I’m the kind of person that gets asked a lot of questions in life. I’m rarely the smartest guy in the room and it isn’t because I know much of anything in particular. Mostly it is because my day job exists within the realm of retail technical support. However, the most common question I get is one that requires no technical background to answer. It’s also a question that has many variations. The core question is this: “Where are you from?”
That question on it’s own is no big deal (although the answer I choose seriously depends on the audience I’m addressing). I was born in London, raised across the United States for 13 years before returning to Manchester (the UK one) 15 years ago. I usually tell people that I’m from Texas because I was there for most of those 13 years (and it’s easier than telling the whole story, I’ll tell that another time). That question isn’t really the problem. I have a funny accent due to travelling around so much, so people can’t always guess where I’ve been. The follow-up question is the one that takes me a moment to answer. The question I’m referring to, in its basic form, is this: “Why are you in the UK when you could be living in the US?”
There are two common incarnations of this question. One of them is simple and innocuous: “What brings you to the UK?” Usually asked by curious and well-meaning individuals, I have a very simple answer for this one: “Family.” That usually ends the questioning and everyone moves on smiling, happy in the knowledge that I’m some kind of world-travelling family man.
The other common version is the one that I have an issue with. The question is this: “Why are you here?” Now I know that there isn’t any existential meaning behind the question because it is invariably followed up with statements like “I’d rather be there” or “you’re crazy being here” or “how do you cope with this weather”.
I know that I’m being picky and overly sensitive about this, I know that I am, but I’ve never liked these questions much. The first one I’m okay with. It’s usually pleasant and meant as a gentle probe when a stranger finds a gap in the conversation. But the second one… I just feel like it’s intrusive. “Why are you here” sounds like the kind of question you’d get asked at the security desk at the airport, not the way that you’d get to know a stranger who legally resides in this country. “I’d rather be in the States” is all well and good but (by your own admission) you don’t know what I was escaping by coming here. “How do you cope with the weather” is fine until you realise that northwest Texas juggles pretty much every kind of weather system possible throughout the whole year.
There’s probably a case of ‘the grass is always greener’ going on for some people. They see what TV and movies show them about America and think that it is a glorious land of opportunity. For some people it definitely is and I would never say otherwise. Others think that anything other than what they are used to is an improvement. I’m sure that’s true for some people too, but I am much happier here.
I suppose the simple solution for this problem of mine (that isn’t even a problem, really) is to lighten up a little bit. I’m sure nobody is asking these questions because they’re in the mood for a little light interrogation. They hear an unfamiliar accent and wonder why. Nobody is being mean-spirited or negative about it… except me, I guess. The simple answer to the question is that I’m here because I want to be here. My family and friends are here. A lot of my history is here now too (15 years is a long time). That’s what I need to focus on. Not how they ask, but what they want to know and just how easy it is for me to give them that information politely.
It’s all about a little change in attitude. Starting today, when people ask me why I’m in the UK, I’ll give them the only answer that they need and the one that really makes sense to me.
Life brought me here. Now I’m here to stay.