Thursday, May 23, 2013

on not {quite} fitting in

Me on Halloween (age 11). Yes that's a wig. And yes I am awkward.

We've been living in Massachusetts for nearly two and a half years, which is a long time for us to stay in one place. In fact, it's about as long as we've ever stayed in one city before moving. It's hard for me envision what it would be like to move right now because I still feel like I am learning how to be a proper Bostonian.

I wonder if it's a part of Boston culture that it takes longer than two years to feel like I fit in. The same couldn't be said for Wisconsin, which fit us like a glove. Ultimate frisbee, bike paths everywhere, and constant beer, fried fish, and cheese. Amen to that! If it weren't for the lack of family there and the brutal winter--worse that New England, if you can imagine that!--we would move back in a heartbeat. People seem genuinely happier there, despite the weather.

In contrast, New Englanders are not the happiest bunch I've ever come across. I realize I am stereotyping here, in the same way that you might discuss slavery apologizers in the south. I recognize not everyone behaves the same. But I've noticed more than once that people are pugnacious in an almost laughable way--picture Mark Wahlberg talking to animals, and you get it. Sometimes I LOL at how it seems like they are all looking to have their next fight.

From the way you take a number to stand in line and buy a sandwich, to even what you call the bread (don't say "white" when you mean "sub") and the stuff you put on it, EVERYTHING feels different. Nate has a funny story about ordering a sub when we first got here, and they asked him if he wanted "hots," which is a pickled pepper relish. But the way they say it, it sounds exactly the same as "hearts." It makes me giggle to imagine the curious position he was in for a few moments.

Much like when we lived in England, we spend some part of every day trying to figure out what the heck people are saying, even with small words like "jimmies" instead of sprinkles. On the surface, it might seem like an easy enough thing to learn, but what you don't see initially is that you aren't just learning the word but the history and connotation of its usage. In the case of "jimmies," it apparently has some sort of racial significance...and yet, they still say it? The intricacies of semiotics, y'all!

They way they chat with each other, their sociability, everything is slightly altered. I often feel as though I'm missing some kind of non-verbal cue during conversations with strangers.  Interesting but exhausting too. Last week I was chatting with another mom who has a six-year-old in Vivi's pre-k class. I was really intrigued because I've considered whether Charlie will be ready for kindergarten, having been born on the cut-off date. And Reader, she answered that they are keeping kids out of school an extra year, "you know, because of sports." As in, so her kids are bigger than the other kids. Say what now?

Whether I am making myself an outsider by pointing out these differences or am being made to feel like an outsider is a chicken and egg scenario. I love living here and observing people with my cultural anthropologist cap on, but at some point I'd like to be able to turn to a friend and say "I could really use a banana pudding milkshake" and have her understand what I mean. You know?


Nancy Owens said...

Oh, I so know what you mean, especially on the missing-subtle-social-cues part. The one constant of my experiences living in England, Australia, and the American Midwest. Makes me miss my pugnacious fellow Bostonians even more - *that* I understand.

Frogmore Farm said...

Can I borrow your dress and shades ? For goodness sakes blow that pic up and put it on the gallery wall ...its adorable .
Do northerners "lack luster " , as the southern sorority girls say ? There is always a caveat . We love southerners for their gentility but life is not a sorority and I still prefer a woman that will tell it like it is . I'm not including men , they can use as much gentility as a region can instill in one .

sarah (SHU) said...

really interesting post to me, as i get ready to move from durham NC --> miami beach FL. getting ready for culture shock even though they are both somewhat south. i fear that i will have some of the same issues - that people are just NICER and pretty happy in NC. but hopefully being surrounded by family (and palm trees) will make up for that!

Rebecca said...

Oh my goodness, let me be your local friend. I am also from the south (Texas) and I've lived in Massachusetts for the better part of twenty years and I still feel a little like an outsider here in the Boston area. Especially now that I live in a small town in the burbs. I love it here and never want to leave, but I certainly don't fit in either. On the plus side, we get all the Yankee charm we can take, we get all the lobster we can stuff in our faces and four beautiful seasons!

Emily said...

Word my friend. We've been way down south for almost three years now and I'm just kind of coming to terms with the fact that I will always be an outsider. No matter how much I love the beach, I'm never going to own a pair of flip-flops with HUGE fake diamonds on them (meaning no disrespect to those who can pull that look off) and I'm always going to be analyzing the behavior of strangers from a sociological standpoint. When I really feel at home I don't study people quite so much : )

Justine said...

Thank you ladies. Somehow I missed all these comments because of an email glitch. It's been so fun reading them this morning. Em, you simply must send me a snapshot of those flip flops. Amazing. Rebecca, I'm so glad to have a local friend who understands where I'm coming from. We can unite in cultural outcast solidarity!


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