Where are you from?

Miriam Damascus is SO proud to be Jordanian for the summer.

"Where are you from?" is a casual, getting-to-know-you piece of chit-chat in America, but here in the Middle East, it's a loaded question. The answer is even more complicated in Jordan where refugees from countries such as Iraq and Palestine make up a sizeable chunk of the population.

If you ask a taxi driver where he's from, you may get any of the following answers, and several of them can be correct at the same time:

1. I live in Jebel Hussein.
2. I'm from Amman.
3. I'm from Jordan.
4. My parents are from (insert country), but I was born in Jordan.
5. I'm a Palestinian/Iraqi/Golan refugee.
6. My parents were Palestinian/Iraqi/Golan refugees, but I was born in Jordan.
7. I am Palestinian/Iraqi/Syrian, but I have Jordanian citizenship.

The last one is the most "correct" answer by Middle Eastern standards. Arabs, in general, don't care where you live, or even where your family has lived for the last couple of generations. They want to know your origin (asul). I found this out through
a conversation with dozens of Syrian schoolchildren in Seidnayya. You're not "from" somewhere until several generations have been born, lived, and died in one location. And if you speak Arabic, they won't rest until they've rooted out any possible source of Arab blood in your ancestry. People are constantly telling Jeremy he must have Syrian or Lebanese parents or grandparents in order to speak Arabic like he does.

So when people here ask me where I'm from, I say America. If they press for further information, I'll say Arizona, even though by their standards, this is a completely inadequate answer. The truth is, I've only lived in Arizona for about 9 months. If I sense they are not satisfied by that, I'll tell them I grew up in Oregon (I don't ever mention that I was born in Idaho - that would rock their world). Sometimes, I find that they are really asking the question in the Arab sense, in which case I just say that my ancestors came from Slovakia (again, leaving out the Irish and European mutt part of the answer because it would just confuse them).

So, where are you from? Think carefully...
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