Conversations with Koreans: Where are you from?

ConversationsIt doesn’t matter how much Korean I speak, or what I’m even doing, this question is bound to come up in every conversation I am having with a Korean. I guess it makes sense; I’m clearly not from here.

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However, sometimes I just wonder why it’s so common. Yesterday, I was just picking up some milk tea in my local convenience store and as I was checking out, the cashier asked…

Cashier: Where’d you come from?

Me: Across the street…

Cashier: No, which country?

Me: Oh, the US.

Cashier: LA?

Me: No… Ohio…

Cashier: Oh…

In this instance, my immediate response to say that I came from across the street made the most sense because why would a cashier want to know what country I came from? I’m still going to purchase that tea I just handed over.

When I was in high school, I got my first job at a Panera Cafe and I never once asked someone that was ordering food where they were from. Not once. Yet, I’m asked by cafe waiters, restaurant owners, teachers and people sitting next to me on the bus consistently. At least once a week, this question floats into my ears and almost every time my immediate response is to say where I just came from before I met this person because why would someone sitting on a bus honestly be interested in what country I come from? Though, why would they care where I just came from at the same time? And usually, the conversation tapers off after the conversation…

Taxi Driver: Where are you from?

Me: The US

Taxi Driver: New York?

Me: No, Ohio.

Taxi Driver: Oh…

(Since we’re in a taxi and I have a ways to go yet, I decide to continue this conversation.)

Me: Do you know it?

Taxi Driver: No.

Me: Choo Shin Soo, the Korean baseball player played in Cleveland for awhile. Cleveland is in Ohio.

Taxi Driver: Ooooh, Choo Shin Soo. Yes, Cleveland.

Me: Yes, Cleveland is in Ohio. Also, you know the guys that invented the airplane? The Wright Brothers? They are from Ohio too. Actually, they’re from my hometown.

Taxi Driver: Oh.

Me: Yes, there’s also a lot of corn fields there.

Taxi Driver: I like corn.

Me: I don’t really like Korean corn. I like Ohio corn better.

Taxi Driver: ((grunts))

Me: Ohio has also had seven US Presidents born there.

Taxi Driver: Oh…

Sometimes I just like to see how interested people really are so I continue on with the Ohio facts for awhile. Usually, they’re not very interested at all. After I say I’m from the US, I’m generally asked if I’m from LA or New York because those are the only two places that anyone seems to know about here so, a little Ohio education is definitely needed.

At first, I used to think Koreans were asking so that they could find some commonality between us to further a conversation but usually after this conversation I follow up with, “have you been to the US?” and invariably the answer is, “no”. It would make sense with the way I assume conversations go that if someone says, “LA?” when asking where I’m from, they’re putting forth that option because they’ve been and can add something to the conversation in the event that my answer is either yes or no. Not the case. It seems they’re generally just taking a census and that is all.

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13 Responses

  1. RakSiam says:

    Maybe they have family or friends in LA or NY? And perhaps you’ve met them? 🙂 You’re different from everyone else there so they are curious. I get that all over Asia as well. And usually they don’t speak much English so that’s one of the few things they can ask me. Are your conversations in English or Korean?

    • Hallie says:

      Usually these conversations are in Korean. After I speak a little Korean to get something or give directions in the taxi, then this question comes up. I understand I am an anomaly, it is just an amusing line of thinking to me because I wouldn’t immediately ask someone this question that just wants to purchase a milk tea. ^^

  2. Haha, this is hilarious…funny people never ask me where I’m from when I buy things. 😉 Though I was in a taxi once and the taxi driver asked me to write a cute love note to his daughter in english for him. Btw…I saw “Ohio corn” in Homeplus for the first time last week… individually packaged. :p

  3. Haha love this. We always get asked this question as well. We always respond, “Yeosu.” In America we would never ask this, however we do have a wider diversity of people from all over the world.

    • Hallie says:

      Yeah, exactly. My first response is always, Mapo-gu or of I’m near my house, “down the street”, “over there”. Haha it was just such an uncommon question growing up that even now even though it’s so common here, my mind doesn’t first respond with the US. Funny how that works I think.

  4. ScentedSilkScarf says:

    I think the “where are you from” question in the US depends on your location and situation. In Arizona, nearly everyone is from some other state. It’s pretty rare to find someone who’s a 3rd generation or greater native. Also, if you speak with a non-local accent, you are likely get asked where you are from but only in the context of getting to know a person. A random stranger or store clerk during a short interaction will not ask this type of personal question.

    • Hallie says:

      Yes, I totally asked this question of the exchange students in my high school art class but we were at the same table and getting to know each other. Asking random people I will never see again seems strange and hence my reaction when asked here in Korea. To me, if the local convenience store clerk were asking me where I’m from as in where is my house it would make sense because it could lead somewhere. “Oh that’s why you come in so often” or something that makes sense in the situation and context.

  5. monicast says:

    People in Japan, when they find out I’m from Tennessee, try to ask me if I know the Tennessee Waltz (a famous song apparently) and I have no idea how they know it… Usually they keep asking me “where is it? near New York? near California?” and I just want to be like “Look at a map and stop asking me!” T.T But I think they just want to be polite and say something since they know you are a foreigner. I like to ask Japanese people where they are from and they get confused and tell me, “Japan!” thinking that I won’t know the actual region they are from when I do. People in Korea and Japan sometimes surprise me with how much they know depending on if they’ve traveled ^^

    • Hallie says:

      Yes, I often respond afterward by asking where they are from too and they always say Korea and I’m like.. Yeah… Clearly. What city? What state? I think it’s funny that Koreans always guess NY or Cali whereas I just ask where without saying.. Busan? Daegu?

  6. christian ray says:

    Hi its good to know that you’re from Ohio, i like the people in Ohio coz they were more polite compared to people in New York and Cali (not generally). I was working in BPO Industry (Call Center) here in Philippines and i love the people their, though I only received calls from Columbus Ohio. but i can say that the people their were good. 🙁

    i can relate to that Korean people asking Western people where they came from, i think its normal especially in Asian people. Its our way of communicating or trying to make a conversation with you guys. And partly of that is were just not that used to see Caucasian people in our place. Lets just say were amazed seeing you guys in our place. hehehe 😀 😀 😀

    • Hallie says:

      Yes, though the world is becoming more and more multicultural and mixed. Isn’t it? Some of these things I write on will surely change. I’m glad you had good impressions of Ohioans. We are pretty polite I think, haha. ^^

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