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Jun 24

New York State of Mind or Maine-iac?

maine

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.

sunset on deck

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!
    radio city
  • 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”
    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.**

 

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  1. DC @ Young Adult Money

    Well, I’ve lived in the city or close surrounding areas my entire life so I don’t feel like much has changed, though I have had to deal with very diverse cultures (I worked with some international students from Saudi Arabia in college which was an awesome experience getting to know them). I think you have to learn to deal with those who are different than you or you are going to have a lot of challenges in life.

    1. KK

      I’d imagine it was really interesting to learn about and from those Saudi students). Ironically I think I’ve had a harder time getting close to people who are “like” me than people who are different than me. Somehow the people who are the most different have taught me the most about myself.

  2. Michael @ The Student Loan Sherpa

    I grew up in a small town, though not as small. I think I have many of the same values of my friends who remain there, but I just wanted to pursue different life experiences.

    1. KK

      Good point about values. A lot of my value system is very inline with what you’d consider small town values. I’ve learned a lot about building relationships, working hard, and being humble from the people I grew up with and around.

  3. Holly@ClubThrifty

    Sadly, I still live in the same boring town that I grew up in! It sounds a lot like yours. Nobody ever leaves.
    However, I love being near my parents and I love them getting to spend so much time with my kids. They literally live like ten blocks away.

    1. KK

      I wrote the beginning of a post the other day about how much not having family around impacts me. It’s really hard to be so far away from my family and I think that will be even more hard when the bf and I get married and start a family.

  4. nicoleandmaggie

    There’s a song on this very question…called Maine by Richard Rogers in the musical No Strings. Sadly I can’t find a copy for you on youtube. :( But it will be going through my head all day!

    1. KK

      How interesting, I just googled and found the lyrics and a song clip. I guess Richard Rodgers beat me to the punch line 😉

  5. Desi

    These are all very similar to things I experienced growing up in a small-ish northern town – right down to Gap being “expensive!” One of my best friends still lives back home and he’s very similar to me – I’m not sure why or how he hasn’t escaped yet – but he is 27 and single and is constantly getting the “when are you going to find a nice girl and settle down?” question. (Which invariably always involves me at the end of the day…) I felt like I didn’t fit in at home, and then moved to a very rich Southern city where I still don’t feel like I fit in. Take me to LA!

    1. KK

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t fit in (well maybe not, I don’t want people to feel like they don’t fit in-that’s probably not a good thing) . I’m not sure I have any single male friends from high school, so at least I dodge that line of questioning 😉

  6. E.M.

    I do feel like I never quite fit in here. I’m not too far from you on LI, but people are so materialistic here it’s annoying. I am not really an avid beach-goer, and I have been trying to take my time with things but that’s impossible because everyone insists on a fast-pace. People here also seem to be high-strung; obviously this part of NY gets a reputation for being rude and inconsiderate. I don’t think I would like living in the city, either. I have been at a “fast-pace” my whole life now and sometimes I just want to dial it back. We are pretty diverse here at least, but I am so looking forward to moving when possible. I’d love to go upstate, or just another place where people are friendly, more laid-back and appreciative of things.

    1. KK

      I love upstate New York. We go at least once or twice in the fall. It’s so beautiful and relaxing and the people are so nice (really it’s a lot like Maine ironically). I’ve only been to LI a couple of times, so I can’t really comment on what it’s like there, but I do think people in NYC and surrounding areas are pretty high strung.

  7. Girl Meets Debt

    I could completely relate to this post Kari!!! I’m also from a very small town where everyone knows everyone – the kind where I can’t even go to the supermarket without seeing 10 people I know…I much prefer living in the City since I never quite felt like I “fit in” the small town but I love going “home” to visit my family.

    1. KK

      I always see at least 5 people (and my mom sees at least 5 that she knows) that I know when I go to “town”. My town doesn’t have a grocery store so we have to drive 20 minutes to get to one. Now that I’m older I appreciate my small town roots in ways that I never could when I was living there.

  8. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply

    I was born and raised in NYC (well Queens which many snobby Manhattanites don’t consider NYC). Sometimes I wonder how it would be to live in a place that has more of a small town feel. That small towns generall have a lot lower cost of living.
    My cousin (asian) visits his wife’s family in a small town and people there sometimes mistake him for the chinese delivery guy…don’t think they are racist…just a little ignorant maybe. So maybe I might feel a little out of place in a small town….

    1. KK

      Queens is totally NYC, that’s foolishness. My hometown is definitely way cheaper than living in the city. That’s why bf and I are considering buying a rental property in Maine.

      I think you’re right on the ignorance thing. I don’t think people are generally hateful (or I hope that they aren’t), but that doesn’t make the stares (or comments) any less awkward and uncomfortable.

  9. Budget and the Beach

    I’m currently in my hometown and although it had more people and was very typical suburban Detroit, the mentality is that of a small town. I had drinks with my high school friend who still lives here and there was so much gossip about the people who stayed in my hometown, as if they never left the high school mentality. It’s just so weird to me! And most got married young and have kids, and I’m 42 and have never been married…so imagine how weird I look…except now the tables have turned and a lot of them had said to me they wished they weren’t married. lol!

    1. KK

      Yeah, gossip is definitely an issue in my town. I guess because there’s not much to do, people like to talk about each other. That’s pretty awkward that your friends are now saying they wish they hadn’t gotten married. I’m not even sure what I’d say to that. Maybe they envy you for not being married and taking the same road they took?

  10. anna

    Even though I grew up in Orange County, I grew up in a small town similar to yours where everyone still pretty much lives there… they might have gone to college everywhere, but somehow they managed to find their way back and marry, have kids, etc. I never fit in during high school, especially with my ethnicity and socioeconomic background, and didn’t really find a niche until college. Now, I’m still the last person in my group to not marry or have kids, but I’ve always been a late bloomer anyway. :) I had to laugh at the yellow leotard outfit person – B made a comment one day about how something was crazy, and when I asked what, he said, “Umm, the guy in the blonde wig, huge adam’s apple, and pink outfit rollerblading past us?!” lol

    1. KK

      Late bloomer, I like that. I think I must be a late bloomer too. Late bloomers unite! Despite being from the same ethnic, racial and socioeconomic background as all of my peers I still didn’t really fit in. Maybe it was educational aspirations, or maybe it was expectations my parents had for me (there was never a doubt I’d go to college-many of the kids in my class didn’t even ever consider college. Not because they weren’t smart, but because their parents didn’t necessarily push it or think it was necessary).

      As for seeing weird things (or not seeing them), I guess you just sort of become immune to them at some point? Or i’m really unobservant.

  11. Rachel@Mobilligy

    I can definitely relate to how you feel! I didn’t grow up in a small town, but I did go to a small private school from fourth grade until I graduated. My values and beliefs are pretty similar to what they were back then, but the path I wanted for my life was just different from the norm.

    1. KK

      I’d imagine that going to a small private school was probably pretty similar in some ways as growing up in a small town. When you’re a kid you spend so much of your time at school that you may as well have lived in a small town. There are definitely good and bad things about being a part of a close knit community. I’m sure we could both speak to both 😉

  12. krantcents

    I grew up in New York City, although my professional career is in Los Angeles. Big city living is different, but I love it. I have all the services, but I can live away from downtown.The diversity of a big city is important to me. Funny, Los Angeles is huge, spread out and some may even call it artificial. I have had friends for 40 years and like many large cities have a lot of things to do.

    1. KK

      Diversity (racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic etc.) is something that I lacked growing up, but something that’s really important to me now. NYC and LA both have plenty of diversity and plenty of things to do, I guess that was part of the allure to me. I still miss aspects of small town living, but I can’t imagine living in such a closed community again.

  13. Catherine

    Where in Maine are you from??

    I understand where you’re coming totally. I’m lucky that I live in a ”small” city but very diverse…best of both worlds?? I love both NYC and Boston and would live in either in a heartbeat I think.

    1. KK

      A small town outside of Bar Harbor (eastern maine). I love Boston. I lived there for several years after college, it was a lot of fun. A perfect sized city for my taste. NYC is still big and overwhelming sometimes.

  14. CF

    I’ve always been a city girl :) Even though I haven’t always lived in a city like Vancouver, I’ve always felt more at home in a busy, bustling city. We live in a teeny condo, have no desire to have kids and we don’t even own a car. I think our families think we’re both a bit odd, but that’s just how we turned out I guess.

    1. KK

      Nothing wrong with being a bit “odd”. I like people who are different and don’t feel like they have to fit in all the time. I’ve never been to Vancouver, but suspect I’d really like it based on what I know (and what I read on your blog) :-)

  15. Thomas

    I grew up in small town SC and had the some of the same life experiences as you. Small town, little diversity, most of the things I learned about didn’t happened until I graduated and moved to college. However I can say that a lot of things made me a lot better growing up. I take time with things, I was raised to be polite and well mannered. Some people seem to always be in a rush and never appreciate anything. I won’t say that I don’t fit I just think we all are different and have different goals. Find your comfort zone heck thats all that truly matters.

    1. KK

      So true. I learned a lot growing up in a small town about manners and honesty and working hard. There’s a lot more accountability for those things when you see the same people everyday. In the city you may go days without seeing anyone you know. It’s easy to get “lost”.

  16. SuburbanFinance

    I grew up in a smallish town and now live in a larger city but not huge. I ended up adhering to lots of the small town stereotypes, though.

    1. KK

      A lot of those stereotypes are probably good things (well I hope so). Some of my dearest and most loyal friends are from small towns and never left. Nothing wrong with that.

  17. Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce

    Cheers to accepting differences! Had any interesting conversations with folks from home about it?

    1. KK

      I’ve definitely talked to peers about what my experience has been leaving and coming back to visit. Sometimes they wish they’d left, sometimes I wish I’d stayed, but I think we’re both where we’re happiest.

  18. Tina @ My Shiny Pennies

    I see what you’re saying about not quite fitting in the mold. I’m not a big city girl per se but living near farming communities sometimes makes me feel like I’m in the wrong era. I’m Asian, and my fiance is white so sometimes I don’t think people realize we’re a couple. I went to a store once and gave the elderly clerk my name and he responded in a surprising manner, “Oh, I know how to spell that!” Lol, I guess he expected me to have a non westernized name.

    I think smaller communities expect women to be married and have kids a young age. I grew up in Nebraska, and all of my friends who still live there are married and have kids. Those of us who moved away have tended to wait until later in life while we pursued professional and educational opportunities. Nothing wrong and right about either choices, it’s just how the cards fall.

    1. KK

      Oh man lol. The things people say sometimes. Nobody every spells my first name right, so I always have to say it’s Kari, then spell it outloud. If I decide to change my last name to bf’s I’m curious how people with say it. It’s a Filipino last name, but somehow everyone seems to say it like it’s Irish. I’m sure that would especially be true for me since I’m a white girl from Maine.

      I think you’re right about smaller more rural communities. Most of the people from my hs are already married with kids. Makes me wonder if I had stayed there if I’d be married with kids, sort of an interesting psychological study really.

  19. femmefrugality

    Growing up in Maine sounds a lot like growing up Mormon! (In that people rarely leave and the whole kids/family SUPER young thing.) I don’t fit in anymore mostly because I don’t practice the religion (go figure) but also because I’m divorced and have kids with my boyfriend/fiance… When I lived in SE Idaho (which happens to be heavily populated by LDS) a lot of times I found myself feeling lucky for my Pennsylvanian high school education when I saw some of the kids that they handed a degree at their four-year colleges. There were some great people, but the culture difference is SO huge.

    1. KK

      When I was in grad school I met a fellow grad student from Utah. She was Mormon and had been engaged to a man she wasn’t in love with (I got the feeling it was arranged but didn’t ask and she didn’t offer). She broke off the engagement which apparently was a huge deal for her family/religious community. She’s since got married and had a baby, but I remember her telling me that her family was shocked and horrified when she broke off the engagement. Such a different world, even from the one I came from where people do get married young and have kids young. I totally agree with you, huge culture difference.

  20. Jen @ The Happy Homeowner

    Oh wow, you and I have an incredible amount of these things in common! I grew up in a very small town in PA and I was literally nodding along as I read your description of where you grew up as well as your bullet list. When I graduated high school, it was straight to college and I never returned home even to live during the summers!

    1. KK

      I did go home for summers, but I felt pretty bored and unattached. My high school friends either stayed at school or were working so I never really saw them. I think there’s a “common” experience of growing up in small towns that’s pretty universal among people who “got out” based on the feedback I’ve been getting about this post.

  21. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    LOL, I did feel totally out of place when we lived in our fancy pants suburb house. I don’t go to the salon every week, buy super spendy clothes, or spend 3 hours a day at the gym. No Botox for me, and very little makeup. I homeschool my kids, and will likely never drive a brand-new BMW, and I’m ok with that. But I’m not sure my former neighbors were. :-).

  22. Troy

    When I went to college, I felt so lost. Growing up in a smaller town, I never got used to the feeling of being one in a million.
    To this day, I still prefer living in a smaller city where you get to know your surroundings on a more personal level and there’s no constant noise.

  23. eemusings

    That’s very interesting! I grew up in the burbs of a big city (well by national standards) and haven’t really budged from there. I do wonder what it would be like to move to a larger city overseas.

  24. Elizabeth

    Wow, I can relate to this in so many ways! I’m from Downeast Maine, went to Columbia (got the exact same reaction – high school friends’ parents thought I was going to another country), live in a condo near DC, eat dinner late, etc. I don’t necessarily feel out of place, but I think the experience around DC is a little more laid back than NY.

    I don’t feel out of place in my life now, but when I go home around the holidays – I’m definitely aware of the fact that my life is very different than a lot of the people I grew up with – not so much because of socioeconomic differences, but more because of the environment that I’m so used to being exposed to in the cities.

    1. KK

      Oh wow, I’m not *alone* :-) Glad to “meet” another Down-easter and Columbian. I bet we have a lot of things in common. Thanks for stopping by and shoot me an e-mail sometime if you want to chat “Maine”.

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