Friday, June 18, 2010

I'm Not From Around Here

This September, I’ll have lived in the Twin Cities for 17 years, so you think by now I’d know my way around. But in many respects, I still feel like a resident alien. For one thing, I’ve never bothered to learn any geography beyond the alphabet-number grid in my immediate area, along with the office locations of people who are paying for my writing services. If I can expect to find a garage sale in your alley or a big fat check in my mailbox after I’ve worked for you, I’ll remember your address. Otherwise, when you tell me you live in something that always sounds like happyapplegoldenvalleyville, expect a glazed look that signals my apathy and incomprehension.

Granted, there were many aspects of life in these parts that I took to 17 years ago like a Lutheran laps up the watery decaf. I loved how smart everyone seemed to be, and what good spellers they were. I would see people walking along Minnehaha Parkway with books in their hands, raptly reading, and I wanted to offer a round of applause.

But I soon learned that public applause Was Not Done. I also learned about loud laughing, talking to strangers, and exhibiting excess in any form. I eventually got used to the unearthly quiet in movie theaters before the show started. After the first couple parties I attended, I learned to leave my shoes at the door, but I never quite picked up how a few crackers and one bottle of warm wine could constitute the catering for a party of 20 people. I once went to a Christmas party where the host told me he was serving Champagne cocktails. Yes, I said, before he even offered, and shared with him that I had yet to reach my lifetime quota of Champagne. Alarmed, he retreated to fetch my cocktail. After about twenty minutes of fumbling about with his ingredients (clearly, this guy was not a large-batch sort), he handed me a thimbleful of liquid with a flourish that signaled that this, in toto, would be my refreshment for the evening. I left with much less Champagne than I had been hoping for, but much wiser in the ways of what passed for Norwegian hospitality.

I love it here, I really do, but whenever I meet someone I really like (“goofy and opinionated” usually sums it up), I invariably ask, “You’re not from around here, are you?’

I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, a town that has been described as the first Southern city and the last Eastern city. I have happily shed many of the norms of my birthplace, from the hard “a” (“fahrest pahrk” and “highway fahrty fahr”) to the brutal, brain-melting heat. I was happy to start working for a Twin Cities company that had a casual dress code, and it is with great pride that I report that I, who once wore a suit, pantyhose and heels to work every day, now wear a skirt about three times a year. I don’t miss St. Louis' close-mindedness or snobbery. Living in a place where no one cares where I went to high school, or at least doesn’t ask in the course of what passes for normal conversation, is freeing.

Still. There are times when my eastern brashness / southern exuberance smack up against Minnesota culture like a big ol’ walleye, and I find that I am staring at yet another wrinkly cat butt of Northern disapproval.

There was an incident just this week, when I walked into the post office and found no workers behind the counter and one woman standing in line. She was dressed in a way that I found bizarre 17 years ago and don’t even remark upon to myself these days – that bold combination of beige and tan (hair, face, clothes) that says, “native.” Thinking someone must be already fetching her parcels, I took my place in line. Finally, she turned to me for what must be her annual Conversation with a Stranger. “I’ve been waiting here quite some time,” she confided, quietly (I know that last part is probably understood, but, for out-of-towners:  she was annoyed, so she was whispering). “I wish they had a bell or something.”

I looked into her watery blue eyes for a long, hard minute. Then, still making eye contact, I shouted – make that bellowed -- “Hey! Post Office People! You have customers up here!”

She shot away from me like I was carrying a big case of Talks With Outside Voice cooties. But someone showed up from the back office, and she got her package mailed, pronto.

There are so many things to like about living here, really there are. But it is sometimes dispiriting to know that what qualifies me as the neighborhood crazy lady here would rate me as utterly normal on the Upper West Side. And, with that thought, it’s time for me to go outside and start talking to strangers for a while.


  1. Hey, Neighborhood Crazy Lady - you got a good loud laugh from me. Love this new blog. That's coming from a local who also often receives from others "the wrinkly cat butt of Northern disapproval". Truly glad you've been transplanted!

  2. hilarious! I like your style...reminds me of ....hmmm....ME!