Thursday, May 05, 2005

Friendly Is as Friendly Does

I met someone today who asked me what I thought of New England compared to other places I've lived. "So how do you like it here?" is a question I've gotten numerous times in the last not-quite four years. It always strikes me as a little strange, because people from New England rarely seem to leave here, at least not permanently. Perhaps they'll try school in Michigan or Georgia, but somehow or other, they always find their way back home. Or as near to home as they can afford, which may be on the outskirts of I-495. They must love it here, or they wouldn't be constantly drawn back as if a homing beacon lured them.

Shouldn't the right question be, "So, you love it here, right?"

Anyway, this very nice guy said, "Well, I don't think we're as friendly as people from the South or the West, do you?"

I thought about it. He's right in that people in the West, in particular, will often greet strangers with a "howdy" or "hello." Then there's the famous "farmer's wave," where you waggle your finger tips from the steering wheel of your truck as you pass by another driver or someone walking by the side of the road. The bag boys at the grocery store are trained to ask you "how ya' doing?" and "nice day, don't you think?" I have some wonderful friends in both the South and the West--people I would do just about anything for. And in Lubbock, before debit cards became popular, everyone took personal checks--even McDonald's, even for a $2.50 Happy Meal. That level of trust is rare.

It's true that New Englanders are a little more reticent, a little less "have a nice day!" in their daily doings. Do I miss that casual friendliness of the South? Sometimes.

But then I think: In Massachusetts we have no death penalty (unless our governor has his way, that is--but somehow I doubt it). We believe in equal marriage rights. Going back further, this state--this region--led the abolition movement before the Civil War. I could go on, but you get the drift. (And no doubt there are counter-examples that folks more immersed in local history could tell me.)

Right now--things being as they are in the world--I'd have to say I'll take a little less "hello" from strangers in favor of believing that even strangers have civil rights.

(But ya'll could stand to smile a little more . . .)


Blogger Michele said...

Clearly, I'm a New Englander who was accidentally born in Hawaii and have now found my way home. I say: civil rights for everyone! Just don't make me talk to strangers.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

We're shy. We live in a very, very dense state. I think of it as Yankee Japanese: cultural rituals based on giving people privacy in a very, very dense place.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Alison Rose said...

I read recently that Massachusetts is the mostly densely populated place in the country, so I think you're on to something.

On the other hand, I have never had to open the exit door when my hands were otherwise occupied with cups of Dunkin coffee--someone always graciously swings it open for me. Clearly, your mamas taught you manners!

4:12 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

My mother would kill me if I "dropped a door" on somebody.

9:20 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hi Allison -
Just checking back in. Yes - lisa has it right. It's not coldness or rudeness, it's respect. What I noticed about New England interactions is a profound sense of care when it comes to intruding on someone else's space, whether it is physical, social, psychic or whatever else.
Here in British Columbia there is a little of that, although here it is blended with English chatiness. I suspect that the BC folks would prefer to be more like Bostonians. Gosh knows, they seem to be fascinated by the place (perhaps the fact that it may be the most like Europe of all American cities)

10:22 PM  

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