Just over two months I ago I relocated from Lebanon, PA to St. Louis, MO, bringing along only what would fit in my Buick. It has been 10 years since I lived in St. Louis (3 years in Chicago, 7 in Lebanon). It is weird to move back to a place that should be familiar but in many ways is not. I often feel like an observer in my own life.
There is a vast difference regarding social norms in the Midwest and East Coast and over the course of these months I have been noting many of these differences. While I am a midwestern girl at heart, some of the East Coast has snuck in and changed me. Whether you live in the East Coast, West Coast, or smack dab in the middle of America I hope these observations add a little revelation – and possibly even a little humor – to your day. Think of this as a live blog of my life.
Observation #1: My first week back I went to Target and the girl who was checking me out had a perpetual smile on her face and began to make chit chat with me. After a moment of ignoring her I realized that she was actually expecting me to respond. This is the case in every store you walk into. Before living in the East Coast I used to think this was nice and normal. I suppose it is a nice gesture but I now find it slightly annoying. In my mind I am saying, “C’mon lady, I just wanted to buy my frickin toothpaste and go home and brush my teeth already.” Needless to say, if someone talks to me I have determined to respond but I am not ready to make a habit out of initiating conversation with strangers.
Observation #2: None of my friends would consider me to be a particularly good driver. That is fine with me. However, driving is a different experience altogether in the East Coast. Before living in the East I knew my car had a horn but I wasn’t really sure why. Thanks to the good folks from New Jersey I now know. It’s like a less offensive way to give someone the finger. Some people actually do both. I just honk. Anyway, nobody in St. Louis honks their horn at you and they always let you over, even if you wait until the very last second on purpose (I tested this theory personally). The appropriate social grace for this gesture is the courtesy wave. I would occasionally offer this gesture in PA out of sheer habit but realized that people had no idea why I was waving at them. Now I have to remind myself to do this. Thankfully, I kept my PA plates on my car for a couple of weeks so if I forgot people could just write me off as a rude east coaster.
Observation #3: Yes, all Midwesterners think that people from the East Coast are rude. Most people will take the natural East Cost disposition as a personal offense and it will cause them to believe that you don’t like them unless you go out of your way to prove otherwise. This effort probably isn’t worth it because the people who you want as friends will accept you for who you are. I would not have typed that sentence before moving to the East Coast but despite what I was taught as a child I have come to realize that niceness is not the primary quality that one should look for in relationships.
Observation #4: For the most part, native St. Louisans sort everyone into two initial categories – nice and not nice. Once you have been sorted then the rest of the relationship is seen through one of these filters. In St. Louis it is generally viewed as a positive to be sorted into the nice category. Niceness is overrated. Loyalty and genuineness are much better qualities by which to measure a relationship. However, I would like to offer the possibility of something different altogether. Don’t measure your relationships. Just be in them, even if you feel like the return on your investment is not equitable.
Observation #5: I was taught that the far left lane on the highway (or Turnpike in the East) is called the “fast lane.” It is the lane you drive in if you want to go faster than the speed limit. However, in the East Coast this is considered the “passing lane.” It is the lane you get in when the car in front of you is driving too slowly and they have disregarded your incessant honking. Once you pass them, you return to the right lane. This “passing lane” is not meant to be a driving lane. I have to give it to the East Coasters on this one. People should not perpetually drive in the left lane.
Observation #6: While the friendliness factor in the Midwest is a little overwhelming and sometimes makes me want to throw up, it can be awesome in some contexts. For example, I decided that commuting 12 hours to attend my beloved church in PA was just too far and I needed to find a group of people to worship with in St. Louis. Thankfully, I connected with an awesome group and on my first Sunday I met a girl I went to high school with, was introduced to half a dozen people, received an invitation to the women’s retreat, and had three friend requests waiting when I got home. Maybe this kind of welcome isn’t for everyone, but it worked for me.
Observation #7: High school matters in St. Louis. I graduated nearly 15 years ago and I find that as I connect with people I still need to include this tid bit as part of my basic demographic information. By providing this information it gives people the possibility to make an assessment of who you are, where you came from, and what you are about in a mere 5 seconds. Are you Catholic or Protestant? Did you grow up in North, West, or South County? Maybe North or South City? Perhaps St. Charles County? Did you attend private school or public school? What friends might we have in common? Are you rich or poor? If you are from St. Louis you will always have a mutual friend with every person you meet and it will always be a cause for celebration. Aside from this, the rest of this information is primarily unhelpful as it mostly boxes people into completely unnecessary categories and somewhat dehumanizes them. If you didn’t go to high school in St. Louis people don’t even know what to do or how to continue the conversation so one option would be to just pick a school and lie about it. It might not be the best way to make friends but it is sure to be entertaining.
Observation #8: There is an expectation by most St. Louisans that if you were friends with someone in high school you should remain friends the rest of your life. High School is considered the peak of life. Do you remember Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite? It’s kind of like that. This is unfortunate because, let’s be honest, who wants to continue to be who they were in high school? Life long friends can be great but seasons of life change and there is nothing wrong with friendships shifting along with that.
Observation #9: You can buy wine at Target. Actually, you can buy alcohol at pretty much any store anywhere in St. Louis. The state controlled system in PA that only lets you buy alcohol at licensed stores is the dumbest idea ever. What is even dumber is that when I lived in PA if I wanted to buy a bottle of wine and a 6 pack I had to drive to two different stores across town. Again, this is dumb.
Observation #10: You are either a Cardinals fan or the fan of another [lesser] baseball team. Opening day at Bush Stadium was last week, which basically equates to a national holiday in St. Louis. This is as it should be in the world.
There you have it. I feel like I am learning to walk and talk again, but in a new way. Change, even welcomed change, is never easy but it is the road we all must walk if we desire to see transformation in our lives and in our world. Sometimes we choose change, sometimes it is chosen for us. Either way, we have the opportunity to enter into the change or fight it. Both are legitimate options, but I implore you to enter in. You never know what joy and pleasures are yet to be discovered amidst the anguish and struggle.