Conversations with Koreans: Where are you from?
It 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.
Me: No… Ohio…
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.