Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Anthropology of the Midwest: Different Strokes for Different Folks

I'm ready for the weekend and it's only Wednesday. This does not bode well. It's turning out to be one of those weeks at work.

Ironically, work itself is going well. I'm learning to accept the fact that my idea of being busy and my company's idea of being busy are not quite the same. It's not a bad thing but life in the Midwest is a little slower than that of L.A. and it's something I'm adjusting to, slowly.

One thing I am also adjusting to is the difference in personalities and people in the Midwest to that of California. The stereotype of Californians is that they're tree hugger hippies even though if you live there, you realize that's actually the stereotype of Northern Californians. Southern Californians have the stereotype of more laid back and 'with it.'

I'm not sure about stereotypes but one thing I've noticed is that there is a different attitude to Californians. They're more open and friendly, willing to accept strangers. Having spent my teenage years in the Midwest and then moving back, I've noticed that the attitude here is different.

When I first moved to the U.S. from the UK, I had to go to school. For a while, I was a novelty: "The English Girl." After a while, people realized it wasn't that exciting and slowly moved away. I was left standing, not sure what I'd done wrong and had to start again from scratch to make friends when, in the beginning, I'd felt like things weren't so bad because people had been nice to me. When they stopped being nice and carried on with their lives, I wasn't prepared for it. It wasn't that they weren't still nice but they had better things to do than hang out with me.

Slowly, I found friends who were real friends who found my accent fun but weren't friends with me because I was British. As I graduated from high school, I'd found a couple of great friends, people who liked me for who I was and on who I could rely. I'm still friends with them today.

When I went to college, I found it surprisingly easy to make friends. Ironically, when I look back on it, most of my friends weren't really from the Midwest. They were from Texas, Alabama, California, New Jersey...all over the place. When I moved to California, I made friends much more easily. People seemed more open; while they might have a seperate life, they were willing to share it.

Now I'm back in the Midwest, I'm truly seeing the difference in personalities. It's hard to make friends here, real friends, I mean. It's not hard to find people to go to dinner with or go for drinks with that's just superficial stuff. I'm trying not to stereotype but Midwesterners are different; they're not so open. They're not rude, don't get me wrong. They're friendly. Yet they don't let you in to their lives easily. Rather than the casual, "hey, come on over" invitations that I got used to in L.A., here it is all about 'events.' You get to go to someone's house for an occasion, for a gathering but not just to 'hang out'. If they haven't known you for at least a couple of years, you're still an outsider.

I'm not saying everyone's like that but it's definetely a difference I'm noticing in attitudes. I have met a couple of people who are the exception, people who don't mind that they haven't known me a while and seem to really want to be friends.

And I'm not saying it's a bad thing; it's an attitude, a way of life. In the UK, we're overly polite about things. We apologize a lot, even for things that are not our fault. It's our way, it's what we do. I know that drives people nuts who aren't used to my way of life so I cannot be a hypocrite and say my way of life suits everyone. Yet, it's the way we are.

More than anything, it's an anthropological study in people. The Midwest is full of small towns and while they've got a lot of merits, they're not the places. Unless you're from a family with a recognizable name, people tend to treat you like a stranger, even if you've been living there for a while. After quite a few years, going on twenty, in town where my parent's live, we're still 'the English family.'

For me, more than anything, I need to remember that people are different wherever you go. I moved to the Midwest expecting life to be perfect and I'm finding it a lonelier place than I'm used to. I'm thankful my family is close enough that I can spend time with them and feel loved and accepted. I have some casual friends at work but most of them are that, casual, people who are friendly but have their ways and habits and don't like to change them.

I suppose I'm like that too; I have my ways and my habits. I won't say everyone here is like that because they're not. Yet lately, I'm realizing that I left behind more than a place in California; I left behind a whole life and while it's fun to start a new one, it's also a little hard. I love my house, I love my family but I also miss the life I got used to. I've been here a while now and the novelty of the snow, the greenness of the country, the laid-back pace of life is still there but the reality that this is my home, this is my world now is setting in and thus the shadows are becoming as visible as the beauty. I suppose this it the time when people say "the honeymoon is over" and I suppose that wouldn't be too far off.

And, again, I'm not saying any of this is a bad thing. I think it depends on what you're used to; People are different wherever you go and once you get used to that it's easier. My problem is that I got un-used to it and it's time to readjust my thinking. I just have to accept the fact that as with most things, finding a comfortable niche takes time. In the meantime, I must remember that just because my good friends aren't physically nearby doesn't mean I can't rely on them because I can. I will make friends here but it might take a little longer than I thought. As with everything else, things are slower here and that's not such a bad thing. Yet, when you've lived in a place where everything moves quickly, slowing down is not always easy. I'm trying though and I'll keep trying until I feel like I belong here.

And, if not, I'll just look out my window and see my lawn growing as a constant reminder than I'm home now, for better or for worse and while it's a wonderful thing, it's not always perfect. Nothing ever is. That's what makes life interesting.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Happy Wednesday.

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