Northern & Southern. Nature & Nurture.

Lately, I notice myself strolling, lingering, and talking to people in line at the grocery store or even people I pass while running.  Small talk is easy to do.  But, really, when did this happen? I find myself wondering if I have always been this nice.  What happened to the me who walked extremely fast and never made eye contact with people on the sidewalk or while running?

Let, me clarify a few things. I grew up in New York. I grew up with sarcasm, Billy Joel, tough sisters, my father’s words like jerk & knucklehead, phrases like ‘breaking your shoes,’ ‘busting your chops,’ ‘ knuckle sandwiches,’ and playing kickball in the street, barbecues, and sitting on the front stoop.  My father was raised in Queens and took the subway to school and my mother remembers Long Island as the country. 

I was raised a New Yorker, only I didn’t know it until I left. For so long, I wanted to escape and live in the middle of nowhere. I was the only one I knew in my high school who loved country music.  When I arrived at Mary Washington in the fall of 2003, I was ecstatic to find myself living in a hall with only girls from Virginia.  I played the how-do-you-say-this­-word game with my roommate and we constantly teased each other for pronunciations. 

Throughout college, I remained fascinated by open space, towns that didn’t overflow to the neighboring town, and the world outside of Long Island.  I traveled to Kentucky and Oregon with my preservation club friends and suddenly had justification for my adoration of the United States.  Still, west of the Mississippi called me – I had to live in the Great Plains. After college, I had my wish.  Finally I had a reason to wear cowboy hats and boots! I lived in Omaha, Nebraska for the summer. 

Oddly enough, I found that my gypsy soul easily became homesick. (Not to mention, no one in Omaha actually wore cowboy boots and hats.) I wanted to be closer to the east coast with my family.  Next, I returned east, this time in North Carolina, living in a small town, which happened to be another long time goal of mine.  My job threw me into a variety of southern culture, from upper class to lower class.  Some of the accents were rather hard to understand at first and posed troubles in transcription. 

Two years later and I know what a cookout is, what a pig pickin’ is, what a dune buggy is, more about tobacco farming and fox hunting than I ever thought I’d know, and the accents no longer pose a problem.   And, despite my resistance, I am slowly acquiring certain words that sound southern.  When I go home, my family and friends tease me for the slightly different ‘o’ sounds I now use.  I never had a very strong New York accent. I never picked up a Virginian accent from college.  But, two years of transcribing southern voices and it’s slowly seeping into my own voice. 

My newfound mixed accent is not something I had wanted.  You see, I’m not southern. I don’t plan on becoming southern. I love country music and the easy-going southern life, but it’s not for me. This is mostly due to my abhorrence of hot weather, my remaining sarcasm, and my need to stay connected to my roots.  Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against the south and for the record, I would never live on Long Island again either.  I am just meant for the north. 

With that said, how did I succumb to the extreme politeness and the accent?  Just call it an occupational hazard.  In oral history, it’s hard not to live in the world that you are researching.  But, this begs the question: which has been more powerful for me, nature or nurture?  I don’t know. I lived in New York until I was 18 and then for two summers after that.  But I grew up as an adult in Virginia, Nebraska, and North Carolina.  Would I be different I worked in the north after college?  Maybe.  It’s an interesting thought to ponder: how much do regional differences shape who we become? Every place you live must offer some form of nurturing and environmental/regional influences.  Where we live must speak to and about who we are, whether as children or adults.

I’m northward bound in one year, but I must clarify that as much as the southern climate and I do not get along, I am grateful for who the south has helped me to become as an adult.  I’m also grateful for country music, which is my absolute favorite aspect of southern culture: that modern country music and the good old timey bluegrass music.  I love every region in this country, but I just can’t live everywhere – hopefully that makes sense.

[And for the record, I’ve never said “yous guys” (even as a New Yorker) and I’ve never said “y’all” (even as a Carolinian.]

Where have you lived and how has it shaped you?

3 thoughts on “Northern & Southern. Nature & Nurture.

  1. klandau says:

    Hm, okay, interesting question!

    I would say I have “lived” in the following places:

    Long Island, NY
    Hamilton, NY
    NY, NY
    Copan, Honduras

    Hm.. long island. I think it’s mostly the accent. I’ll never lose “waauter”.. and that’s usually the only one i’m ever called out on. sometimes people say after i’ve been home for a little while it comes back. what else about long island. i think living there has made me a more pessimistic person. thinking that everyone is always out to get me (because they really are) and take my things (lock your door!), screw up my car in the parking lot, rude, annoying, out for oneself. traffic. i think growing up on long island made me think that most people are only out for themselves and i gotta watch my back.

    Hamilton. what a switch. this is perhaps the most supportive, nicest, friendliest, optimistic place i’ve ever lived. small town, everyone knows each other. old-fashioned houses with character, people with character. people do nice things for each other for no reason whatsoever. i have a certain respect, or.. hm, appreciation for the small-town-ness of it.

    nyc: well if living in hamilton partly restored my faith in humanity, living in nyc fully restored it. people on long island are mean because they are trying to be like nyc, and they think nyc is the meanest place ever. people in nyc are actually pretty nice!! it’s a city, yes, it’s large, but there are people EVERYWHERE and you can’t go around being nasty to them all. there’s a sense of community – we’re all living here together. i think it’s partly due to driving, or lack thereof. there’s a certain humility for having to walk or take the subway along with the rest of the non-monumentally rich people. there’s also this anonymity in nyc – i believe that this allows people to be pretty straightforward or demanding when they need to be; in the end it doesn’t matter! there’s 5,999,999 other people. it’s not about hurting one’s feelings or having a proper comportment. it’s about getting something done and moving on. as a person, i’m not sure if i lived long enough to have it change me any, but i did enjoy the experience.

    copan. well this is more along the lines of what hamilton did for me. copan is larger yes, but the community is tighter. not only does everyone know each other, but they all know what they all do every day, at all times. if you’re not doing what you normally do at the normal time you do it, well, then, what’s wrong?! it’s a place of tradition. there’s so many things i’ve learned and assimilated into my own being but i probably remain unaware of more than half of them. i like to think that i take life more slowly now, enjoy the minutes before the hours pass. and of course the third world country aspect of it – when the lights are off for 10 hours straight or there’s no water for 15 days, i’ll live. i’m more social, more friendly since i think that matters more in the end than whatever work is going on – to both that person and to yourself. maybe one of the biggest things i’ve learned is that people are people. a guy living in a mud brick house, three hours walk from town who works in the fields by day and searches for wood in the forest by night is the same kind of husband and father trying to make ends meet as any middle class American. culture matters, one’s economic means matters, intelligence and education matters, but in the end, we ARE all in this together and we’re really not all so different from each other. having lived here and in the states (where there’s not only water everyday, but you can drink it!!) at perhaps vast ends of the spectrum in so many material and ontological ways, i can say that people are people, and all this ‘difference’ (racism, sexism, classism etc.) is just a bunch of, well, b.s.

    rethinking the question and this attempted answer, rather than how places have “shaped” me as person, living in different places made me realize previously untapped parts of who i already was (perhaps established genetically, or before age.. say 3).

    Therefore another question! : What have places where you’ve lived taught you about yourself?

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