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What Military Children Won’t Tell You about Being Asked, “Where Are You From?”

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Last year, a magician from the United States performed for the local military community at the American High School on the U.S. Army Post Patch Barracks in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany. He brought a seven-year-old military child up on stage to assist with an illusion and asked him, “Where are you from?” The child looked out at his parents as if he’d been asked a question in another language. The audience broke out into murmurs. The magician was confused. He thought the child’s lack of basic personal knowledge was funny, but he was the only one laughing. Silly magician; the trick was on him.

Smoke and Mirrors

Confusion is just one of the themes that emerged when I asked a bunch of military children what they think when asked the question, “Where are you from?” Younger military children are indeed confused by the word “from.” The seven-year-old child on the magician’s stage had already lived in two states and two countries.

Once military children reach high school, they begin to shed their confusion and adopt concern or even distaste for the questioner—and the question. This is especially true when the child is well into his teens with a bounty of addresses under his belt. He doesn’t want to confuse the person asking, but finds it difficult to answer in a way that doesn’t confuse: Will she understand my answer? Will he accept my answer without asking more questions? Will they get that look on their face?

Uh no, everywhere isn't the name of a city.

Uh no, everywhere isn’t the name of a city.

Drawing from the answers of U.S. military BRATs aged 16-60, the most common response to “Where are you from?” can be summed up with, “I’m not from anywhere. I’m from everywhere.” But this is as meaningless an answer for the person asking as the word “from” is for the military child. As she gets older, she learns to—or rather she concedes to—give questioners what they want: One answer (even though it isn’t the correct answer.)

Paige (Air Force): If I feel like explaining, I’ll give ‘em the whole military shpeal [sic]. I don’t like explaining, though, because people don’t get it. So pretty much, “Hi, I’m Paige. I’m from Alaska.”

Justin (Marine Corps): Usually I just say North Carolina. Trying to explain more usually confuses the average person.

Shawn (Army): My answer to “where I’m from” changes as circumstances warrant. If we’re talking about wintertime childhood experiences I will say, “Well I’m from Connecticut and let me tell you about the blizzards we had when I was a kid.” Occasionally people call me on it if they’ve heard me say that I’m “from” two or three or eight different places.

Faith (Navy): So I usually just say that I’m military and if they don’t get what that means or if I don’t feel like asking exactly what they mean by where I’m from, then I tell them I’m from Earth.

 

Benefit of the Doubt

A lot of military kids recognize that most civilian children and adults don’t share their experiences.

Sam (Air Force): I think they’re just curious and interested in getting to know you (at least, at college that seems to be the norm since we’re coming from all over).

Melody (Air Force): It bothers me a little bit when people ask me that ‘cos I don’t really have one place, but it’s not like they do it to be mean or anything. They just wanna learn more about me I guess.

Brendon (Army): When they ask I reply with, “I am an army brat and I’ve lived all over.” They just wanna know, so they’re not bad.

 

Second Verse, Same as the First

As they get older, however, many military children get tired of being asked, “Where are you from?” because so often there are more questions (and more confused looks) right behind it. Some have developed answers that best work for them while others still aren’t sure what to say.

Abram (Marine Corps): When someone asks me where I’m from, I think to myself, “I’m about to find out if you’ve lived in the same town your whole life.” I’ve synthesized the whole thing: “My dad’s a Marine, so I’m from everywhere.” If they ask, I’ll tell them what’s up. If they don’t, or say something like, “That must’ve been tough growing up moving so much/having a Marine as a father,” then I know they’re probably not worth explaining it to.

About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.
  • Army Brat and now Army Wife

    I’m and Army Brat, Army Sister and now Army Wife. I was Born in Germany and spent the majority of my childhood there. I first left when I was about 2-3yo and went back when I was 10 left at 15. I loved Germany. growing up and even still today at 38yo I tell people Germany but my family is from GA. I get all those funny looks then simply say Army Brat. I am now BACK in Germany. When my husband got orders my first thought was “I’m going home”. From the moment we landed it’s been comforting and like I never left (Other than having to relearn my German lol) and now I have had my daughter here. And when she grows up I will one cay bring her back here so she can see where she was born.

  • belmboy

    AT LAST! someone has taken the time to explain this to everyone else. I am, and proud to be, an army brat. And I really liked the story about the boy looking confused as I could see myself. I also really enjoyed reading the reply’s to the question. Indeed, I am not from anywhere in particular. I was born in London, lived in England for a few months, then spent most of my younger years in germany, before moving back to the UK as a teenager. I guess, when people ask, where are you from, it pertains to where did you grow up? so I just reply, Germany. I explain that my father was British Army and leave it at that. Until now, I am still moving about all over the world and when I think to my childhood, I am in germany. Something else that people dont understand is. my unusual accent!, I have lived in England, France, Germany, the USA, Canada, Mexico, Philippines, Thailand well, all over the place, and I think we Army brats tend to pick up local accents /dialects very very quickly, some often think we are mocking them, but we are not. We are an odd bunch but we are a Strong knit bunch, I find that army brats will ALWAYS gel and get along with other army brats much faster and easier than civilians as we understand each other without having to say anything.

  • Susannah Martin

    Yeah, being homeschooled, I have much the same reaction to “Where do you go to school?” or “What grade are you in?” (because that last one is actually fairly complicated). I live in Norfolk VA, so it’s pretty much useless to ask most of the kids I know the “Where do you come from?” question because of the large military presence here. Most of them just got here last year and will be gone in a year or two.

  • Anastasia

    Being an Air Force brat, Army wife and now currently serving in the Air Force myself, I LOVED this article :)

  • ggggggggggggggggg

    I got called by a school and they asked about where I live and so I told them that I’m currently [here] but in the next 4-ish years I don’t know where I’ll be because I will have probably moved twice by then. They laughed at me. #smh

  • AFbrat5021

    Story of my life haha… I just tell people I’m from England, but California is where my heart is at the moment…. But in reality,a piece of my heart is on every place I’ve ever lived

  • Guest

    My favorite answer:
    ~Where are you from?”
    -”I’m from Japan”
    ~some mixture of disbelief followed by a simple “why?”

    -in a completely serious tone, reply “because I was a model – they love the baby blues in Japan”

    Stops them dead in their tracks (especially since I do not have any resemblance to model looks. Ahaha.

  • beepmachine

    my response always begins with an indescribable contorted facial expression, a pause, and a sort of drawn-out “well…”
    i don’t like lying to people or giving over-simplified answers (“i’m from texas!” no i’m not. i’m not a texan and i never have been.) because people tend to extract information about you from the place you were supposedly raised, and if that information is false, it’ll complicate future interactions with this person.
    so i have to say i was born in germany and i’ve lived in and out of germany and the US my whole life. and then they ask if i’m fluent in german, and depending on my mood i’ll either rattle off the small amount of german i know or just say i know enough to order food. and then there’s an awkward laugh and the conversation ends and i’ll spend a good few minutes wondering what my life would have been if i really was just “from texas”.
    fun stuff.

  • Ryan G Steele

    My dads a marine so I just say im property of the US Marine Corps.

  • Libia M. Castro

    My dad was in the Navy. I tend to just say that I’m from New Orleans because that’s where we lived the longest (if “long” is even a thing). But then it’s never that easy because people hear my mixture of Northern and Hispanic accents (we lived in Washington, I was born in Puerto Rico and my parents are Colombian), so I always end up telling my story…that or I relate to so many people because of where they’re from so they get confused. Unfortunately at that point, it’s not even worth it /:

  • LNCO

    This works for non-military children too! I’ve lived in numerous states, cities, and countries. Just because we enjoy moving and trying new things :). I usually tell people I’m from the place I lived the longest, or the place I lived last. Occasionally, I’ll start with my life story…

  • Jess

    I used to live in Germany and went back to the states for my sister’s college graduation. I was stopped by passport control back in Germany. They started asking me a bunch of questions like “how long are you visiting?” um… I live here. My parents had gone through that same passport control booth right before me but only I was stopped. I had to explain to passport control that my dad was US Air Force and he was stationed in Germany. They didn’t seem to want to believe me. They called over some people to the booth and were whispering to them. By then I was kinda freaking out. If they chose not to let me into the country I had no where to go. My parents were already through and headed toward baggage. Eventually they let me through but after that I always got worried going through passport control.

  • Deborah

    Boy, can I relate. I am one of the last group of Army brats born in France. Everyone’s first question is, “Do you speak French?” Nope, I was six months old when we left. I did, however, have dual citizenship until I turned 18, which was cool. We lived in Memphis, (my dad got out for a few months) New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Georgia, Virginia, South Florida, Germany, and finally, Tennessee, where my dad retired. I’d been in seven different schools by the time I finished second grade. I usually had a new best friend by the end of the first week. My brother was born at White Sands Missile Range, in New Mexico. I must have been 12 years old before I realized patients were actually supposed to pay doctors, that you could see the same one more than once, and they didn’t all wear a uniform. And then what do I do? Marry another Army brat who joined the Air Force. Now, one of my sons just did a hitch in the Navy, and the other is AF, stationed at Lackland, AFB, Texas, where my grandson was born. We did manage to live in Tampa long enough for both boys to be born there. I loved my life. I think I missed out on some things…I didn’t know my grandparents very well and I lost touch with many friends, but I’ve had an interesting life. I recently reconnected with my best friend from high school, another Army brat born in Bad Kanstadt, Germany. It’s been fun relating “war stories” with someone who understands.

  • DH

    Where I’m from? Lots of different places. Where is home? Wherever I am.

  • Aaron Weingartner

    I’ve always just answered the question with where I was born, as that was where I was conceived and birthed and initially started growing up.

  • SilverMama

    As a USAF D/W my response is originally, recently or currently. My husband was in the Air Force, and I’ve had 16 mailing addresses so far. If the individual wants to pursue the discussion, I’m willing to share.

  • Bill Jacobs

    My father was in the Navy in my early childhood and we moved up and down the east coast. He joined the Air Force and almost immediately we went to Japan for my first three years of schooling. Also spent 3 years in Germany where I graduated from high school. And, lived in IL, CA, NM, TX and NC in between. The question “where are you from?” never really bothered me. I enjoyed telling the questioner, “You mean today or last year? Or, where I was born?” I eventually settled down after spending 5 1/2 years in the Navy and stayed put in TX for 35 years. Now, I travel the US full-time in a RV and get asked the question all over again. My answer now, “Home is where I park it!”

  • Frugalmomy

    I say “the Navy.” Even in my 40′s I don’t feel I am “from” one particular place.

  • Nomad and love it

    I still have that question in my life @ 55 a military brat ; serve; and married now retired I have move all my life from east to west north to south.Asia ,Europe Live there…i still get asked where you form ” I learned AM A NOMAD the questions stop..Proud to be military

    • Gayle Long

      I either say I’m a nomad or what year are you talking about

  • swampfred

    I now live in my dad’s hometown, a small town, in south I have great fun with this question:

    “Where’re you from?”
    “Here.”
    “Where’s your family from?”
    “Here.”
    “When did they move here?”
    “1810.”

  • Kerry Haislip Leming

    I usually tell them my parents are from Arkansas. Then they get that strange look on their face. Or I will tell them I don’t like where I’m living and I want to go back home, as soon as I know where that is.

  • Paul W

    I was born in Germany, moved to Texas for 8 years, then moved back to Germany for 13 years, now we are in North Carolina. I say I’m from Germany. :P

  • Simon_in_London

    Is the US military effectively abusing children by moving them & their families around so much that they have no ‘from’ other than the military itself?

    • Shea

      I feel like abusing is a really strong word. The US military isn’t abusing the children or families. I was born in Illinois but lived in Missouri, then moved to Puerto Rico then Utah then Georgia and my parents FINALLY retired in Texas. I would have loved to grow up in one place, but I got to see a majority of the country with the week long road trips from place to place. I feel like the US military gave me an opportunity to see things I wouldn’t have seen by myself.

      • Simon_in_London

        Yes, I’m not sure it’s accurate. But I was thinking more of the children described in the article who are moved all around the world and rarely if ever live in the USA, so that they have no sense of home and little connection to anything other than the military itself.

        • Ahijah Lee Adams

          A a military brat myself as well as raising 3 myself in a military family I can tell you “abused” is not the word. “Priveledged” is more like it. Growing up I saw and did things in multiple countries that no one else outside the military saw. Being from “everywhere” was a bonus as I could see greatness in other countries AND appreciate the contrasts in living. It’s a plus knowing how others in the world live compaired to your current arrangements.

        • Danielle

          That way of thinking implies that there’s something wrong with our experiences, and that living in one place is superior to growing up in several. It’s not. It’s just a different way of living. As another poster said, it’s okay to NOT have a hometown.

    • Katie

      Are non-military parents effectively abusing children by caging them up in one city, or even two, for their whole lives and not encouraging them to explore the world? Do children with only one ‘from’ suffer for not having first hand experience with multiple cultures?

  • Kami

    I go with the typical “I was born in England and grew up in Alaska.” If people ask, then I explain. That one quote about organizing your life geographically totally rang true; I think of events in my life in regards to where I lived, rather than how old I was at the time!

  • Gat

    I hate this question so much, because it always winds up with me telling a stranger the story of my life. Not that I care that strangers know my life’s story, I doubt I’ll ever see them again or they’ll remember; it’s just that it’s become a speech at this point and the recital is boring.

    I guess I could say I am from Hawaii since I lived there the longest, but then I get all these jealous “Ooooh”s and “You’re so lucky”s and “Do you surf”s that grate on my nerves even worse. I could also say I’m from Germany, where I lived last, but then I get the inevitable “Do you speak German?” No. I don’t. Stop asking if I do.

    It’s not that I hate having grown up in that environment, it’s just that it is so different to the average person that they can’t comprehend it. It’s okay to not have a hometown.

  • Darcey Tredway

    Personally i don’t hate the question. I feel that my answers show that i have lived in different communities and have different experiences than most people do. I remember when i was in 8th grade we lived in my Dad’s hometown while he was in Thailand (during the Vietnam war) and i was shocked at how many of the kids i went to school with hadn’t been out of the state and most hadn’t been beyond 2 hours away from home! I usually tell people that I was born in Texas but should have been born in California where my Dad was stationed, and lived all over. I consider Calif my home as that is where my father retired to but also consider Texas my home as that was where i was born and my mother’s family was from. I think it opens the door for people to ask questions about your experiences and most think it’s cool that I was able to live overseas. I am most proud that my father served in the Air Force for 20+ years and i wear the military brat nomiker as a badge of honor!

  • Vickie S

    As an Army brat and an AF wife, for 62 years I have said, “I was born in Ohio and raised all over the world”!

  • Jordan C.

    I’m sorry, but that last bit made it seem like we have some sort of disease….I don’t know whether to be offended or not.

  • david

    So as an Air Force brat, and 10 years in the Air Force myself, I always answer, with a straight face, “What year?”

  • Kyle

    its really not that hard of a question, granted i didnt move as much as any of my friends because my parents are direct military, but ive only lived in the states for 4 years. i was raised in italy and germany. its a fair question, you just need to find a simple way of answering it! sometimes i like to make it a little confusing and watch them try to piece it together! its also a great conversation starter! if its just someone who is hitting on you or someone your not interested it then i usually would just blow them off and say someplace random! like Zimbabwe!

  • Rick

    I’m surprised that so many of the interviewees seem to have a chip on their shoulders at these questions.

    I’m an AF brat who went to 10 schools in 12 years…not the most I’ve heard, but impressive enough. It was a little difficult to come up with a concise answer to that question, but as I grew up I eventually boiled it down. I never found the question offensive, even as a surly teenage—a stance which this article seems to take. I never felt like it was something anyone ever had to, or needed to, tiptoe around. I dislike the idea that I would expect or want anyone to treat me so sensitively about such a simple question.

    I usually found that my answer opened up the conversation to wider things and to the possibility of comparing and contrasting experiences of growing up. It was actually not a bad icebreaker.

    Yes, there were both negatives and positives about that experience. I was not allowed the sort of strong extended family/friendship ties some people have from living in the same place their entire childhood and going to school with the same group all that time. In a way, that did cause some alienation between my parents and me due to the fact that my upbringing was completely opposite of theirs—something they didn’t grasp until well into my adulthood.

    On the other hand, I generally went to better schools, had richer cultural experiences and was surrounded by a wider range of people at a young age than my peers. I think it made me a more well-rounded person with a more open world view. I can’t object to that. It’s something I’m grateful for.

  • Bella

    I just moved to the US from Australia, and people always ask at school “where are you from in Australia?” And I always answer differently depending on how I’m feeling, so at times I’ll answer “I was born in Sydney” (that’s generally the only place in Australia that Americans know about) or I’ll give them my while life story about by 9th grade I’d gone to 4 different high schools and how I was raised all over the place, and then majority of the time I’ll just say “nowhere… Uh… Everywhere… I don’t know, I’m an army brat so…”. It’s weird if you think about it, most people have a hometown and then there’s just me… The new Australian army brat who doesn’t belong anywhere. It’s cool though in a way I guess

  • AF Brat

    I tell people I’m from wherever my parents furniture was located. ;-)

  • Heather N

    My favorite is when I answer with “well I’m a Navy brat so I’m not really from anywhere” and the follow up question is “well where is “home”?” Um, did you not just hear me? Home is where my parents are and currently they’re living in 2 different cities. The answer has changed a bit now that I’m an adult, on my own, and haven’t moved in 11 years. I get that people are just wanting to know if I’ve always lived here so I usually explain that I ended up here via the Navy after moving around a bunch as a kid. When I first moved here from Japan I always got the “you don’t look Japanese” response. It never ceases to amaze me how ignorant non – military can be.

  • Erica

    Now that I’m an adult I don’t mind “where are you from”, but I hate the question of “Where did you grow up”. Why? Simply because now that I’m an adult I’ve found other adults tend to argue with me when I don’t give a definitive town name. I usually say “all over the US (we were not worldwide assignable due to medical things)” and then they will come back with a remark similar to “well where specifically”. I agree with a few other posters that since non-military people won’t accept the answer of “all over” you feel as if you need to tell them a summary of your childhood.

  • wormhd883

    as a military Brat , anytime someone asked us where we were from we would just till them ” From all over , but our home town is in the Panhandle of Texas”… that seem to stop any further questions… I think it dumb founded them…

  • Cass

    This one question gets really difficult when you were born and lived for a number of years (states too) with one parent in the military. Then a divorce happens and the other parent enters the military allowing more places. It’s the same concept, but I end up having to explain that my parents divorced and both of them have been in or still are in the military. That just becomes a larger snowball about questions of my family and how the divorce impacted me (honestly don’t remember them ever being married).