Where are you from
European Families, I Am An Expat, My Expat Life

I’m From Europe. Where Are You From?

Where are you from

This is my addition to the May Multicultural Kid Blogs May Blogging Carnival, hosted by Stephen of Head of the Heard and the topic is a great questions: “Where are you from?”. For a long time, I looked for a way to answer this question. And apparently I can’t do it without writing a lengthy blog post. I could even write a book about this! So in this post, I try to explain where I am from and how I could answer if I was given the time.

“Hi, my name is Olga.”

“Hi, Olga. What an unusual name. Where are you from?”

“Do you want the short answer or the long answer?”

OK, they probably need the short answer, so I smile and say, “Poland”. You know, the land of kiełbasa, pierogi, barszcz and maybe Lech Wałęsa. But if you like the long answer, here it is.

The long answer is that it will depend what you’re asking. For example, do you want to know where I was born? Or maybe, you’d like to know where I was before I came to see you- and again that answer would depend on whether I’m in the Netherlands or not.

Unlike many TCK’s- Third Culture Kids – I don’t mind being asked that question. I just wished I had an answer that would be satisfying to both of us. If you ask me, “Where are you from”, I’ll tell you what you need to know at this point- where I was born, what other country I came to the Netherlands from.

But are you asking where I feel I’m from? Are you asking for that one word that could help you understand who I am? That is not so simple.

I speak Polish, German, English, Dutch and French. For the last 10 years, I have lived in Germany and the Netherlands. My parents speak Polish, German, English, French, some Italian, some Spanish, a little Russian. I spoke German with my parents when I was a child. I occasionally spoke English with my mother when I was a young adult. I speak French with my cousins.

So when I have to tell you that I am from Poland, this answer, while it’s true, doesn’t really cut it. Oh yes definitely, some part of me is Polish. I can make good pierogi, and sernik and twaróg! Our Christmas is not always a traditional one (oh wait, it’s almost never a traditional one), makes the world’s best barszcz. But she also makes the world’s best blini– and that’s not necessarily Polish, that’s Ukrainian or Russian. Or did I mention my paternal grandmother was from Ukraine? And that my maternal grandfather was born in Lviv (now in Ukraine but used to be Poland), and he was born there as a subject to the Austrian emperor?

My father makes the world’s best crème caramel and also wonderful rich stews (French or Italian). Both of my parents are ghulyash specialists- recipe coming up soon!

So now I am scratching my head. How to call this?

But I think I know. I’m European. As in, from Europe.

Unlike many TCK’s, I haven’t really lived outside of Europe for longer periods. The exception was Canada, but I only lived there for 4 months. I lived in Germany as a child, in Germany as a student, in Germany as an expectant mother.

And in the Netherlands, as a wife and mom of three children.

But as rich as this heritage is, I never knew many things that are quite normal for many TCK’s: living in a third world country, moving every few years, or having an identity crisis (I always knew where I am from, it’s just that no one else did).

My identity isn’t global. It’s European. Which means it’s big because it includes many countries and languages, but it’s also small as it excludes even more countries all over the world.

I like that, to be honest. It’s like having a nice cosy, “gezellig” house where you feel comfortable everywhere but you have tons of space for all your different needs. For me that house is not too big and not too small.

The languages my children learn are all European as well. I think my eldest is already very aware of her multiple identities. She says she’s German but at this point, her favourite and best language is Dutch. She speaks Polish as well and likes that’s she’s able to speak so many languages.

And did I mention that my husband is German?

K is also always asking me to teach her how to count in different languages. She can count to 30 in English, to 10 in Spanish and Russian and asks me to teach her more. Somehow she thinks I speak all the languages in the world.

And I can’t tell you how much I love it.

Are you still there? Oh good! Thanks for listening to my story. I gave you the long answer, but I could have given you the short one. The short answer is not “Poland” after all. It’s “Europe”.

One doesn’t exclude the other. After all, Poland is in Europe (and it’s in the EU as well, I must add). In many ways, it differs from other European countries, and I guess it’s an interesting country with a position at the border of the EU, and in the middle of Europe. Polish people like to see themselves as mediators between Western and Eastern Europe as she shows (in case you’re wondering, Polska is a woman, and a mother at that) characteristics of both.

And, just a little bit, I’m like that as well: I’m a translator, intercultural communication trainer, a writer and blogger who lives her life across cultures and languages. So yes, I have a short answer after all. Thanks for making this clear.

Now tell me, where are YOU from? Will you tell me in one word or will you need a blog post?

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37 Comments

  • Reply Sofia Q May 12, 2014 at 11:15 am

    I kind of need a blogpost to answer this :-). I feel very identified with your story, although mine goes accross 3 continents almost! Born in Spain from an Argentinian mother of Italian descent (my grandparents are Italian), spent my childhood in Paraguay -though school was in Brasil, just a few km from the border-. Went back to Spain to complete my education. Lived in Argentina for long periods of time trying to find my “other” identity -never did ;-). Settled in Vietnam some time later, only to decide that my european identity was calling me back. I ended up in Netherlands after all. Where am I from? I still don’t have a clue. I don’t love -nor hate- any of “my countries”. I’m able to see from the distance what is positive and what is negative about them, the same way I can clearly see how all these places have contributed to who am I today. But in the end home is… wherever I feel comfortable for the time being.

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 13, 2014 at 9:53 am

      Hi Sofia, thanks for your comment- oh wow, that’s some heritage for sure!And I totally agree with your definition of home!

  • Reply Ilze May 12, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    After spending 4 years of my life researching European identity I must say that your post wonderfully describes what this identity should be at its best form 🙂 Indeed, how else to bring together all the various influences? Sadly I could imagine that many people would find “European” to be an unsatisfactory answer… As for me, although I would call myself European as well I’m firstly Latvian and then European.
    Ilze recently posted…Getting Through the First Months: 5 Golden Rules for New ParentsMy Profile

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 13, 2014 at 9:56 am

      Hi Ilze, I am glad science is on my side! Why would “European” be unsatisfactory- too broad, too narrow an identity? For me, I’m European as a whole, and then I’m also Polish or German (I just got added to a German expat group). It all depends on the contexts. In some contexts, I could even think of myself as Dutch (as opposed to tourists, for example). Not that easy, is it?

      • Reply Ilze May 13, 2014 at 11:55 am

        I think many people might find that answer too broad as we’re too used to thinking in national categories. Why don’t you do a practical experiment and find out what people reply to such an answer? 🙂 I’d love to hear the results!
        Ilze recently posted…Do You Give Her Water? Changing Times, Changing AdviceMy Profile

  • Reply Tamkara May 13, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Mine is easy and can be answered in one word! Nothing as exciting as yours….I am Nigerian, I was born there and lived there a very longgg time!

  • Reply Natalie May 13, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    I loved reading your long version, Olga! It’s nice to know a bit more of where you’re from, before this I only knew your original short version. Before I moved to The Netherlands, I would never have imagined stories like these, now I love to hear them; it’s quite special to have a heritage such as yours 🙂
    Natalie recently posted…Impressions from April : a personal projectMy Profile

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 15, 2014 at 8:43 am

      HI Natalie, thank you for commenting. I never considered my story so special, it’s just how things were in my family, it was normal. SO I’m glad to hear that people are interested in these stories.

  • Reply Lynn @ Nomad Mom Diary May 13, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    I need a book, not a blogpost. I’m American, born and raised in Mississippi until I was 19. Then I moved to California, Arizona, Italy, California, Italy, California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, California, the Netherlands and now the UK in the intervening years. I’m married to an Italian and we have two girls who are 50% American, 50% Italian and 100% British. (And yes, I realize that doesn’t add up…try explaining that to them.)
    Lynn @ Nomad Mom Diary recently posted…When the Metaphor Goes AwryMy Profile

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 15, 2014 at 8:46 am

      Then go on and write that book! Your girls seem like the cult lietrary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, who, when asked whether he was Polish or German, he asid: “I’m half Polish, and half German, and wholly Jewish”- does it sound familiar?

    • Reply Jeneva February 27, 2017 at 6:52 am

      OH those trees ! Fall is lurking out there as just the edges are beninnigg to show the light changes. We are in the middle of flat fields here in central Illinois, beautiful in their own way but OH those trees !

  • Reply Katia May 14, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Hi Olga,
    This post resonated with me, even if I don’t necessarily think of myself as European first, since my influences come from both sides of the Atlantic. I’m Greek, was raised in Greece, but left to study in the US, met and married a foreigner and haven’t looked back since. We’ve lived both in Europe and the US, our children are trilingual and home for them is definitely not a single country.
    It’s the first time I read a post about people (like us) who are cross-cultural but not TCKs; who have many different influences from many different directions, raise multilingual, multicultural kids, yet have a pretty clear idea where we are from. I love that line: ‘I always knew where I am from, it’s just that no one else did.’ Thanks!

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 15, 2014 at 8:48 am

      Hi Katia! I was surprised when I joined TCK groups and realized, for the zillionth time, it’s not where I belong. I begun to think about the reason for this. It must be because I don’t feel entirely global but rather, European- living in Europe was mainly what shaped my identity.

  • Reply Nick May 15, 2014 at 6:53 am

    Luckily you have one continent you can identify with. I’m Dutch born from Chinese Indonesian descent, moved to America, then to Germany, to France, to India, and now in Japan. A true global citizen, although I feel most at home in Europe. In Asia I just say I’m Indonesian due to my ethnicity, but I’ve never lived there or speak the language. My wife is Korean and we speak French together. Our daughter was born in Japan, but has Dutch citizenship. We are planning to teach her English, Korean, and French but maybe also German if my job takes me there. Would love to have her learn some Dutch, but will just teach her to appreciate drop and kroketten first. Even though she won’t learn Japanese, it will always remain her birthplace… How do your kids identify themselves, Polish German?

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 15, 2014 at 8:54 am

      Hi Nick, thanks for commenting. I am not sure if that’s lucky, I actually sometimes envy “real” TCK’s for their global experiences. My children, I guess it depends on the child. My eldest says she’s from Germany because she was born there (although we came to the Netherlands when she was only 6 weeks old). My eldest speaks all the languages and I think she’s yet a little too small to think about things like identity, when asked, “who are you”, she just says, “I’m J.”, and I’m mom, and so on. Will ask her in a year or so! My son is still too little.

  • Reply Where Do You Come From? | The Head of the Heard May 15, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    […] The European Mama has two answers to the question: a short one and a long one.  The long answer is complicated, but much more interesting and offers insights into her identity and that or her family in ‘I’m From Europe.  Where Are You From?‘ […]

  • Reply Paul Graham May 15, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    Hey Olga, nice to know a little about your background. My 4 grandparents were Scottish, Irish, French and Welsh. I was raised in England and have used Canada as the base for my adult life while travelling the world. The best short answer to Where Are You From always seems to me to be Planet Earth !
    Paul Graham recently posted…BEST OF THE BBC ?My Profile

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 16, 2014 at 3:38 pm

      Hi Paul- thanks for your comment. Planet Earth- that’s a wonderful answer to the question “Where are you from”! Well done!Wow, what a heritage! Fun site, by the way!

  • Reply Leanna @ Alldonemonkey May 19, 2014 at 12:33 am

    Great answer, and fun to read more about your background!
    Leanna @ Alldonemonkey recently posted…Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #16My Profile

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 21, 2014 at 8:29 am

      Hi Leanna, thanks a lot for your kind comment! I haven’t realized that my background would be interesting to people- glad Stephen did this carnival!

  • Reply Kiki May 22, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Oh, somebody who gets it 🙂 I’ve hated answering this question for years, and it’s always the first one that pops up when meeting new people. My short answer is “Everywhere, really. I’m American, but I grew up in Germany. My parents were military.” That last bit usually satisfies them. Then they tell me they thought I was English (what?!). Usually they’ll ask how I ended up in the NL. “My partner is Dutch.” Also a satisfactory answer. But the whole thing? That’s a long, long story that even most of my friends don’t know.

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 22, 2014 at 6:44 pm

      I am glad you can relate to my post because I sometimes feel that either you’re a local, from one place, or you are from the whole world, while I am somewhere in between. Your story seems quite interesting, too!

  • Reply Alice Jungclaus May 25, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    Hello from Switzerland, Olga! I’ll have a go at answering your question.

    Short answer = I’m from Canada.

    Long answer = I’m from a lot of intersecting “places” which are not just geographical. Generally, I feel globally-oriented with the limitations of what I consciously (and unconsciously) learned growing up in Canada. I’ve had formal schooling in both English and French. I’ve had teachings from my elders on my mother’s people’s First Nations (American Indian) land in Saskatchewan, Canada. I’ve lived in East Asia, Europe and North America. I have a mother whose first language is Cree, a father whose first language is Igbo, a husband whose first languages are Danish and German and a trilingual son. I’ve lived and loved cross-culturally all my life…so much so that it feels joyful and comfortable for me. It’s a part of my “home”. Beyond geography, ethnicity and language I would say I’m mostly from the inner places called womanhood, personhood and global parenthood. I wrote a bit about my thoughts on global parenting which can be found here: http://globalwiseparenting.com/2014/05/the-road-trip-that-led-to-a-global-lifestyle/

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 26, 2014 at 8:09 am

      Welcome, Alice and thank you for your kind comment. What an amazing mixture of cultures you have! And like for your, this multicultural lifestyle feels very normal and natural for me.

  • Reply Anna May 26, 2014 at 6:59 am

    Loved reading your answer and the other ones on the Caravan. My answer is easy: from Russia. Lived there first 20 years of my life, then France then US. But it really got me thinking about my kids. Born in the US even though they speak Russian, how Russian will they be? Speaking a language helps you understand the people/culture but does not quite make you of it – does it ( I speak a bunch of languages myself)? A friend of mine recently commented that no matter how frequently we visit, unless my kids move back to Russia and live there longer than 10 years, they will never be Russian. But that is probably a whole new blog post topic 🙂
    Anna recently posted…What does Russian sounds like to those who don’t know it?My Profile

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 26, 2014 at 8:11 am

      Hi Anna, welcome! Your children will most likely be not Russian, but not really American either. They will be TCKs, Third Culture Kids. It’s a very interesting topic for sure- maybe you will write about it?

  • Reply Joy May 26, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Well my life isn’t as interesting as the rest of you. I’ve lived in the USA all my life. I have visited England and Spain along with many states.
    I’m originally from Idaho, moved to Utah after graduating. Married have two children then my husband job transferred us to Pa. Which I must say is so different than the West. Been here 26 yrs and still don’t feel welcome. LOL Then I decided you make the best of where you are and move on.
    Loved reading about all of you that have been in many places and have made a home where ever you are. I don’t think people these day stay where they grew up anymore cause of work.

    • Reply Olga Mecking May 26, 2014 at 2:22 pm

      Hi Joy!well, you don’t need to travel to have an interesting life- and besides, a happy healthy life is more important than interesting. Yes you make the best of where you are. I agree, people are definitely more mobile these days!

  • Reply SJ @ Chasing the Donkey June 1, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    We all struggle to answer that on some levels…. but for me it’s easy. I am an Aussie – no blog post needed 🙂
    SJ @ Chasing the Donkey recently posted…Tasting Heavenly Cheese {Paški Sir} from Pag IslandMy Profile

    • Reply Olga Mecking June 2, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Wow, SJ, that was quick! Good for you to know where you come from, and Australia is a very nice place to be from- but judging from your blog, Croatia seems a great place to be in!

  • Reply Maribel Reyes June 2, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    What an amazing story, I can easily relate to you in the sense of my family’s background. There’s Cuban and Mexican but behind that is German, Philippine, Spanish, Moroccan, African. I am fully bilingual {spanish, english} however I took German for 3 years in high school and French for 4 years in University. I’ve lived in Mexico, the US and now in Costa Rica 😀 My kids are currently in trilingual schools learning a new language besides our Spanish and English. I guess I could also answer your question with a post but I just wanted to keep it “short and sweet!” 😉

    • Reply Olga Mecking June 5, 2014 at 8:54 am

      Thank you, Maribel! That’s such an exciting background you have! Please write a post I’d love to read it!

  • Reply Dana Welch July 18, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    Olga,
    Your post left me feeling merely… American. I live in Ohio and have for most of my life. I was born in Maryland and lived for a stint in California. I only speak English. I long to live in Europe, the land of my ancestors. My father’s family is German and Finnish… I Want to see both of those countries . My
    mother’s family is English and Irish with a bit
    of Spanish thrown in due to some Spanish
    shipwreck long ago on the coast of Ireland. I
    really want to travel to the UK, also.
    So, as we say here in the US , I’m a mutt.
    Many lands and heritages combined but when asked where I’m from, the short
    answer is America or Ohio or Cincinnati. The long answer is much more rich and exciting but I’m still an American mutt…

    • Reply Olga Mecking July 20, 2014 at 9:58 pm

      Hi Dana, thank you for stopping by. I also think of myself as a mutt. And I wouldn’t say that you are “merely” American, it is perfectly OK to feel American and be proud of it. I love your heritage too and I think it’s a great idea to visit the countries your family is from!

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