Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Stranger in My Homeland

I just got back from a few days visiting my family in Pennsylvania and Delaware. I've lived in Houston for a long time--longer than I lived up north--and yet I always believed I was "bi-cultural." The rolling hills of the countryside of my childhood home still enchant me and the weather--sunny and cool--couldn't have been more perfect. I did, however, find myself a duck-out-of-water when I stopped by a country celebration on Sunday afternoon.

My sister lives in the township of Pocopson outside of Philadelphia. It's a small country community between the much more famous Chadds Ford (home of the Wyeth family) and and the world renown Longwood Gardens. Pocopson has no town, only a post office, and yet some of the farms date back to the 1700s. Sunday was the annual Founders' Day Celebration complete with music, pony rides, food, petting zoo, contests, booths selling local items, hayrides...you get the drift. This is the kind of slice-of-life event I love.

I stopped by on my way to visit my parents hoping to find some fun things to take to my mother. Sure enough, a local farm wife was selling little pumpkins and colorful gourds, and another booth offered honey and honey candy. I had my camera and as I moved from booth to booth purchasing their wares, donating to animal rescue organizations and admiring community projects, I took pictures. It wasn't until I got to the last table lined with raffle baskets and tried to engaged the young woman in conversation that I realized I was no longer a Yankee. My friendly questions made her uncomfortable and she wanted me to buy my tickets and go my way. I couldn't help but be disappointed.

Unlike a Texas town fair, nobody asked me where I was from or how I found my way to their little bit of heaven. No one suggested I check out the petting zoo, try the hamburgers or told me the history of the township or its Founders. The few words required to accomplish a transaction ("I don't have any bags.") or a curt "Thanks" for a donation weren't meant to be rude, but I sorely missed the invitation to adopt one of the  puppies playing in a pen or just a "Hi, how are you?" that's the standard greeting everywhere in the South. It was a lovely celebration, I'm sure, and the locals certainly had a grand time. But I was an outsider, however, and sorely missed the warm and cheery welcome of the small towns of Texas.


Liz Flaherty said...

Perception is such a funny thing. Those are the things I miss when I go somewhere else, too. I think we all embrace our own kind of friendliness.

Sarah Andre said...

How interesting! I remember being shocked at how friendly and talkative people are in Houston, although it was so long ago I'd forgotten until your post.

For ex., Admitting to the server at the Rally's drive-thru window that I'd just moved here and never been to a Rally's brought all the cooks and counter-people to the window to shake my hand and welcome me.

Last year my husband and I took one of his associates from China to Little Pappasito's and bought him his first margarita. Of course the entire loud bar and busy bartenders all stopped and welcomed him and waited as he took his first sip... he was so overwhelmed at the friendliness that he took pictures with his phone camera! Of them, the guy making guacamole at tableside etc.!

I was thrilled Houston had welcomed him like that.
Glad you're home!

Lark Howard said...

You're right, Liz. When I first arrived in Texas, I thought these people were a bit crazy and now I think they're normal!

Lark Howard said...

How great is it that the people at Little Pappasito's made your friend feel so welcomed, Sarah! He'll always remember Texans fondly.

We enjoyed a similar welcome in Ireland and can't wait to go back. How you feel about a place is often determined by how you feel about its people, isn't it?

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I'm late to the party because of Internet issues, and since we're in Texas, any gathering IS a party.

I can relate, Lark. Like you, I've lived longer in Texas than in my native NJ. In all my years here, I think I've encountered two not-so-nice waiters--less than one per decade. Like you, I've come to expect friendliness and warmth.

When I first moved here, I was amazed that check-out clerks in grocery stores would ask me how I intended to cook the meat I'd purchased or what I was going to do with that spaghetti squash. Now it seems normal to chat with strangers, although I know I retain a Yankee reserve.

Even though I gripe about Houston's heat and hate the traffic, the billboards, and the low-walkability of my part of town, I love the people.

Louise Behiel said...

Funny how culture changes us, isn't it? I work with immigrants and health care workers, both of whom have their own unique cultures and they often don't match too well.

Lark Howard said...

You definitely have challenges, Louise, with such diverse cultures! But it must be interesting as well.

Sheila Seabrook said...

Wow, that seems so strange to me too, Lark. I come from a small town and everyone is so friendly, I just expect them to be when I go out of town too. There's something so comforting about talking to a stranger and getting a friendly response back. :) I mean, that's how all of us met on the Internet, isn't it?

Lark Howard said...

Yes, Sheila, we all did meet on the internet because we were friendly. I don't think the people I encountered in Pennsylvania were unfriendly--just not welcoming of strangers the way most Texans are.