“Where are you from?” Country name confusion while traveling :)

I sometimes feel confused, when traveling abroad, about what I am supposed to say when people ask where I’m from.

I’m from the United States of America. But that is a bit of a mouth full.

Also, at least in Ireland, it seemed that most people we talked to thought it was obvious that we were from the U.S. (just from our accent/ style of dress/ I don’t know exactly, but apparently people can just tell? Like if we’d just say “from the U.S.”, they’d nod and seem to want more, like, “Yeah, duh, but I mean, where are you from?”)….

So then I wasn’t sure if they just wanted to know the State?? Or the region? Or did they not actually know we were from the U.S.- and me just answering the state would seem presumptuous? 🤣

And then, I’m never sure if I say “Wisconsin” if that means anything to someone from another country? I mean, California, yes, I’m sure is well known to everyone. But Wisconsin? Maybe not quite the international fame. (And if I met someone from, say, France and they named off their province, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t know where it was….). So I’d often say, “Wisconsin, which is near Chicago”- and that seemed to suffice when describing the state.

But back to the country name issue… We just have a lot of potential “names”. The United States. United States of America. USA. Simply “U.S.”. Or “the U.S.”, as I guess I often say. “The States” seems to work, too.

Or, just “America”- which is how it seems most people in Ireland refer to our country. “Oh, yes, we’ve been to America several times! Very lovely.” Or, “When do you return to America?” etc. Irish people definitely always refer to us as “Americans”.

But cue more confusion, because I always kind of thought we weren’t really supposed to take over the “America” name to equal just the United States. Because technically, all of North America is “America”, so “Americans” would be U.S + Canada + Mexico? (Although when I said that to Ivan he rolled his eyes hard at me and said, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. No Mexican is going to call themselves an “American” if they’re living in Mexico. Everyone knows the term “American” = from the United States.”) *Also, what about South America? If that’s the case, why would they get excluded? 🤔

I swear I’ve read that before though- can’t remember when- but it was a long time ago now, and ever since I’ve felt a little unsure about using the broad term “America” or “American”/ if that was still “pc”. 🤷‍♀️ But now I think maybe it is okay, because it seems like everyone in Europe calls us that, anyway. It does seem like the easiest word, so maybe that’s why.

ANYWAY, after stumbling through the answer a few times, I basically landed on this:

Q (random person): Where are you from?

A (me): Wisconsin, in the U.S., near Chicago

Not really…where I live is nothing like Chicago, and I’m ~3 hours away. But it’s the closest highly recognizable city.

That seemed to cover all the bases. If they just wanted to know the country, check. (I kind of lean toward liking to say “the U.S.” Simple, direct, to the point.) If they already knew the country and were just curious about the state, check. If they thought they wanted to know the state, but then realize they’ve never heard of Wisconsin before, well, hopefully they’ve heard of Chicago. 🙂

I know there are some international readers here…how do you refer to the United States of America and its citizens where you live?

Daily Gratitude:

I am grateful for my grey bath mat for getting out of the shower.

8 thoughts on ““Where are you from?” Country name confusion while traveling :)”

  1. I find when people ask this question, they might either doing small talk so whatever you answer would be fine. if they really want to know, they’ll ask follow up questions. So, no need to sweat about it.
    in my case, I was born in china, grew up in Argentina and hold argentina passport. when someone asks me where I’m from? I can’t just say one country as it’s complicated. So depending whether I want to engage a conversation, in this case I’d say it’s complicated then explain, or I just say china and people usually move on.


  2. I’m from Australia. I’d refer to you guys as “from the US” and as being American. Someone from say Peru, I would refer to as South American. If you were in Australia and I heard you talk, I might be confused as to whether you were Canadian or American based just on your accent because the accents sound similar to us.


    1. Yes, I said that a few times too when people seemed to know/ assume we were Americans…I would whisper to my family, “Now, how did they know we weren’t Canadians, huh?” haha. Maybe they just sort of take a lucky guess, since there are probably tons of American tourists in Ireland. But then again, I’m sure lots of Canadians go there, too. So who knows.

      I’m with you- I would call someone from Peru ‘South American”, Canada= Canadians, Mexico= Mexicans, U.S.= Americans. Glad we’ve solved this. 🤣


  3. In Canada we would say “from the US” and “American”!

    And if I was travelling, I would say I’m from Canada/Canadian; if they asked for more specifics I’d usually say I live on the East Coast of Canada because just about no one has heard of Nova Scotia – (my home “province”, which is the equivalent of an American “state”).


  4. You’re right, most people in Europe will use ‘America’ synonymously for the US, although now that I’ve lived here for so many years, I want to “correct” anyone who says that LOL
    I am also often asked where I am from (sometimes they detect an accent, sometimes they don’t), so I am torn between saying I am from California, but ORIGINALLY I am from Germany… and then they’ll say “where in Germany” and I ask “how well do you know Germany” to gauge what my response should be… haha. It’s complicated (for everyone, apparently!). I think your response is pretty all-encompassing! 🙂


  5. It is complicated, isn’t it? I would often say “The States” when people ask where I am from. I don’t go much further than that because I always assume people don’t know where Minnesota is. Or I wouldn’t expect them to know. If they wanted to know, I’d say Minnesota. But describing that is tough because “midwest” is not very clear to someone who doesn’t live in the US. If I didn’t live here, I’d interpret midwest to mean middle of the west part. Not middle of the country but in the northern region! So confusing.

    I love Ivan’s down-to-earth view on using the term American!

    Something that is a bit embarrassing to me is how well educated other countries are on the geography of other countries and then how little we know about other countries, comparatively. Like we didn’t really learn all that much about our Canadian neighbors when I was growing up, or I don’t remember learning much about their provinces, but the friends I’ve made in Canada seem to know a decent amount about us!


    1. I was hoping you’d respond, since I know you’ve traveled a bunch abroad and I felt like you would relate! haha. I’m glad you agree it is a bit confusing. I totally know what you mean about the term midwest, too….I heard my mom telling a few people in Ireland that we were from the “midwest” and afterwards, I said, “Mom, I doubt they really know what you mean! That’s kind of a term we all use here but I don’t know that it’s really a world-wide term!” For you, from Minnesota, I suppose you could say something like “right in the middle of the country, up near the northern border with Canada” or something…. Minneapolis is nowhere near the border, though, lol!! But at least it would explain the general vicinity of the state?


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