Some thoughts on living in various locations

My brother Thomas and me, standing by a frozen Lake Erie. Taken by my friend Manda.

I’ve lived in a lot of places in the United States.  Nine states and probably two dozen cities actually.  This has led me, among other things, to make some general observations about different places in the country.

  1. “You know you’re from ____ if … ” jokes are interesting because creating one requires two kinds of knowledge.  One, knowledge of the way things are where you’re from, and two, knowledge of the way things are (or aren’t) elsewhere that provides a humorous contrast.  A lot of people make these kinds of jokes with plenty of knowledge of the first sort, but less knowledge of the second sort.  Thus half of these jokes I’ve seen are similar to, “You know you’re from Georgia if you measure distance in minutes!”  Every American English speaker does that.  I don’t know how many miles/kilometers it is to anywhere unless I have gone there using a bicycle or Google maps (or both), and I’m pretty sure if I tried to give directions in terms of miles, my directions would be totally useless.  Granted, my directions are pretty much useless anyway, but my point still stands.  It’s easier and better to measure distance in terms of driving time, because people are much more aware of what time it is and what time they need to be somewhere rather than how many miles they are going, and mileage doesn’t factor in traffic or other factors that would otherwise make a person late.
  2. I haven’t been to a state/climate zone where they didn’t say, “Well you know what they say, if you don’t like the weather in [this state], just wait 20 minutes – it’ll change!” even when it was completely inappropriate to the climate zone in question, like the Pacific Northwest (granted, they said it in the summertime – the wintertime version in the Pacific Northwest would be, “If you don’t like the weather, welcome to Hell**”).
  3. When people drive to other states, it seems like they always complain about the drivers there.  “Those people from Tennessee don’t know how to drive!” etc.  I’m pretty sure this is due to two factors.  First, people in different places drive differently.  There are different unwritten (and written) rules about proper following distance, what you’re allowed to do on the road, how fast over/under the speed limit is appropriate, etc., and there are differences in lane width, parking rules, how much information road signs tell you, and traffic light timing.  These are all pretty arbitrary differences that aren’t wrong or right; as long as everyone in an area plays by the same rules, there’s no problem.  Second, when you drive to a new place, you have no idea where you’re going – which means you’re probably driving too slowly, slightly anxious, and constantly vigilant of everything around you.  Combine these two factors and it’s pretty obvious that if you’re visiting Tennessee (or wherever), and you think all the drivers are nuts, then the problem is almost certainly you.
  4. “You have an accent!” is a ridiculous thing to point out to people, for the same reason that it’s silly to call certain hair types, music, or foods “ethnic.”  They both imply that there’s some kind of non-arbitrary, neutral default (“Standard American English,” white, American, etc.) and everything that isn’t that is an accent, or an ethnicity.  But Standard American English is an accent, and white is an ethnicity.  Everyone has an accent.  The subjective nature of accents becomes apparent when I travel to other places in the country and reveal that I’m from Kentucky.  Suddenly everyone thinks I have a Southern accent.  But I don’t – I use a pretty generic Standard American dialect and always have (my parents never had Southern accents either).  They’re just hearing what they want to hear – something “ethnic” apparently.
  5. No matter how ugly, small, flat, treeless, lacking in culture, or otherwise unlivable I find a place to be, pointing out these things to locals always offends them (even if I try to put it diplomatically).  It’s their sacred land – the place where they were raised.  There is beauty there even if I don’t see it.  Even if it is objectively horrible, it’s pretty arrogant to go there as an outsider and point this out to them.  It’s just way more accurate and nicer to say “This is not what I’m used to.”
  6. There are rednecks everywhere.  Everywhere.  There is no state in this country where there are no rednecks.

**this is an actual quote from someone I talked to in the Pacific Northwest.

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