Over the past few years I’ve thought a lot about my upbringing and reflected on how it impacted me socially, culturally and economically. Growing up in a very small fishing village on the coast of Maine there were a lot of things I wasn’t exposed to as a kid. I grew up in a very insular community and for the most part everybody was the same.
Not many people moved in and almost nobody moved out. There was little diversity in terms of race, culture and socio-economic status. Sure there were a few people of color (maybe 5) a few Jehovah’s witnesses and a few people who were more well-off financially, but for the most part everybody was white, working class and protestant **.
Most people didn’t have much money for traveling or buying luxury items. I don’t think I knew anyone who’d traveled internationally (other than Canada or a cruise to the Bahamas) and Louis Vuitton and Yves St. Laurent didn’t “exist” until I went away to college. Gap was an expensive brand name and that you had to travel 45 minutes to buy at the “local” mall. Nobody was driving BMWs and if you were lucky if you got a beater car like my first hoopty.
My high school (9-12th grade) was composed of kids from 5 different towns and even then there were only 300 kids in the whole school. Some kids went to college, but many got jobs after high school and started families. I’m one of the few that “got away” and that, among other reasons, makes me a bit of an odd ball. Truthfully, I never really felt like I “fit in” my hometown.
As my step-dad would say, I was always “rip roaring and ready to go.” When I was in middle school I wished I was in high school and when I was in high school I was dying to go to college as far away as possible; to explore the world, meet new people and have new experiences (insert Dixie Chicks, “Wide Open Spaces” here)
Don’t get my wrong, I love my hometown and the people in it. They are good hard working people who would give you the “shirt off their back” if you needed it. I love to go home to visit and I still have some friends in the area that I’ve stayed in touch with over the years. I don’t think people think badly of me and I certainly don’t think badly of them, I just don’t think I, “fit the mold” sometimes.
New York State of Mind or Maine-iac?
i.e. the life choices that make me
a “weirdo” different than my peers in Downeast Maine.
- I live in NYC. Before that I lived in Boston. Insert why would a perfectly sane person want to live in such a crazy place and other city commentary (here). I guess once you’ve lived in the city that doesn’t sleep other places seem somewhat boring and sterile in comparison. Give me one of those dirty street pretzels with mustard any day!
- I’m 30 years old and I’m not engaged or married. This one always seems to perplex people for some reason. Many of the people I went to high school with have been married for 5 or even 10 years. Some have already been divorced and re-married. I can only assume that not being married probably makes me bitchy, crazy or both.
- I don’t have kids. Some people my age have 2-3 kids (kids old enough that my mom is now teaching them at the local elementary school). Not being married and not having kids, I sometimes wonder if people think something is “wrong” with me (see bullet number 2-affirmed!). I sometimes get asked things like, “Well you want to have kids right?”
- I’m dating someone who isn’t white. My other half is Filipino. No one has ever said or done anything racist or mean when we’re at home. In fact, people from Maine tend to be very tolerant of differences in my experience. I’d say Mainers tend to have a libertarian sort of ideology: as long as you leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone. That being said we do get stares sometimes when we’re out in public together. Not from people we know, but from people we don’t. I surmise that they probably think that we’re tourists since Downeast Maine is infiltrated with tourists and “summer people” every year. I guess this one stands out to me even more after living in big cities for a number of years. New Yorkers don’t think anything is “weird” or worth staring at. I.e. “Kari, didn’t you see that man sitting next to you on the train wearing leopard skin pants and a hot pink tube top, singing Yankee Doodle backwards in Yiddish?” “Nope I didn’t notice him, he was sitting next to me?”
- I went to college and graduate school. Don’t get me wrong, people from my hometown appreciate education for the most part. But there aren’t a lot of industry jobs that require it. The only people that I knew who had a master degree or above were doctors and lawyers. If my advanced degree comes up (usually it doesn’t, but when I was in school it did sometimes) it has lead to interesting conversations like…
“Colombia huh? it’s hot there right?”
“Umm in the summer New York gets pretty hot, but we have air conditioning.”
“New York? I thought you said you were in Colombia?”
“Oh, sorry that was confusing, I’m attending a school named Columbia”
- I live in a condo. Most people in Maine live in single family homes. I’d say the average cost of a 3-4 bedroom home in my area is about half of what we paid for our 800 sq foot condo. I know people think we’re nuts to pay so much for so little space, but what can I say? Living in the tri-state area is expensive and you don’t get much for the money. But salaries are also a lot higher here, so that helps.
- I eat dinner at 8pm. This one always makes my grandparents laugh. They eat at about 5pm and always have. Because many people in my hometown work outside businesses close a lot earlier (imagine my annoyance when I drove 25 minutes to the closest drug store and it was closed at 8pm). Because people get home from work a lot earlier, they eat dinner earlier and go to bed earlier. They also get up in the morning a lot earlier. My parents often joke that bf and I “sleep half the day away.” We’re just on a lot later time schedule. My mom and step-dad are home from work at 4pm. On a good day I get home at 6:30pm.
Did you ever feel like you didn’t “fit in” because of money, culture etc.? Big city girl in a small town or vice versa?
**These are all generalizations based on my own perceptions. There are, of course, people from my community who have taken a similar path as me, or who have higher educations, professional careers, different racial and ethnic backgrounds that maybe I’m not away of, etc etc.**