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Home / Culture and Society / What Military Children Won’t Tell You about Being Asked, “Where Are You From?”
"When someone asks me, I think to myself, 'I'm about to find out if you've lived in the same town your whole life.'"

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

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.

Janet (Army): I say “everywhere,” but usually not before having a deer in the headlight moment.

Amelia (Marine Corps): When someone asks where I’m from, I feel almost obligated to tell them my life story: Where I was born, how many times I moved, where I moved from to my current location, etc. I make the point that my dad was in the Marine Corps so I’m not really “from” anywhere. That confuses people and it makes me laugh at them.

You're right. We're not in Kansas anymore. Funny.
You’re right. We’re not in Kansas anymore. Funny.

Nathan (Army): I think that those people tend not to think about what they are asking before they ask.

Ashley (Army): I say I’m from Stuttgart [Germany] and they give me that face because you know they are dying to say it: “Is that in Canada?” Yeah, sure man.

Daniel (Marine Corps): I guess they don’t mean anything by it, but it still feels weird when someone asks me and then looks at me kind of like I’m lying when I say I’m an American who never lived in the United States. I was born in Okinawa, moved to Germany and live here again. Then they ask more questions and then I have to explain why I don’t “look Japanese.”

Hannah (Air Force): The reactions you can get from people when you tell them you are an American citizen that was born in England and have never lived in America are priceless.

Joshua (Army): [I say] Ohio or Texas. Then when you go on to explain where you’re actually from (Germany), you get the reply, “Oh you have excellent English!” Then I just smile and end the conversation because it’s awkward.

Stop speaking zee German. You're gonna get us deported!
Stop speaking zee German. You’re gonna get us deported!

Rachael (Army): I generally find people who ask me where I’m from highly annoying, mainly because I don’t want to answer the question.

Faith (Navy): I hate that question. I never know if they want me to tell them where I am living currently, where I consider home right now, where I have lived the longest, or where I was born. And that’s a problem because they are all different answers.

 

Location, Location, Location

For most civilians, the definition of “from” is pretty strict. It is synonymous with, “Where were you born and raised?” For the military child, this is two questions; and their experience doesn’t lend itself to just one answer. The word “from” has no relevance. As they get older, any meaning they give the word isn’t as rigid as the one found in the dictionary. “From” becomes flexible and relative.

Paige (Air Force): I usually answer with the last place I lived. I’m from Alaska. When I get back to Alaska in June, I’ll be from Colorado.

Stephanie (Army): Omg, I don’t know where I’m from, especially since I’m Hispanic. I tell them I’m Chilean who is American who has lived in many states who is currently living in Germany. It’s difficult to answer with just once answer.

Shawn (Army): I rarely think that I am “from” anywhere, but rather that I went to grade school in such and such and high school there and graduated from this other place. An interesting point [my sister] Kim and I have observed is that we reference our lives geographically. We don’t think about Mom’s cancer as happening when we were in whatever school grade or how old we were, but that we were in Texas. I went to a particular concert when I lived in Virginia. I know [my friend] Laura from Hawaii, not from high school, though both are true. Once I have the geographic reference, then I backtrack into the temporal setting. “Okay, we were in Texas, so that would have been about ’74-’77.”

Charles (Marine Corps): If I want to be snarky I will hit the list, otherwise I say my dad was in the military and if they want to know more I can list ’em.

Nathan (Army): I have a standard answer and generally I say “Ohio,” then stop myself and say, “Well, be more specific.”

Terri (Air Force): I go with the classic AFN (Armed Forces Network) commercial response: “Do you mean where was I born, or where do my parents live, or where I just moved from or where I live now, or do you mean where is the best place I’ve ever lived?” Or there’s the Bill Clinton-esque, “That depends on what you mean by ‘from’.”

Pictured here: 34 answers to the question, "Where are you from?"
Pictured here: 34 answers to the question, “Where are you from?”

Sam (Air Force): I usually hesitate a lot and then just tell them where I’ve lived last, which is not where my parents live anymore, and it’s not where I’m going to school. So right now I say I’m from Texas, but when I go back to [Washington] D.C. for the summer to see my parents I’ll probably tell people I’m from Ohio, and then after that I’ll say I’m from D.C. But mostly I just stick to where I lived last. (Though on Facebook I’m from my favorite place to have lived: Okinawa, Japan.)

Robert (Army): Home for me since I’ve moved around so much in my life always go back to what my grandpa said all the time, “Home is where you hang ur [sic] jacket up before you go to sleep that night.” So right now I’m from Frankfurt [Germany].”

Kimberly (Army): Yeah, I usually either say “from all over,” or hit the list: Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Virginia and [back to] Kansas.

Rae (Marine Corps): My answer is always, “Well, I was born on a Marine base in North Carolina and raised in a small town in West Virginia and I’ve been in Canada 10 years.” I kinda enjoy confusing them!

Hannah (Air Force): At first I used to tell people I was a military brat but because of the amount of times that I’ve moved I don’t consider myself a military brat. I’ve been able to live in only three places and get to know the people there as if I’ve known them my whole lives.

Rachael (Army): My standard response is cringing and then saying “everywhere.” Then I have to explain that I grew up in Ohio (my legal residence), but I spent my high school years in Germany, and then that my parents currently live in St. Louis, so I go there for breaks. After that, they generally stop asking me where I’m from. All they remember is I’m the girl from Germany.

Ashley (Army): Standard answer: I’m from Germany, my parents are military and that is where I spent the better part of my life. Where I was born or where my residency is stateside is irrelevant. That is not where I grew up.

 

Knowledge is Power

Those who want to get to know a military child better without making it an awkward encounter could try these recommendations from the children themselves:

  • Don’t ask a military child of any age, “Where are you from?” It’s better to ask, “Where do you live?” If they want to tell you something more about themselves, they’ll volunteer it.
  • If you do ask, “Where are you from?” accept the answer. If the answer is “everywhere” or “I’m a military brat,” that really is the answer. It really isn’t where they were born or where they lived five years ago or where their parents were born (for a lot of military kids, this also has more than one answer). Dismissing what they’ve said and pressing them for “a real answer” is insulting.
  • Once the military child has answered the question of “from,” refrain from asking more questions. “Oh, I see” is fine. Let them decide whether they want to keep the conversation going or not.
  • Be conscious of your facial expression. Military children are painfully familiar with what they call “that face.” It’s a combination of confusion and distaste some people get when they hear something they weren’t expecting and/or don’t understand. To see “that face” for yourself, walk up to a stranger and ask them for walking directions to your house without telling them where you live.

Sam, whose parent is in the Air Force, summarized the military child’s feelings about the “from” question with a little reflection: “Do you remember that AFN (Armed Forces Network) commercial where the guy tries to pick up the girl at the bar and he asks her where she’s from and she asks if he means where she was born, grew up, lived the longest, etc? When I was younger it seemed silly, but now, I realize it’s the story of our lives.”

All images ©2011 Diana M. Hartman. All pictured are military children.

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.

101 comments

  1. Wow, sounds like a lot of people had negative experiences. That’s sad.

    My dad was air force. He left active duty when I was fairly young, 5-ish, so my experience may not be as typical. Even after that, we moved a couple times and I had plenty of unpleasant “outsider” experiences, even when we moved back to his home town.

    (It was fun, in my late teen years, watching the neighbors’ faces when mom & dad brought grandma over to the block party… and the mayor practically fell over himself running over to greet her. She’d been a life long member of his political party, starting back when they’d been a small minority in that town :-).

    Still, I don’t recall ever having a negative experience about being asked where I was “from”. People asked, and were interested to hear about my earliest memories: seeing a colorful bird – I think a toucan – at the mainland china zoo, from a foot away; being carried on a taiwanese farmer’s kid’s shoulders across the unbelievable vista of a field full of watermelons as far as my three-year-old-watermelons-are-a-super-special-treat eyes could see; etc.

    Google “third culture kids” for some interesting sociological stuff about this topic. Military brats make up a big chunk of third-culture kids; essentially kids who grow up with sufficient exposure to foreign cultures that they end up constituting a third viewpoint. Viewed positively, bridging the cultures. Negatively, stuck in between them.

    • I have to say, sometimes I meet military brats who spent more of their childhood growing up outside the US, into their early teens, and I’m envious. They got to really experience more of those countries.

      At the same time, recently I chatted with a seventeen year old who’d returned to the states for the first time, and I’m glad I didn’t have to face transitioning to US high school in my late teens.

    • On accents; I remember being fairly young, somewhere between 8 and 12, and having fun confounding a carnie who guaranteed to guess where you from based on your accent :-). I think that faded a little as we settled more into mom & dad’s home town.

  2. we have started a campaign on facebook to ask them recognize our community by providing a ‘brat’ option under the hometown question in the profile. please join our efforts and ‘like’ our page! http://www.facebook.com/MilitaryBratHometown

  3. Lori in Lakewood

    Lisa, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one. I see soooo many on differing brats sites with these (albeit nice) looking in the review mirror through rose colored glasses view. I had positive experiences also but acknowledge the realities too. Always made me feel bad because I didn’t have that lovely Kum- By- A experience everybody else had and I KNOW I was stationed at the same places as the others were. I lost track at about 20 schools and then went to 2 highschools myself. Always being the new kid on the block and “has your mom killed anybody yet ?” were some of the worst parts of BRATdom. Hang in there. It does get better. Eventually

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Being an Air Force brat, Army wife and now currently serving in the Air Force myself, I LOVED this article 🙂

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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

  13. 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 /:

  14. 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…

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

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

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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!”

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

  22. 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

  23. 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.”

  24. 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.

  25. 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. 😛

  26. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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.

    • 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?

  27. 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!

  28. 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.

  29. 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!

  30. 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”!

  31. 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.

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

  33. 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!

  34. 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.

    • The reason a lot of us have a chip on our shoulder, is that only non-military folks ask it. Other brats and military related folks know better. With us it’s always, “when did you move here?” or “where did you move here from”. The point is, there are better questions to ask than “where are you from?” that would not single out military kids as different.

  35. 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

  36. I tell people I’m from wherever my parents furniture was located. 😉

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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…

  40. 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).

  41. In college all they ask is where are you from I say I live … And they say no where are you from then I have to say I’m a military brat some know and some just look at you like what and I’m just staring at them smh…civilians

  42. Gaia Persephone Glockner

    First off, I remember that AFN commercial (I just miss AFN). Second, I’m an Air Force brat and when people ask, I just give them the whole list. Born in Texas, lived in Colorado, England, Azores, Germany (twice), Hawaii, and now back in Texas. The short-version is; born in Texas, raised in Europe. That’s enough to let them know where I’m ‘from.’
    But if you really want to confuse them, explain the DoDDs school system to them.

    • And DODEA schools Pacific side! I’ve tried explaining them and gotten looks of pure horror an confusion.

  43. Born in Biloxi, raised everywhere else.

  44. This article is very true I think that it is worst when you have dual military parents as the moves are more frequent and in Lord help us if they are not same branch due. My parents were dual Army and Marine talk about the moves, I wound up going to 5 high schools in 4 years and I started in Japan before I wound up finishing in Maryland. That was Just high school middle school and elementary I can ball park a number it will be a lie as I really do not remember. For me the worst thing about being asked where I am from and is that I feel like no answer is ever good enough and that saying that I am from everywhere and no that I am also from no where at the same time because I have military parents either leaves people confused or they get it.

  45. It’s honestly pretty true. I say I live everywhere, I travel.

  46. I have always answered that question with ” I currently live in (what ever state or city I am living in at that time)”.

  47. i just say i was raised in the military.

  48. I say “that’s a trick question, I am military. I’m not from anywhere, but I have lived **** the longest.” I find it is usually accepted well.

  49. Kellyann Whatsherface

    As a military brat, what I really hated is when you came across a person that kept telling you somewhere had to be you hometown because you were born there. I was born in new york. I lived there for 2 weeks before moving to DC. How is that a hometown?

  50. When asked this question I always say I’m not from anywhere my dad was in the Air Force but my parents are from Quincy Mass. I’m 33 and I still use this response. But I don’t know what my children will say because my husband is an AF bratt also. 🙂

  51. I find this article a bit exclusive, although I agree with the premise. My father works for the Navy, so we’ve moved around a bit as well. My track record is Ohio for six years, England for four, Italy for two, Virginia for six, Germany for one, and now I’m in college. However, he’s a civilian so I have no right to say, “My dad’s in the Navy, so I’m from everywhere.” However, civilian kids also watch AFN and drank Italian Capri-Sonne’s from the Commissary and were part of the culture there. Civilians actually comprise a larger portion on foreign bases than one might think – DODEA employees, budgetary personnel, some doctors, etc and they each have their own role. And just as military brats are confused when they answer the “Where are you from?” dilemma, civilian brats are as well – but we somehow have less of a claim to our confusion, because our parents weren’t in the AF.

    Here are some excerpts from the comments below which highlight a hierarchial nature that military brats sometimes assume (assumptions such as these have often made me feel unwelcome going to school on navy bases):

    “And they say no where are you from then I have to say I’m a military brat some know and some just look at you like what and I’m just staring at them smh…civilians”
    “It never ceases to amaze me how ignorant non – military can be.”
    “The reason a lot of us have a chip on our shoulder, is that only non-military folks ask it. Other brats and military related folks know better.”

    The argument, as I read in a response below, is that asking this “where are you from?” question singles out military brats in an unwelcome manner, but this article also assumes that everyone who has moved around a lot is related in some form to the Armed Forces, which implies that others who feel awkward about answering such a question have a lesser right to feel awkward, although their experiences are similar.

    • Catherine, you certainly do have the right to say “My dad’s in the (X), so I’m from everywhere.” It doesn’t matter what (X) is, if you’ve moved around a lot with a parent, you know the difficulty of answering “Where are you from?”

    • I completely agree. My father is in the Foreign Service, but I lived on military bases and shared a lot of the same experiences with the military kids

  52. I’m a BRAT. No further explanation needed…

  53. Although my Dad was in the Air Force and traveled all over the world, we stayed, primarily in Texas/Louisiana. Born at Barksdale AFB, we moved to Texas when I was a baby, and stayed with my grandparents for a while. I actually grew up in Dallas, my brother was almost born on Spain, but my Mom was terrified of flying. No base housing for us! I am almost jealous of my cousins, my Uncle is a retired Marine and they had an opportunity to see, almost the entire country, while I spent my childhood in the same neighborhood, until I got married! I know you guys have all heard this phrase before, and it was tough to always leave your friends behind, when you had to go, but, WOW, what wouldn’t, I have given to be able to say, with a straight face, ” I’ve been everywhere man!” Prayers to you all, and thank you for your amazing service! We say it to the soldiers, but we need to also say it to these courageous families! If not for your sacrifice, your Dad/Mom could not have performed their duties! Hats off to all the military “brats” who gave up a normal childhood, in service to your Country! God bless you!

  54. As a funny story…I was volunteering at a shelter, I was wearing a shirt that says” I love London” and this lady with a very sarcastic tone read my shirt and told me” I love London” do you ever been there? And I say ” Yes ma’am, indeed a relocated from UK a month a go after living there 4 years! I also had shirts from Turkey, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Ireland and Iraq!! It was priceless!

  55. I really, really like how this touched on how we get insulted when the matter is pressed further or they ask for a “real” answer. Not a lot of people get that when they ask where someone’s from and I sort of hate answering the question at all, especially when I say Italy or Germany and they tell me my English is so good or when they ask if I can tutor them in Italian (I barely know the language.)

    It’s even worse when you’re in college and there’s a group of other students from a state with a strong sense of state identity. This is literally a conversation I had my first semester: “Oh, you’re from California?”
    “Yeah, my parents moved there two months ago.”
    “Wow, cool, but you’re not really Californian. Where are you actually from? Like where were you born?”
    “I never lived where I was born. I’m from California.”
    “Well, you should tell people you’re not a real Californian because you’re so new. You’ll mislead them.”
    Like dude, no one gives a shit if you lived in California for a week or for your entire life. It’s not that great. Drop it.

  56. I moved 13 times before I was 16 and went to 9 schools during that time. I hate being asked ‘where are you from?’ I’m a British forces brat and it seems whatever I choose to say, someone knows someone else in the area I mention and asks me if I know their aunt or uncle, sister, dog or cat or if I went to school with Fred Jones – that’s the problem with GB being so small. If I say I’m from nowhere and explain the Forces thing I get asked ‘ok, but where were you born’ because people are determined to be able to fit me into a place or time. People are forever trying to place my accent, but they can’t because it’s a mix of accents taken up by me when I was a kid to stop me being beaten up (my brother and I were beaten up regularly for being ‘not one of us’ or pronouncing a word wrong and I’m a female!). I think this feels worse as I’ve got older as it didn’t bother me when I was a kid (maybe because we were on camp and knew other forces kids). I’ve settled in the same place for the past 20 years and still hate being the person left out when everyone starts reminiscing about school/neighbours etc.

  57. While my dad had retired from the Navy by the time I was born, he had a job with the army corps of engineers that sent him to Japan. I was born on base in Yokosuka. We moved back to the states roughly 1.5 years later. From there we moved to Florida then Tennessee and finally Virginia all before I was 6years old. When people ask me where I’m from I tell them Virginia. It is not only where I have lived the longest (more than 12 years now) but where I feel at home. When I was younger however, I told peers that I was born in Japan, and like Daniel (marine corps) from above they asked why I didn’t look Japanese. It was difficult for them to comprehend that my parents were Americans so I couldn’t be Japanese.

  58. One of the advantages of moving around so much as a child (13 schools in 12 years) is that where ever I have lived I can adjust, meet people (they are all the same), and not be afraid. I see families who are not moving to a better place they want to be because they want to let there kids finish high school. It is not going to kill them to change schools in the middle of high school. I think it toughens them up a little for life. I think I am a better person for all the travels.

  59. Not sure if this is insulting, but city-based homeschoolers might understand y’all.
    I don’t know what to tell people when they ask where I’m going to school, or where I used to go to school, because at first we went everywhere with my mom. We used to say we were “car-schooled” because she spent the better part of the week running errands. In the meantime, there was a co-op, but that wasn’t “school” so I didn’t consider telling people we went there at the time.
    Then we started going to “school” once a week, then we transitioned to another once a week program, then we we transitioned to another one, then we transitioned to a highschool so tiny that my dual credit counselor told me to list it as homeschooling… and that’s another fun thing. Dual credit courses. Highschool and college. “So you’re getting credit for highschool and college at the same time? How does that work?” Well, um, is the name not self-explanatory? I don’t understand having to explain these things to adults. Children, sure. Not adults.
    Then there’s the church-hoppers, which we also were, and now I don’t know what to say. Churches were phases. They were home. They were relationship. Now I’m like “well I still like church, and I go to one sporadically, and my parents go to another, but I’m not sure if I can tell you I’m going to church because reasons.”
    Not sure if I’m overstepping my bounds. It just feels familiar, on a smaller scale. I’m not pretending it’s the same, I’m just saying that the homeschool crowd has an iffy chance for military children to not get so many weird looks. (I know looks like that. Not sure if they’re the same.)
    Don’t try this on country-based homeschoolers, though. They don’t have city resources, so they’ve probably stayed in one place for most of their lives.
    Unless they’re college-age. Then they’ll at least understand the experience of getting a weird look whenever they’re asked “basic” questions.
    Stop getting to know me, please. I don’t want to get that personal and you won’t understand the surface answer.

  60. My favorite answer is to reply with “What year?” The looks I get are priceless.

    • That has been my reply for many years. I ‘m a Military kid from the UK and now in my 50s. Despite coming from different countries you, me and all other military kids have more in common than people from the countries we supposedly come from

  61. I usually say, “Born in Tucson; raised in the Air Force.”

  62. Wow. These are some stuck up kids. “How dare strangers make small talk with me. Asking simple questions one usually asks of a new acquaintance? The nerve!” Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t tell a military kid just by looking at them, and I don’t expect others to have this ability. If you get offended when someone asks you a simple question, you’re the problem, not them.

    • WHOA! First of all, when meeting “military brats”, you’ll most likely find the most open minded, not judgmental, and diverse people. Sounds arrogant? Nope, not at all. Simply put, growing up in the military exposes you to multiple cultures, races, and religions. Second, The fact that you would read this article and appear offended (the stuck up accusation and “you’re the problem, not them” attitude) shows that you missed the whole point. Which again, is why we grow tired of that very question…You simply don’t know how it is growing up not being from ONE place, but raised in many. Having to explain 4888024 times where you are born is not where you were raised, nor is it where your extended family is from, nor is it where you went to elementary, middle, high school, or why you went to 10 different schools or…on and on and on…Third, we grow tired of explaining to 10x’s more people the average person is exposed to because we are always meeting new people with every new place. It’s not that we are “Stuck up”, it’s that we don’t know how to explain to closed minded individuals like yourself a logical answer that you’ll be satisfied with. Lastly, if you make “Small talk”, expect “Small answers” that makes NO SENSE. If you want to get to know a military brat, get to know them through conversation. AFTER ALL, WE ARE USED MEETING NEW PEOPLE.

  63. My standard response over the years has been, “I’m an Air Force brat, born in England and raised in the U.S. and Germany.” It’s very cool when the person asking identifies as a fellow brat and we determine if we ever lived in the same places or share our experiences. It’s a lot less cool when the person is pretty ignorant and starts saying stupid things like, “Are you a U.S. citizen?” or “You speak English really well.” #BRAT4Life

  64. All expat kids like that, not only millitary.

  65. I have been often told I don’t have an accent, but noticed I get told, “you didn’t sound like people from here”. I often have a hard time with pronouncing things the way “locals” do and I get called on it by “your not from here are you” . So I spend a lot of time listening to the way people around me say things and will usually pronounce phonetically until I hear it the way others will pronounce it. I will still mess it up. Example we have a town nearby named Staunton, VA. I pronounced it with a long a (like fault) but it is actually pronounced with a short a like ant. Still gets me, but it has also allowed me to notice when others “aren’t from here” as well.

  66. My answer is always “Europe and Asia mostly.”

  67. After 4 countries and multiple States, it is a difficult question to answer. People even ask, “Are you part of a witness protection program?” My response, “I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you.”

  68. The last paragraph about the response from the commercial (Where was I born, raised or lived the longest?) is exactly the same answer I started using in the mid 60’s and still use today. In fact just last night I was asked if I’m from Wyoming and I just kinda snickered and said no. Thankfully they didn’t pursue the question any further.

  69. Although I have served in the army if I was to get a response from them that their parents was in the military and they lived all over, I would most likely be more curious of the experiences they had, the cultures they was exposed to. Can learn a lot of the world that way.

  70. I just say I’m a Air Force brat and leave it at that.

  71. I just say that I’m from Germany as that is where I was born and spent most of my childhood, don’t really have anywhere as such that I could call home

  72. I just say that I’m from Germany and that I lived there till I was 7, and no I’m not German and can’t speak German. I usually get asked why I was born in Germany, so now I just say that’s where my dad was situated at the time and my mum followed him. Short but sweet.

  73. I was born in Nebraska and lived there till I was 7. My dad was in the army and I moved in with him when I was 7 and then we started moving around. I know where I’m from, Nebraska, so people asking me where I from, just tell em where you were born, because that is where you are from. If they need more, give em more. It’s really not that a big of a deal.

    • Not really that simple. For you yes, however I was born overseas in Germany, but left there before turning 6 months old. I don’t know a thing about the place I was born so I’m not from there. We moved every 2, or 3 years after that. So truly, it was awkward being asked where I’m from. I got asked that question a lot because moving so often and trying to adapt, I ended up with accents on different words from all over the country and calling different things by different names according to what it was called in the place I had just left.

      • Same here I was 8 months old when I moved away from Michigan. Most of my childhood was spent in Germany. If they really are the same thing why don’t people just ask where you’re born instead of where you’re from…

  74. Being a Marian/Army Brat coming from an old military family, both sides, I never felt apologetic, living in Iran since the 1980’s it has always been a multilingual conversation usually held at once that for a year or so I have cut to “The American Army” Interesting is that if my mouth is tired, in Persian “Army” can come out “The American Army” or “The American Fire” it does not matter it gets the message out!

  75. I tell them I am an Army Brat, I was Born in France, raised in Europe and now I live in Georgia.

  76. I always answer this with “I grew up everywhere so I got to choose where when I became 18 and home is Texas”.

  77. I usually tell people I’m from California even though I only lived there for a year because my dad was also a military brat so he didn’t have a home but my mom was born and raised in LA and when I want to see my family that is where I go. I spent every summer in California so that was consistent to me. When people find out that I’ve lived in Texas longer than any other place they seem compelled to tell me where I’m from but texas never really seemed like home. I love here and my parents do too but my brother lives in Chicago and my sister is in Germany so if I want to see family I go to LA.

  78. Great article, Diana! Written in 2011, people still commenting in 2015. Nothing changes but the year… To find out more about “military brats,” feel free to take a look at http://www.USAbrat.org.

  79. Sometimes I will say I’m from everywhere or ill pick the place I’ve lived longest. Sometimes I’ll go on to list states. I normally get interrupted at a state the inquirer can relate to. This tells me they don’t really want to know all of the places I’ve lived. However, I love relating to everyone on some level. So this is not bad. Home is where ever I make it and I’m happy with that. But from? What is from?

  80. First 35 years – Air Force BRAT, USMC active duty, Contractor. Usually I just replied “It’s complicated, I’ve been everywhere because of a military and government background”.

    Now that we’ve settled in one place for the past 20 years, everyone in our circle knows our background. When new people join our circle of friends most are fascinated with our life experiences and we have great discussions.

    Downside of being settled for 20 years … after moving every two or three years for 35 years, you really don’t acquire “stuff”. I can’t believe the amount of “stuff” we have now. 😕

  81. I like this article! His home! I was born in Stuttgart but raised around the states. My parents are from the south but when they finally retired, they settled hours away from their homesteads. We were never raised around any of our extended family, so I, personally am not close to any of them. My family moved from Hawaii to Georgia when I was about 9, and I was teased about the way I spoke. Before that, we moved from the Midwest to Hawaii, and I was teased about the colour of my skin and texture of my hair. Now, when I’m asked “that question” I usually say, “Army Brat, I have no roots.”

  82. I really liked this article, but, I grew up very similar to a military child but i was never considered one. My dad is a civilian who works for the military, and we relocated within the country every 2 years for the first 14 years of my life, after that we moved every 1 or 3 years until my dad retired. So I never became too attached to friends because i knew i was loosing them in a year, I made that mistake freshmen year. Anyway, I hated that i was never considered a military child/brat, I experience very similar things to one and I never got the title, when I was younger it always felt very unfair to me. I understand that it was not completely the same experience because my parent wouldn’t be deployed for long periods of time, but he would travel, and there were many military children that I knew where the parent/s never where deployed. I don’t really mean to offend anyone by this, I just wanted to rant and get this off of my chest, and if anybody reads this and feels they need to respond then please do.

  83. I am a military brat My father was in WW2, Korean Conflict and the Vietnam war. He was in the Army/Air Corp and later it was the Air Force. I was born in Okla. moved to Tx, Moved to NC back to Tx Back to NC then SC back to Tx back to Okla then to Japan back to Okla back to Tx then to Colo. I married and moved to Maine. I always tell people when they ask where i’m that I lead a Gypsy life.

  84. from MD,DCarea1995-2000 to yokota JAPAN2000-2004 to New Jersey2004-2010 then to Germany ramstein2010-2014 proud family of two air force parents who have been retired now one from2014 and other 2006. I had an amazing 18 years with my parents I am now 21 going on 22 years old this coming summer yay us military brats go threw so much in life but it is what we learn from our time in the military with our family members who are and who have served in for their time for this country it makes us more stronger knowing the life we have or had to live . I will not lie it changes us for who we were to the people who see life differently and want to change the world for the better .