“Where you from?” – This is a pretty friendly question. People from Alabama ask it.
“Where are you FROM?” – This is not so friendly. People from everywhere else ask this one. (It has a close cousin – “Where in the Hell are you FROM?”)
I have lived 600-700 miles, on average, from where I grew up for most of the last five years, thus I get the second question 10 times more often than the first one. It is a very subtle difference.
The first question comes about when you meet someone and you are casually exchanging information and getting to know each other. I like to call it “striking up kin”.
The second question happens when someone really wants to make sure you know that it is obvious you are from somewhere far, far away from wherever the conversation is taking place. Either because you have “that accent” or you have some ideal that seems odd to the person asking the question. To say that I get asked that question every single day would not be an exaggeration.
“Where are you FROM?”
Translation: There is no way you are from anywhere around here because you talk funny, you have stupid ideas, and therefore must be some right-wing idiot from the dirty south.
I used to answer the question honestly, out of ignorance I suppose. It took me a couple of years to realize the question was an insult.
“Northeast Alabama, in the mountains,” I would usually say, beaming with pride. After all, being from Alabama is something that I am extremely proud of, blue laws notwithstanding.
“Oh, I knew that accent had to come from somewhere like that,” was roughly what I would hear next.
Being in the military, it was just normal for me to be as honest and respectful as possible when answering the question, and to make no assumptions of the person asking it. Ironically, it is my military service that has most often subjected me to this rather irritating insult.
Some of it is my fault, I suppose. I use euphemisms and colloquialisms early and often in conversation, usually without even thinking about it.
“How are you doing,” they ask.
“Awesome, if I was any better I’d be twins,” I reply.
Or, “Fair to partly cloudy I guess.”
Or, “I feel rougher than two Saturday nights in Georgia back to back.”
“Where are you FROM?” – It always follows my answer.
Now, I’m not a dummy. I was on a state-championship math team in high school. I have never scored below the 90th percentile on a standardized test in 30 years of testing, often scoring 98th or higher. I was the only student in my graduating class to be offered a four-year, full academic scholarship to an accredited four-year university. (Sometimes when I’m bitter I like to toot my own horn a little)
That means the person asking me the question, and assuming my ignorance, stands a better than 90 percent chance of being the actual dummy (assuming they think people like me, or less intelligent than me, are dummies), while calling me one.
But where AM I from? I live in Maryland. I spent three years in Virginia. I lived in Alabama more than 30 years. I have spent time in Chicago, San Diego, Baltimore, Washington DC, Charlotte, Asheville, Myrtle Beach, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Indiana, Scotland, England, France, Bahrain, Dubai, and Greece. I even spent a day in New Jersey, not that I learned anything other than hot-dog vendors in airports aren’t very friendly.
Each place I have been has made an impression on me and helped form parts of my personality. I am from all of those places. I am from USS Harry S. Truman as well. She is a place, after all. She has her own zip code and post office. She certainly helped form the current version of me.
Yes, I am from all of those places. And tomorrow, after they ask me that insulting question, I will be from wherever we were standing when I gave the answer. I will forever be FROM where I have BEEN.
But to keep it simple, and to test their wits, while also letting them know I’m not the dummy in the conversation, I have a new answer that is sure to change the subject.
“I’m from Brooklyn.”
All photos in this blog post were taken by the author using a variety of camera equipment. Mostly Nikon D-series cameras and a little iPhone in there as well.