Sunday, March 31, 2013

Where are you from?

Growing up, nobody ever asked the question, "where are you from?" Never. If they had, I would have said, "Oklahoma" just like most everyone else in Oklahoma. We would have moved on to the next topic seamlessly.

When I moved to Upstate New York for college, this suddenly became the question of the day- every day. I would answer, "Oklahoma" and inevitably the person would say, "No. Where are you FROM?" For a long time, this totally confused me and it upset the person I was talking to.

I eventually realized that I was being asked what country my family heritage was from before America. There were many more recently immigrated families in the northeast than in the center of the US. Those families continue to identify closely with their family heritage because either their parents or grandparents were born in another country.

To this new question, I had no answer. Part of my family had been in Oklahoma for 6 generations, before it was even Oklahoma. A number of relatives are suspected to be Native American Indian and across the board, there are almost no family records with any concrete information. We were from Oklahoma, plain and simple.

A few years ago I did some DNA research to see where else in the world my family might be from. I will come back to the results later. This process has led me to enjoy it when people guess where I might be from.

In both England and Ireland, people assumed I was Irish. In the London airport, I had an entire conversation with a saleswoman at a makeup counter. When paying, you must show your boarding pass. When she saw mine was to Dublin, she said, "are you going home for the weekend?" I've never been so shocked. I've been guessed wrong before speaking before, but not after. When I arrived in Ireland, I could see why people would peg me for Irish. I have fair skin and dark brown hair that many of the Irish have.

In Germany, everyone assumed I was German. I was stopped a few times for directions, in German. I guess this was maybe due to my height.

During one of my later visits to the airport in London, an Australian guessed that I was either Swedish or Canadian. In fact, a few people have guessed Canadian.

In Sweden, it was assumed that I was German due to my height and dark hair. Although I don't typically think of Germans as having brown hair, it seems more common there than in blonde Sweden.

Last June when I was in Norway, everyone guessed Norwegian. I was stopped for direction in Norwegian. At the airport, the staff even switched from English to Norwegian to speak to me.

A few years ago in India, I was assumed to be German. In Spain, people were totally stumped.

The one thing that nobody has ever guessed? American. Isn't that odd? I hear from the guessers that I don't have a distinct accent from any place. Plus, what do we (Americans) "look" like exactly? I assume that I don't have a specific look and that my height may throw people off a bit. It may also help that I'm good at figuring out what someone is saying to me, even when I don't speak the same language.

As proud as I am to be American, blending in everywhere here helps me to travel undetected. I don't get asked for money. Nobody is trying to pick pocket me. Nobody is trying to sell random junk to me. It's nice. Really nice.

The ironic thing about it all-- part of being from the US is about being a mixture of people who have immigrated from around the world. It only makes sense that my slightly less distinct (and more blended) look would fit in with so many different groups.

And if you were wondering the results of my DNA tests, here they are. My mother's side was very conclusive and my father's was just the opposite. I would guess this is because his side is the most likely to be native to the US.

Mother's side: (these showed up as strong guesses according to the DNA)
...and a few other European countries

Father's side: (these showed up as very weak guesses)
United States - this one was the most clear winner

Keep in mind that they are only a guess, since people have been migrating around for hundreds of years. Regardless of where I am from originally, it's so nice to be able to roam the world and fit in a little with so many different people. I look forward to more guesses in the days ahead!

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