This seemingly innocent question always confuses me.

First of all: define ‘you’. Do you mean second person singular or second person plural, including each member of my family? If plural, the answer will be 75 % longer.

Secondly: define ‘where’. Do you mean what is my country of origin? The country I permanently reside in (which is different from the one whose citizenship I hold)? The country I just returned from after living there for 4 years?

This question is often paired with ‘I love your accent! What language do you speak?’

I need a more specific question in order to answer that correctly. Something along the lines of ‘What is your native language?’ or ‘What language do you speak on a daily basis?’ , especially when the question is presented to my entire family. We have 3 different native languages originating on 3 continents and at least 4 other ones on different levels amongst the four of us, so…

Throw into this mess some popular confusions, like ‘Austria’ and ‘Australia’ ; or ‘Iran’ and ‘Iraq’, and it gets even more interesting.

Then you have the visual compartmentalization. I have been pegged anything from Swedish and Norwegian (back from when my hair was blond) to Portuguese (don’t know where that came  from), Spanish, Irish, Swiss, and German (at least close to my accent). My husband is apparently a suspicious character due to his dark complexion, unpronouncable name, and unplaceable accent. And our two sons, who don’t look like they are related at all because one takes very much after my husband and the other one very much after me (funny story: they had the same teacher – one in PE, one in music – who didn’t figure out until the parent-teacher conference that they were, in fact, brothers) and who speak in very different accents, are hard to place by anyone.

Our younger son Ben took the bait the other night at the restaurant and answered as honestly as he could: ‘well, my mom here is from Germ… – no, Austria, and my Dad is from Persia and my brother and I are Americans but we lived in France for a long time and…’

Watching the face of the waitress evolve from politely interested to slightly confused to utterly stunned to unspeakably disturbed was soooo worth the bill!!!

You know where I am coming from?