Apr 11, 2008

Boston Manifesto I--People...

So, I'm a processor. I'm on the introspective side, and I'm neurotic, so I tend to be neurotically introspective. Sometimes I shut myself down for a while and deliberately don't think about anything. But usually I have a relatively harmless train of continual thought running in the background--much like the crawler at the bottom of the news channels--where I observe and evalute my current state. If something gives me pause, I'll shift it to the forefront where I can decide whether or not I need to take action. Usually it's just a matter of forming contingency plans in the event that we're invaded by flies and need to evacuate to higher ground...or something.

Of course all this introspection ramps up around moving time, as I more or less close one chapter and open the next. Comparing expectations with reality and so forth. This is good for my psyche. It helps me to structure my own corner of the world, and have a little closure and all that. And as it turns out, it has also proven very practical for getting acquainted with new people, since I'm then prepared to discuss driving, and the weather, and all those mundane topics that come up when folks are getting acquainted.

For example, Ohio can be best summed up by the words "laid-back" and "friendly." It's more or less in the Midwest, so you've got that unassuming nature and down home sensibility. People talk slower, move slower, and in general aren't in much of a rush. The speed limit on the freeways in town was 65--we would drive 65 exactly, and would be in the fast lane passing folks going 60 or even 55. Some of the time it was old people, but just as often it wasn't. Coming from fast-paced Phoenix, this was an adjustment. I was bothered by it at first, mostly because I was bothered by pretty much everything during the Cat Daddy's first 2 years in the AF, but over time I calmed down...and slowed down...and started to breathe a bit. Even the Cat Daddy calmed down some, which some would say is remarkable. And our good friend Mr. Bee, who never calms down if he can help it, did. Living amid that laid-back culture, one couldn't help acquiescing at least a little bit. Lovely place.

We knew that moving to Boston would likely involve some ramping back up. It is big, and crowded, and generally thought of as unfriendly or even harsh. We (I?) were worried that we wouldn't find a church, since churches are fewer in that area. I wondered if I would have to start wearing black all the time, and we both wondered how long it would take before we didn't have to concentrate so hard to decipher the accent--or if we'd end up taking on a little bit of the accent ourselves. So we geared up.

Then we moved, I found a job, we met people, found one church, then another, picked apples, blah blah blah. And here is what I've determined:...(get ready)...it's an issue of culture.

People are people pretty much wherever you go. Most people are fairly willing to get along. More than a few are nervous and/or insecure-types. There is always the compulsory handful of jerks. The key to understanding Boston (and probably most of New England), however, is understanding that everyone has stuff to get done, and people generally want to let people do the stuff they have to do. So where in Ohio it was common to linger just a tad at the checkout and exchange pleasantries with the cashier, in Boston it was an unspoken "here let me get you through the line and out of here so you can move on to the next thing." A quick, mumbly "thanks" or "have a good one," while seen as terse in the Midwest, was an overture of gratitude in Concord.

I think at least part of the reason for this is population density. Ohio--lots of wide open spaces. Coming into contact with another human being is generally a welcome occasion. Relationship is valued above task because there will always be work to do, but hey there's another person! Let's talk while we can. Boston--nearly zero wide open spaces. One might get a little claustrophobic even, with all the people, and buildings, and construction, and stuff going on. So maybe task isn't exactly valued above relationship (or maybe it is), but there are people everywhere, so please, can you just give me a second to get this done?

One telling experience to me was a conversation I had with Pastor & Mrs T. Mrs. T is a lifelong New Englander (originally from the South Shore, I believe), while Pastor T was brought up more or less in Iowa (and Ukraine, but that's another story). To Pastor T, sharing friendly conversation with random strangers is as normal as brushing one's teeth. Not so with Mrs T...my favorite response from her on the topic went something like "No way! I would wonder what they want from me!" Friendly conversation came after getting to know someone a little bit. Until then, respect a person enough not to detain them unless they wish otherwise.

Not that Mrs. T is some sort of standoffish rock, or anything. She's very hospitable, in fact. And extremely cool, which I've mentioned in a previous post.

The other most telling experience came on the way home from work one day. As I was hitting the turn-off to Rt 62, there was a car pulled as far to the left as possible, trying not to block the turn lane, its driver leaning against the median. This particular intersection is usually pretty busy--it's a long wait for the left turn arrow, so one doesn't dally. However as the traffic inched forward, I saw every, single car in front of me pause in front of the stranded motorist, presumably asking if she needed help, before she nodded and waved them on. But just to make sure, as I passed I rolled down my window and asked, "Do you have help on the way?" and she responded, "I do, thanks," to which I said a quick "Have a good one," and moved on before those behind me commenced with the barrage of honking (a story, perhaps, for the "Driving" manifesto). It made me feel good, knowing that plenty of people were willing to help the lady. Maybe their sole motivation was to get the left turn lane cleared, but still...

All that said, there are plenty of jerks. In a big city it's a statistical reality. And then there are the loud Italians, the stubborn Irish, obnoxious Bostonians and other colorful stereotypes. Sort of like the stereotypical, obnoxious Texans, or Southerners, or Europeans, or Canadians...

But seriously, all told I think people in New England are friendly enough. Yes, even the Canadians. It helps, however, to know where they are coming from. Not necessarily agree or even hang out with them on a regular basis...but to understand the cultural nuances that make them tick. Bostonians, in my opinion, aren't "unfriendly" so much as "trying to stay out of the way."

Write that down, kids...

UPDATE: check out my sequel, the driving.


EmJ said...

I'll be honest...I didn't read your post...lol...It's 1030 and I'm ready to go to bed...but I wanted to tell you that my apple peeler works great!...:) I've only had it for a year though...so it's not that old.

linda t said...

You are an awesome writer! Really!
I love reading your thought provoking 'rants'...
Keep em coming girl!

Anonymous said...

Talking about Ohio brought tears to my eyes. I miss it there!

I have to admit, even thought I say it's horrible up here in New England I have met my share of wonderful people. It just took time to find them and understand those around me.

I still feel like I'll fit in better somewhere in the south or midwest but maybe these adventures are here to broaden my horizons.

BTW, no new neighbors yet.

The other KB.