The most serious thing in this post is that I do LOVE where I live, and although have been in different cultures and different places, right here in this beautiful mountain town is exactly where I want to be. I’m not from a small town, but have lived in them for 30 years now, and arrived here when things were more insular/less interconnected via the internet. These are mostly observations from those early days.
1.) You will be given directions involving landmarks that burned down 20 years before. When you bring up that there is no red barn at the turnoff where it seems your error was made, your direction-giver will exclaim “Are you KIDDING ME?? You don’t REMEMBER that BARN???”. Because everyone who’s here has always been here and it is assumed that you must be as well.
2.) If you make the mistake of mentioning that you like to eat Indian Food, you might be stared at with unveiled suspicion. Once when I made this mistake, and my co-worker said: “You have odd food tastes”. I refrained, as always, from saying “Or, you need to get out more”.
3.) Old women will immediately ask you what church you go to. But you don’t go to church. Or maybe even worse – you’re…..A Unitarian.
4.) People will automatically ask you what high school you went to, even if you have a couple of college degrees, an accent from another part of the country, and went to high school several states away. But say the name of your actual high school anyway, because the momentary confusion it causes has some entertainment value. Mean-spirited, I know.
5.) If you do Yoga, make sure to call it “stretching exercises”. To not to have to endure that uncomfortable silence that says “Oh. That’s weird”.
6.) If you try to find some instant espresso crystals to make an espresso cheesecake, GOOD LUCK WITH THAT within a 50 mile radius.
7.) If you like any ethnic food other than Chinese buffets or Chinese carryout, be prepared to drive to the next major city.
8.) If you like art, that’s weird too. God forbid you MAKE art. Only crazy people are artists (Seriously. I heard someone say this).
9.) The guys who come to work on your house will try to tell YOU where the light switches and plugs will be going. Me: “Could you please avoid this small area so I could hang a picture?” Him: “you don’t need a picture there”. Another worker: “You don’t need two windows in this bathroom. Just one”. Consequently, you may want to pick up some home reno skills before you move…..see item #21.
10.) The signboard in front of the Main Street Presbyterian Church promises the answer to the Chik-Fil-A controversy during the coming Sunday’s sermon. You may find yourself curious enough to actually get up on a Sunday morning, dress nicely, and attend, thinking maybe the town is less conservative than you thought. Careful there, also. The pews will be awash with white hair. You’ll be suddenly sorry you are now 10 feet into the sanctuary and it’s too late to turn around – because you are a new face, and everyone is looking at you. You will hear words like “Abomination” and “Burn in Hell”. But everybody will be real friendly otherwise.
11.) Roads will be named for actual qualities that they possess rather than inflated names intended to make you feel inflated to live on them (such as “Renaissance Court” and “Shakespeare Lane”). They will have names like “Possum Hollow Road”. Because when the road was named, there actually WAS a possum infestation there.
12.) You will also arouse suspicion if it’s found out you’ve ever been to a foreign place other than, perhaps, the Lancaster Outlet Malls with a local bus tour. And unless you enjoy uncomfortable silences, don’t mention traveling alone to distant foreign countries. I worked with women who told me they won’t get into elevators alone and would never consider getting in a car and driving 52 miles to the nearest big city alone. And if you want to practice your low-intermediate-level French with anyone for an upcoming trip, that’s, at minimum, 104 miles to-and-from the nearest 1-hour “MeetUp” group in Pittsburgh.
13.) Your eyeballs will fall out of their sockets when you read that KKK meetings are occasionally advertised on the back pages of the local paper. You will be astonished that this goes on and tell your NAACP friends. They will shrug and say they know. The presence of your visiting friends who are people of color causes the restaurant dishwashers to giggle and point from their kichen doorways. But merely light brown people are OK if they’re doctors.
14.) Each person is known by the worst thing they ever did. Usually something they did in their youth on the most intoxicated night of their life. And as a newcomer, you’ll be told about that thing as soon as their name comes up (30 years after the event). Most characterizations start with: “She’s OK, BUT….”
15.) People say dreadful things about each other, but eventually, you realize that they really do like each other. It’s a little confusing…
16.) There is a preferable side of Market Street to live on and a less preferable side of Market Street to live on. Only there is no observable difference.
17.) A considerable percentage of the women over age 45 have downright butch haircuts and stocky builds. And only a couple of them are actually gay. My then-12-year old made this observation and asked me to explain it. I had no explanation.
18.) People will stand in front of your house and comment on what you have and haven’t done to your house. Usually what you HAVEN’T done or what you HAVE done that they wished you had done differently. Even if you have your windows wide open and the sidewalk is 10 feet from your porch.
19.) You might be invited to join the DAR. Run!!!
20.) If you have on a uniform – military or scrubs – people will invite you to go ahead of them in line at the grocery store. And they’ll smile and speak to you. Otherwise, you’re kind of on your own.
21.) You’ll find that the area’s Lowes is good, though. They train ’em to be helpful toward women trying to work on their own houses (in truth, the people at Lowe’s and a whole bunch of wonderful local guys got me through renovating a house, and have been surprisingly supportive). Unfortunately, though, since they ran every local hardware store in this rural area out of business, you have to make a 2-hour time commitment to get to them…….
22.) As opposed to city settings, your neighbors will help you when your car gets stuck in the snow in the alley. They’ll invite you to their barbeques. And their kids will call you “Miss _______” or “Mr. _______”. They’ll treat you like they recognize you from one time to the next, as if they are aware that the same person is living next door from one week to the next. You will grow fond of almost everyone living on the block. Almost.
23.) The local crime report in the local paper makes you howl with laughter. Or possibly with gratitude.
24.) You can actually be as involved or as uninvolved as you wish. People will generally leave you alone if you’re not the most social person in the world. Unless, perhaps, you sit on your front porch (but who would want to do THAT?).
25.) Your citified daughter rolls her eyeballs when you suggest that she could move out of the city and return to a small town.
26.) The landscape around your town is drop-dead, gobsmacked gorgeous. Like. You know. Not concrete.