Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Nothing in Particular

I was sitting in a doctor's waiting room the other day. The doctor had called in to say he would be delayed at the hospital, so I chatted with the receptionist for a while. Then, one by one, the next patients began arriving, and we chatted with one another. Well, most of us did. I often wonder why some people cannot chat with strangers, and seem to feel so uncomfortable in their presence.

Most of us told one another where we were from, and inevitably, we found others from the same areas we knew. It always gives me a chuckle when people start telling me what street they lived on or what school or church they attended, seeming to be so sure that I will be able to identify them. I was born in Pennsylvania - in a suburb of Philadelphia, but I haven't lived there for the last fifty years. I can almost guarantee that I will not be able to remember the pizza parlor - "You know - the one right down the street from the school." Fifty years ago, that parlor did not exist, nor was the school built. Ex-residents of South Philly seem to be the most puzzled by my lack of knowledge. How can I not know where the movie theater was? Or the ice cream parlor? There are a whole lot of people from Philly, retired to south Jersey.

When I explain how long it has been since I frequented the neighborhood, they often switch to where we live now. Then the discussion often turns to the wind off the bay. Everyone has a story to tell about the winds. And next it's the tourists and how prices in shops and gas stations rise in the summer and it isn't fair to the locals. Years before I moved here, I recall my sister going to the super market and stocking up on laundry detergent and other non-perishables before Memorial Day when prices would rise.

I don't mind the small talk at all. Sometimes really enjoy it, depending on the personalities I run into. Of course, there is occasionally the patient who wants to tell you all about whatever ailment brought them there that day. Not good. But when you reach a certain age, and live alone, these little interludes of socializing, however shallow the conversation, can be quite pleasant. It doesn't have to be a doctor's office. In a tourist town, strangers everywhere tend to be willing to relax and talk with anyone they meet. I have had some really fascinating conversations with people whose names I never learned, sitting at the end of the boardwalk, or along a nature trail, or watching the sun set over the bay.

If the stranger happens to be from New York, it's a whole different story. I lived on the south shore of Long Island for twenty-one years. This, of course, does NOT make me a native New Yorker. They are a special breed. But when they move away from their home state, or even if they have just temporarily been torn from its bosom, they are always eager and excited to talk about it. Their eyes light up and there is that happy little tone that tells you they are going to talk about HOME! I love it.

People from the midwest, on the other hand, seem to have an almost defiant tone in talking about their homes. They often seem to be challenging you to say something bad about it. I wonder if they often run into others who try to speak ill of that part of the world? Why else would so many of them take that attitude? Or am I letting my imagination run away with me? It just seems to me most of those I have met from the midwest are daring me to say something. I have nothing bad to say about them or their homes. They're nice people. And I'm as interested in where they come from as I am about every other place. I haven't had much opportunity to visit there. The nearest I've come to it is a visit to a friend at a college in Indiana, years ago.

People from Alaska are interesting. (Except for Ms.Palin. Well, she's interesting but not in a good way. Too vulgar and ignorant for my taste.) I've known quite a few people from Alaska. We have a big Coast Guard base here, you know. The Coasties are usually fun to talk to. I've always thought I'd love to visit Alaska.

The most difficult time for me - and I haven't done this in a long while - would be a plane trip, seated next to someone who does NOT want to talk. I don't have to talk constantly, but it just doesn't seem natural to me not to speak to the person next to you for hours on end. If they want to sleep - that's fine. If they want to read, that's fine too. But in that close proximity, for Pete's sake! smile and say hello, and exchange a little banter every so often. Trains are better. People on trains usually seem eager to talk.

Enough of this idle chatter.


It occurs to me that some readers might take some of this the wrong way. I do not mean to label people from different regions. I would never want to do that. I am simply making observations based on my own limited experience with people I have met. I am very aware that everyone from the same part of the country is not like everyone else. My own back goes up if anyone tries to put me into a neat little box labeled.....whatever.


kenju said...

Good observations, Bobbie, and I would say that they mirror mine. I have met some of the most interesting people at wedding receptions, and I can think of 2-3 instances where I genuinely hated to leave, knowing I would never have the opportunity to see those people again.

Daryl said...

I hate waiting in doctor's offices but if I was I would hope to be seated next to you or someone like you to help pass the time in a chatty pleasant way.

Anonymous said...

I haven't met people from too many regions, but I'm always interested in how dialects and accents and customs change from area to area. We're just such a great bunch, aren't we - coast to coast, border to border!!

Unknown said...

It's a big country, with so much diversity. I think it's one of the things that makes us interesting.

I think it's great you've lived in so many parts of the country. I've only ever lived in Western Mass. Here in the States anyway.

Good to read your post today, Bobbie.

Mare said...

I am a talker[said to be vaccinated with a victrolla needle...are you old enough to understand that?]
When I am quiet, people think that I am sick!! So,I totally agree with your blog entry.

Kay said...

Happy Birthday, Bobbie! AND Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I'll have you know Chicago is a fabulous place. I love Illinois! We love the Cubs...even when they lose. We love the cold, freezing weather, the crazy politics... etc.

Just kidding.

You've made some interesting observations there. I do think people do get shaped a bit by where they live. I loved this post! Very fun to read!

Sylvia K said...

Happy Birthday, Bobbie, I'm late getting to your blog today -- been one of those days! This was a fun post! We all have our stories to tell about areas where we have lived. I try very hard not to let people know I'm from Texas originally -- that alone can be offensive to a lot of people! And considering our last president -- well, I'm sure you know why I try not to associated with it -- at least not too closely. But my oldest son lives there along with some favorite cousins, so I do visit. Have a good week!

Michele said...

I love chit chat and whenever I see the opportunity to talk to someone to pass the time away, I'm all over it!!!

Hey Harriet said...

What a great post! I often enjoy talking to complete strangers on the bus or the train or whatever. When I do this around friends, they get really embarrassed which I find kind of odd! The best place I've found for striking up conversations with people is at off-leash dog parks. We all stand around watching our dogs play with each other & just chat. The chatting often revolves around our dogs. The funny thing is that we all know the names of all the dogs but not of each other! Strangely we introduce our dogs by name to each other but rarely reveal our own names. So we all know each other as 'Sophie's mum' or 'Cosmo's mum' etc... Weird, but nice :) So keep on talking to strangers I say. We should be striving to live in a 'world without strangers' (I just so happen to be wearing a T-Shirt with that 'world without strangers' slogan on it, so that's why I thought of it just now)

Anonymous said...

I still have a smile on my face, after reading this. :-) My sentiments exactly! Especially the person next to me on a flight. I think we must have much the same personality. My Mother used to say that I never met a stranger.

Cliff said...

I believe that the statement, "too ignorant for my taste" explains away a lot of your questions about the bulk of the land between the coastlines. We find intolerence of others points of view fairly repulsive.

bobbie said...

Well Cliff, my opinion of the person I called vulgar and ignorant is just that- MY OPINION of that particular person. It has nothing to do with "intolerance of others' point of view". And I do not share your feeling that everyone between the coasts are of one opinion - nor that those on the coasts are all of one opinion.

Ranjithpadmalaya said...

good to read the diversity in views.