Where are you from?
Someone asked Magdalena that question the other day and I realized I hadn't taught her what to say. Then I realized I didn't know what to teach her to say.
It's not so hard when it's a non-American asking the question. Then she can just say "USA" and be done with it. But if anyone wants particulars, poor Magdalena is either stateless or from too many places at once. She has an equal claim on Arizona, New York, and the UAE, because she has lived in each for about the same amount of time (the UAE will soon exceed those others but I don't think I'll ever be able to teach my kids to say they're from the UAE, with a straight face, because that's just too funny). If we care about where she was born, well, that throws Vermont into the mix. She also spent a good chunk of time in each of Provo, Utah and Cairo, Egypt, so there's that, too. I think I'll teach her to say she's from the USA, but that she lives in Sharjah. That should be simple enough for a 2.5-year-old to handle.
Then again, I'm still working on what to say as my own answer to this question. With every place we move, the answer just gets more and more complicated. By the time we moved to Ithaca, the answer was something like, "we moved here from Arizona by way of a summer in Provo but I'm from Oregon and Jeremy's from Idaho and we met at the BYU." Only the truly interested or persistent got the bonus answer that involved Russia, Syria, Jordan, Vermont, etc.
Here, like I mentioned, we can often get away with just "I'm from America." It's nice. Other times, I couch my answer in terms of "we moved here from Upstate New York." Sometimes I can even tailor my response to what I already know about the person who's asking - "oh, you're from Washington? I grew up in Oregon!" and then I can leave everywhere else out of it.
The good thing about living in a place like the UAE is that we are by no means the only freakish specimens of statelessness. You can hardly meet someone new here without hearing a "where are you from?" story like, "well, I'm Pakistani/Yemeni but I was born and raised in the UAE and have never been to either Pakistan OR Yemen." Or you meet someone who is clearly Arab and you get all excited because maybe they're from somewhere you've lived but when you ask, they give a bland answer like, "Canada." It seems rude to follow up with, "yeah, but where are you REALLY from?" (...and yet, I've totally done that.)
I had to laugh a couple of weeks ago when I met a family of three outside Miriam's school. They were looking at the school for their son and they needed help figuring out which entrance to use. I showed them the way and then, by way of conversation, asked where they were from. They were obviously Arab, the woman was wearing hijab, and they spoke English with an accent. And yet the man's answer to my question was "oh, we're from the University of Sharjah."
Well, that's one way to answer!
So, give me a short answer and a long answer or something in between: Where are you from?