Just don’t ask me how I am? Is this going to be a post about one of the most famous songs of Suzanne Vega (“Luka”)? Not this time at least. This question does not bother me at all. Another question is on my mind a lot lately. It is rather the “Where do you come from?” which is probably the most common sentence that I hear when meeting new people. To be honest, I use it often myself. It is a good ice-breaker. Especially if somebody answers “I’m from Barcelona”, I can always honestly say “Lucky you! I love your home city!”
It is the second time in my life that I have moved between countries. I am in Stockholm since February but the previous five years I have been living in a charming Dutch city called Utrecht. Over the whole period of my PhD in The Netherlands I always had an easy answer to the most common question during the international get-together. I am from Poland! But ever since I moved to Stockholm I have noticed that this answer is not so obvious any more. I am from Poland but I also feel a little bit “Dutch”. I have learned the language, got a bunch of great friends, learned to eat all the Dutch treats (except of salmiak – the most bizarre candy ever from my Polish perspective) and felt very emotional while watching each and every Dutch football game during the World Cup. All this despite the fact that I don’t have much understanding of football. Because of this, my answer have changed. I started (to my own surprise) hear myself say “I come from Poland, but the past five years I have lived in The Netherlands”. This seems to me like the only honest answer. The Netherlands feel as much home as Poland does.
This small observation of myself made me realize another thing. In many cases when I get an answer to the question “where do you come from?”, I still don’t really know much. If I have been there myself, I have some ideas about the place. But if I haven’t, I only know some scraps of information, mostly stereotypical, and I know where the place is on the map. Therefore, lately I have started saying “I have never been there. Can you tell me what your home country is like?”. As you can imagine, this is quite often considered odd. Sometimes, however, I receive in return some good stories.
I can only hope that after few years in Sweden I will be able to say: “I am from Poland but for five years I have lived in The Netherlands and now I live in Sweden”. If this ever happens, I am sure that I will feel like a collage made of Polish striped skirt, wooden shoes and a midsommarkrans. It is a very comfortable thought I must say!
How much more interesting would it be if people would ask “Where have you lived?” or “Where did you stay to become this crazy scientist you are today?”. That might be a better start of a conversation.