Friday, April 10

Where I Come From

I am firmly of the mind that a good rant every once in a while is good for your health. Kinda like a juice fast. Clears things out. So here goes.

Here's what I don't get: New England.

Again, I'm taking my life in my hands here, I know that. It's okay, I'm used to it.

Last time I tried to talk about this stuff, I got jumped on all over the place. Geographic defensiveness. There's nothin' like it. I felt like saying, "geez, I was just talking about my own experience, it doesn't have to be the same as yours, you're not personally responsible for it, I'm just really used to a different way of life, blah, blah, blah". It didn't seem to make any difference. People get how they get.

First, I should say that it's kinda unfortunate that I don't get New England, because I've lived here for an appalling amazing 15 years. I take some comfort in the fact that, now and again, I meet someone who has lived here for even longer, and who still doesn't get it. The rest of the time I just vascillate between being discouraged and thinking that those people who have told me that I must be socially crippled and so fully responsible for the disconnect are right. But then something happens. Like today. But I'll get to that in a minute. Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

About three years ago, I started another blog. It never took off--for me or for anyone else. Maybe I wasn't quite this brilliant then. :) It was called "Where I Come From" (and interestingly, it's subtitle was "Things I Don't Get". Prescient, eh?). I think it was my first real attempt at figuring out why there are just so darn many things I don't get, and testing the hypothesis that if you don't get where you live, things just go downhill from there. I still like the name though, and still stand by the thesis on some level, even if only out of stubborness (although I prefer the word tenacity).

See, here's the thing. I'm from California. More precisely, I'm from the San Francisco area. And more precisely than that, the Peninsula. But get this: I didn't move to New England from California. No, that apparently would have been too gentle an adjustment for me. I moved to New England from Honolulu. Yup.

Bing! Time for a qualifier! I do not idealize where I come from. It's got its issues. I don't even idealize Honolulu, which is pretty darned easy to idealize. And I don't hate Boston, by any stretch of the imagination. Those would all be a bit more black and white than I really care for. But you know, grey can still have its shades as well, and some days it's a little more slate-like than others.

So, here's what it's like in California (for the most part) and Hawaii (for a bigger most part). Or at least here's what it is and was like for me. Here's the five principles of how friendship works where I come from:

1) Spontaneity: People regularly invite one another to go to lunch or dinner or a movie or a walk or just to go grocery shopping without planning it advance. They regularly accept, too.

2) Informality: People don't need to do something "special", they might just invite a friend to go to the mall with them or help them put together a bookcase, even on the spur of the moment. Or they just drop by one another's houses and hang out and talk.

3) Lack of Exclusivity: People don't tend to reserve a lot of time for just being with their spouse, or just being with their family, or just being with their extended family. It's not at all uncommon to call friends who are a couple on a Saturday night, and have them say "Oh, we're just headed out the door to dinner, you wanna go?"

4) Reciprocity: You invite people to a party at your house, they usually invite you to a party at their house. You ask someone to lunch, and they usually ask you to lunch. People say "We should get together again sometime" and you do.You get the idea.

5) Something I like to call "ease of contagion", which means that you go to a party, you meet friends of friends there, and the following week those people call you and invite you to do something (or vice-versa). In this way, pretty much anyone's social circle grows pretty quickly.

(I have my own ideas about why these things are true, but that's probably for another post--I'm already taxing your attention span as it is!)

Now, let's see...Boston? So easy. Take all of those things, and reverse them. Ta-da!

Here's where the Boston folks start saying I'm dissing them. No, I love my friends here. I'm just sayin' how it is from an outsider's perspective, which it's not possible to have if you haven't been an outsider...and no, sorry, coming here from somewhere else for college doesn't count because college is like a built-in social network that doesn't exist at other times of life, and you're living among tons of people who are all in the same situation.

You know, that defensiveness can get to you. You start thinking (as I do) that you're just whining, or you just haven't found the "right people" (in 15 years?) or you're just too introverted, or you just don't try hard enough, or (this is my favorite one) that you're just making it up, it was never really different in other places.

And that's when things start happening.

Like a couple months ago, when I was facilitating a training session of about 20 teachers, and in our introductions, people were supposed to share something interesting about themselves, a teacher said she moved to Boston from the midwest 30 years ago and still isn't used to it.

And like recently, when I was visiting in California, and was able to make social plans for every day that I was there with no advance planning (including with a neighbor of my mother's who I barely know!).

And like today.

Bing! Second qualifier! Boston folks: This is not a gripe. I actually got a great laugh out of it. Put the bat down.

Today, in the middle of the afternoon, I posted on Facebook that I was thinking of going to the movies tonight and put out an open invite in case anyone wanted to join in. A lot of people, a few people, nobody, anything would work for me, just putting it out there (just for reference, I have 134 "friends" on Facebook; 54 of them are in the Boston area). I got six enthusiastic Yes! answers (yay!) for tonight. Five were from California, one was from Seattle. I haven't stopped laughing (and shaking my head) all evening. Hmm. Maybe I'm not making this up.

(To be fair, I also got a response from one local friend as well, and we'll try to hit a movie on Sunday. She knows I love her, she "gets" this phenomenon, and she certainly shouldn't be missed here!)

I know. When in Rome.... I have done that, the Rome thing, and I have a lot of friends and activities here. But no matter how many friends I have, it will always be alien, it will never be "what I'm used to", it will still strike me in the empty spaces. It's like when you move to a country where they don't speak your first langauge. You can learn to speak their language, maybe even fluently, but you may continue to think (and dream!) in your first language for years to come. Maybe if you've lived on both coasts, you'll get it. Otherwise, maybe not. C'est la vie.

Okay, so I don't adjust quickly. I admit it. Old habits die hard; we are all the products of the places we were raised. It's just that I've never lived anywhere before where people felt they had "enough friends" or no time for more. I don't even know what that means.

Or maybe I'm just bitter. That could be.


ConverseMomma said...

I was born in california. My mother says that is why I grew up a laid-back hippy child in a conservative catholic home. She said it must have been something in the water out there....never been back, but would like to be. I'm a New Yorker now, and the stereotypes of the area do fit with the people here, brash, rude, quick-tempered, competitive. I've always thought I should move to Vermont, being that I'm all crunchy granola, I'll shave my arm pits when I'm damn good and ready, sort of gal. Never been to Boston, but if I go...I'll be sure to make plans with people well in advance.

Audrey said...

Yup--that pretty much describes us! I'm of and from nyc, and am now up in boston, and I can tell you that people in nyc are infinitely more friendly and warm than those in boston. I never had trouble making friends until I moved up here, at the ripe old age of 43. Everything Robin describes is absolutely accurate, imo. Cordiality abounds, but they all still have all their friends from childhood, and truly feel like they don't need any more. Spontaneity is anathema up here.

One person's (not so humble, but accurate) opinion...(can you tell I'm from nyc?