Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Talkback Tuesday: Where are you from?

Tuesday is "Talkback" day, where I share what other people have to say

It wasn't until after we moved into the bus and out onto the open road that I realized how often people ask each other this question.

When folks meet for the first time, within minutes they ask, "Where are you from?" or "Where do you live?" If you're not a full-timer, the answer is so easy that you may not even notice the question. "Sunnyvale," I used to answer. If I was traveling, the answer was, "California." 99 times out of 100, these answers were sufficient. No further questions. Thanks and have a nice day.

Now, the answer is still short, but rarely goes unquestioned: We live full-time right here in this bus. "But where are you from?" they want to know. One answer is the name of whatever town we were in last night. Another is California; we lived there for 20 years. Another is Washington, our legal address. For Sean, another answer is New Jersey, where he grew up. I could list the dozen or so towns I lived in before I graduated high school.

Each answer is only a part of the truth, though. It fascinates me that people just have to have some answer. Okay, fascinates and sometimes annoys me. Why is it important? Does knowing that the person in the next parking space at Wal-Mart comes from Indiana really tell you something about them as a person?

There's a discussion on the Escapees forum about this same topic. Seems many full-timers struggle with this.

I think "Where are you from?" is the same type of question as "How are you?" As long as the answer is, "City, State. Where are you from?" or "Fine, how are you?" then the correct bit of social lubrication has been applied and that may be the end of that. But as soon as you deviate from that script with "I live in my RV," or "I'm actually feeling pretty crummy today," the conversation turns a different direction. You've signaled that you want to talk about it more in depth.

The problem is that I often don't want to talk in depth with a stranger who has merely asked a polite social question. And given the amount of attention that Odyssey attracts, we could be asked this 5, 10, 25 times a day. Call me anti-social, but I just don't want to meet that many potential Bestest Friends.

I am trying to train myself to give an answer that is a polite truth without opening it up for a big discussion. But neither "California" nor "Washington" seems right. The former can raise further questions because we don't have California license plates. The latter feels wrong because of all the many, many places we've both lived, neither one of us has ever actually had a home in Washington state!

I've tried some of the other options like "El Paso, TX," where I was born. But it's almost inevitable that the person I'm talking to worked for 20 years in El Paso! "What a coincidence! Do you live on the north or south side of town?" Then I have to explain that I really only lived there for two months as an infant and now I live in my RV and blah blah blah here we are explaining the whole darn thing again.

Full-timers, where are you from?


  1. I've come up with a classification scheme for answering that those questions.
    1. Where are you from? I was born in Houston.
    2. Where did you grow up? Columbus, Texas.
    3. Where do you live? Knoxville, Tennessee.
    [and I have lived in Evanston, IL; Costa Mesa, CA; and Bloomington, IN in between Texas and Tennessee.
    I really feel like a nomad without ever having lived on our motorhome.

  2. It is an easy answer for us; we say "los estados unidos". :) That makes the answer pretty simple when we're in Mexico. IN the US I simply say that our trailer is our home and home is wherever our trailer is. Some people will press FURTHER; they HAVE to know where your last house was so I'll then say that 3 years ago we had a stick house in California. Then they are happy. :)

    Here in Quintana Roo, where we have a palapa, I tell people that we're from PaaMul.


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