t only encompass a place, but also a language, a culture, a world view, a religion, an attitude and a history of a people.
My particular combination is a bit more tricky than a mélange between a Swiss and a German; two countries that share culture, history and language. I come from two countries that vary in language, culture, history, attitude – heck they don’t even share a common alphabet!
And while I cannot (like my friend Carol), point across the field and say “that is my parent’s house”, I still remember the balcony my mom grew huge pots full of gardenias; I remember the bakery on the corner that we usually bought the bread from and where we sometimes were allowed a pastry – except for me, a lot of my memories involve different cities and/or different countries.
When I am asked that question, I have to make a split-second decision to align myself with one country or another. For me, that is fairly impossible…if I say I am Greek, I am denying my Austrian work ethic, punctuality, love of pastry and culture. If I claim I am Austrian, I deny my summers at the Mediterranean beaches, my love of lamb and seafood, my passionate temperament…if I call myself an American (which after 20+ years here I hope I am), I deny my roots that run so deep and formed my character, my outlook on life and gave me perspective!
I am all three: I am punctual to a fault, I put work before most anything else, I love Austrian pastry, I am loud, I cook with olive oil only, I can swim like a fish, I am most comfortable when it’s 100 F outside, I love the Constitution, I drive everywhere…..so now you can go figure out which one of these represents which country in me!
But, I am also very lucky. I experienced things most people have not, I visited a lot of places most people have not seen, I was able to grow up speaking multiple languages, and I was exposed to many, many different cultural influences. I like who I am and where I am – I am just sorry for the people that I encounter that ask me “where are you from?” and expect a one sentence, 3 second answer!