06 January 2009

Chit-Chat

I've lived in Boston for nearly ten years now. It would appear that in that time, I've lost the art of chit-chat.

Oh, I can still hold my own making small talk at a party or on a first date or at a job interview or something. But I've become used to not talking to The Public. You see, in Oregon, you talk to everyone. The person who takes your order at Dairy Queen may end up knowing as much about your private life as your hairdresser. The teller at the bank probably knows what you gave your kids for Christmas. The checker at the grocery store might want to know where you got that cute new shirt.

Perhaps I exaggerate. But only a little. People in service industries talk to you in Oregon. I'm sure for some of them, it's part of their training to be chatty with the customers. But in many cases, I think it's just the nature of Oregonians.

It's not the nature of Bostonians. I remember when I first moved here and I tried to engage the woman ringing up my groceries in conversation. She looked at me like I was crazy. I tried again and again and again. I'd say I tried for a good few years. Every once in a while, I'd happen upon a naturally talkative soul, or another displaced northwesterner. For the most part, I was not outright rebuffed, but gently deterred. For a few years after I stopped trying to chat everyone up, I complied with the social norm but secretly felt hurt, as though it were something about me, not about the unwritten rules of society. Bus driver didn't say good morning? Must have been my orange hat or the look in my eyes.

After a few years of that fruitless stewing, I came to a point of acceptance, and, shortly after, genuine appreciation for the lack of banter. Why would I want the ticket seller at the theater box office to know what I ate for lunch? Some days, I didn't feel like talking, and on those days, with many people I encountered, I didn't have to. It was liberating.

On this particular trip back to Oregon, I found that I was hostile towards The Public for the first few days. I was defensive. When people tried to make small talk with me, my first thought was, "Why is this person talking to me? What does this person want from me?" Then I remembered that this is the Oregon Way. I tried to follow suit. But I've totally lost the touch. It seemed like everything I said was wrong. I thought what I was saying was right, but based on the "Are you a simpleton?" looks I got in reply, I must have been wrong. Saying "Good" in response to, "How are you doing?" was evidently too impersonal, but saying, "Well, I feel like I might be getting a cold, and I just can't decide if I should stay in Boston or move back to Oregon, there are just so many forces at play . . . " was TMI. I could not find the balance.

Sometimes I think that if Maddie and Riley grow up on the east coast, they will in some ways be little foreigners to me. People out here play lacrosse and go to private school and don't chat. People where I'm from play water polo and wear socks with their sandals and say hi to strangers on the street. After ten years, though, I've become more east coast than I sometimes realize or want to admit.

Every trip to Oregon brings up emotions related to going home, thoughts of moving back. As the twins get older, the idea becomes more urgent. They are old enough now to start making real memories of Oregon, to understand that it's a different place from home. If we are going to move back to Oregon, I want to do it before the twins start Kindergarten. Granted, that gives me 2.5 years, but the logistics involved in a cross-country move—selling a house, finding a job, finding a new house, saying goodbye, etc.—would need to be underway a year or so before the actual move.

I'm not sure what I want to do, where I want to be, what is best for us. But I thought about it more this time than I usually do. And I'll be thinking about it a whole lot more now that we're back.

*************************
Make that "now that I'm back." Maddie and Riley are at my mom's house, being cared for by their Moo (my mom), their Plain Ba (my dad), and their Otro (Other) Ba (my stepdad).

I got home last night, to a dark, cold house. I was unpacked and settled back in within an hour. I made myself some tea, then looked for the twins in the playroom. Right. Not there. I called to check on them. They were fine. I hung up and stood in my living room with my tea. It occurred to me that I needed some dinner, so I went to Whole Foods and got some basic groceries, plus a wonderful, overpriced salad from their salad bar. Then I went to the Toys R Us next door and got a few things to send to the babies.

At home, I ate my salad and watched three episodes of House. I dreamed all night of the twins and tried to check on them when I got up at 2:00 a.m. to pee.

I feel like I thought I would feel, like something is missing. Because something is missing. I miss Maddie and Riley. It was nice to sleep until 7:30 (oh! the luxury!) and I'm excited to go to the movies pretty much every night this week. But I'm looking forward to Sunday when my mom and dad will bring them home.

I talked to my mom today, and she told me that Riley had been upset about something this morning. In classic Maddie fashion, his sister had gone to comfort him. What did she report to my mom? "Moo, he need his Mama." And I need you guys, too. See you Sunday.

************************
We had an amazing time in Oregon. More on it this week as I get settled back in and resume regular posting. I went totally dark while I was out west, barely checking e-mail and obviously not posting at all. It was a nice break. I read four books! And all were good! Awesome.

60 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are so right about us Oregonians! :) I remember when I was at LC I did a ton of hosting of prospective students and a girl from Boston was shocked by the clerk at Fred Meyer chatting with me. She said "that never happens in Boston." I'm pretty chatty by nature so it fits me well.

And my unsolicited opinion is: move back! It is so nice to have grandparents close at hand.

Tamar

Goddess in Progress said...

Midwesterners are similar to Oregonians, it would seem. I also remember it being a strange adjustment when I moved here, and now (8+ years later) I have the same weirdly hostile reaction when I go back home.

I'm also right there with you on the "should I stay or should I go." Part of me really wants to move back to Chicago and raise the kids there. I'm not sure what it would be like to raise two New Englanders. Weird...

Hillary said...

Maddie's comment about Riley needing his mama made my heart melt. Your children are precious.

Glory Laine said...

I love living in Oregon. I've love to travel but rain and friendly people have made it impossible for me to live anywhere else. It seems your parents are so supportive and helpful to you. I can't imagine the relief it would bring to have them in the same state.

Sarah said...

I experienced the same thing when I went home to Northern California (basically, the southern Oregon part) after 4 years in LA and 2 years in San Antonio - they're just more friendly up there! My mother took me to her favorite coffee shop and knew all about her kids! The receptionist at my dad's allergist asked how my work was going! I don't even think my allergist knows who I am most of the time, much less anything about my family...

Elaine said...

I think it's not just Northwesterners but West Coasters who are like that. I remember that the biggest shock of many when I moved to Berkeley from the East Coast (New Jersey/New York) was the chattiness. It took me a while to get used to it, but once I did I really liked it.

beyond said...

welcome back and happy happy 2009 to you and your kids.
enjoy your time alone, you'll miss it (a little) when they're back ... and may i suggest 'slumdog millionaire' for one of your movie nights, the part when they are kids is priceless.

amber said...

nice to "see" you again.
enjoy these few days without the kiddos. happy new year :)

Anonymous said...

I am from Boston, now live in the Midwest. I am referred to (lovingly) as an "East Coast Bitch" because I am "Direct". I love the east coast :).

My 2 cents? Go home to Oregon. Be with your family and let your children grow up with thier extended family. You will never regret it.

Have a good time solo for the week!

Maggie

Anonymous said...

Four good books! Please share their titles...

OTRgirl said...

The lack of chattiness was my hardest adjustment moving from Cincinnati to Western Mass. I was used to saying hello to everyone I'd pass on the street. I enjoyed moving down to Baltimore and back into chatting with cashiers and fellow travelers. I find Northern California to be a mixed bag. So many cultures blend here that there's no true 'norm'. As Will Rogers said, "Anyone who's lived here longer than two years is a native Californian." (or something like that)

I'm all for you moving to Oregon. Then, I can add that much more pressure to Jrex to look for a job in Portland.

Sarah said...

I am from L.A. and on a recent trip to PA and NY I was so put off with the hostile service. Having worked in retail in high school and college, I naturally thank every person who I encounter in a store. They all looked at me like I was insane. It was sort of depressing that they treat each other like that on the east coast.

I am going to sound crazy but I had the weirdest feeling reading about your thoughts on Oregon. Like a voice inside screamed SHE MUST GO! I don't know I just got a good feeling about it. Hope it works out for you.

Anonymous said...

As a MA native who recently moved to NM and before that lived in TN -- the lack of banter doesn't spring from coldness or lack of caring. It's just a yankee form of politeness, a way of minding our own business and letting you mind yours. That's all :)

renovationgirl said...

I, too, would love to know the books you loved. I am in need of a good book. And I totally understand how you feel with the twins gone. It occurred to me one day that when I am not miss my son, I feel as if part of me is missing. I'm glad to have some "me" time, but I miss him terribly. Happy New Year to you!

Melissa said...

AWESOME, Snick! Enjoy the week of "you" time...
Hugs,
m

The Adventures of Carrie, Brook, Finn and Reid said...

Your post summed up my thoughts on moving back to Porland from Alaska. We just got back from Portland as well, this past weekend. I love Oregonians and I love Oregon. I don't yet feel as if Alaska is home, it's just where we live. Right now. We had so much fun, it was hard to come back to bitter cold Anchorage. I think we'll move back eventually, but like you, I'd like to do it before school starts. Yet, things are going well here from my husband and I (professionally), it would be hard to quit a 'good thing'. Lots to think about, I suppose.

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Yes, please tell us the book titles!! And welcome home!

Patti :)

Lals said...

Snick,

I'm a Portlander living in Seattle. Oh, I laughed so hard at your post! Thank you for sharing your view of us Oregonians -- how right you are!

Mieke said...

Snickrollet,
I have been reading your blog for quite a long time and never comment, but this one cracked me up. We moved from CA to Oregon last year and I remember thinking the same things about wondering why people were talking to us, etc.. It freaked me out.
Now I love it and how nice people are. I never want to live anywhere else, except maybe the south! Thanks for the laugh and have some fun relaxing time without the kids. It doesn't happen often! :)

s_ivan said...

got room for two more if you leave boston?

Snickollet said...

s_ivan:

For you two? I've got room.

Book titles:

Better (Atul Gawande; I also loved his previous book, Complications)
Shakespeare's Kitchen (Lore Segal)
44 Scotland Street and Love Over Scotland (Alexander McCall Smith; also love his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series)

Katherine said...

I have SO missed your postings, but glad you had a great visit, glad you're back home and getting to enjoy some "you" time and glad the twins will be back home soon. Happy New Year!

And my unsolicited opinion is to move to Oregon to be closer to family. The kids will love growing up near family and it will save your sanity. I chose not to move back home to my family when my husband died 3 years ago, and now I regret that decision. I have little help here, but my oldest child has now started high school so moving would be a big upheaval. Do it while you can!

Elizabeth said...

Delurking to say welcome back! And I for one would love to have you back in Oregon. Eugene is beautiful right now! Chilly and sunny. Enjoy your luxury time off, and enjoy getting your two beautiful kiddos back.

Anonymous said...

I missed your posts & am glad you're back! But, I'm glad to know (sorry I forgot) you were traveling visiting your lovely parents.

I live in the Pacific NW & I love it ~ yes, we're a chatty bunch :) Isn't the US an interesting place ~ we're so diverse!

Enjoy your quiet time & l look forward to your posts ~

Tam

H said...

So right about us Yankees!

We lived in Minnesota for a year and I would look at the cashiers and random strangers that would try to chat me up like they were aliens. I just couldn't do it.

New Englanders talk, they just have to know you on some level first. ;)

Keen said...

Plain Ba and Otro Ba--I love, love it.

When I'm on the road in fancy hotels, I sleep like absolute shit, even though I tell myself to relax and enjoy it, that missing them will accomplish nothing. There's just something so comforting about being home with my boys.

Enjoy your week, and hope the movies are all good!

islaygirl said...

i'm so glad you're back. i had just found you over the hols and was afraid you were gone for awhile.

i'm on the other end -- i grew up in Boston and spent my 20s in Chicago, and now i'm in Phoenix wondering what the hell i'm doing here and wondering if i could possibly raise my daughter here in this Godforsaken desert.

Rachel said...

Enjoy your break! I know what you mean about that something-is-missing feeling. I've never been away from Bella more than 12 hours or so.

Southerners talk to random people like that too.

Brenna said...

:) i laughed when you talked about Oregonians. i live in the portland area and totally know what you are talking about. i chat with everyone! :) the weather was totally crazy during the holidays too!
-brenna

Michele (Moosh) said...

Ha! Maybe it's a good thing we didn't have a playdate while you were here! LOL I grew up in Vermont but I am definitely an Oregonian after living here for 11 years.

At first, I was like "WHY are all of these people TALKING to me all the time? All up in my bi'ness!" but now I love it.

I get ticked when I go back home to Vermont and the grocery store employees are not asking if they can help me at every turn, or wondering how my kids are ("Are they home sleeping? You're here kind of late tonight!") or sad that my daughter is finally more interested in getting a free cookie than talking to Jesse, the cute produce guy. ;-) It really has proven to be a different way of life out here. My parents agree--they moved to Oregon a couple of years ago and they love the outward friendliness. I've lived all over the country and it's the place for me.

(I think it's the place for you and your kiddos, too, but I should keep my mouth shut on that as I'm obviously biased and want our kids growing up together...I've got one for each of yours, you know...)

Well, wait, would it be weird that your son and my son would both be married to Maddies? Am I overthinking this a bit? Ha ha haaa!

Seriously though, I thought I could read between the lines in your last "should I move" posts that your heart was pulling you back to Oregon, and I feel it even more now. I think you'll find your way, though--whether it's here, there or somewhere else. It's great that you're coming back to it a lot instead of resting in the habits of where you are now, know what I mean? It's sometimes easier just to keep plugging along doing what you're doing and I commend you for constantly re-examining your situation. That's not easy.

Michele (Moosh) said...

See? I wrote a book. Yup, I'm an Oregonian for sure now.

;-)

Roads said...

Yes, I know that feeling.

The house seems very silent, and you suddenly realise that the sound of infants breathing has become the nighttime soundtrack to your life.

It's funny how it goes -- some good few years later, I find it's me who now needs the landing light on when they wake up at night.

Enjoy the movies, Snick -- what a luxury!

Slumdog Millionaire is a real cracker if you have the chance to see it -- by British Director Danny Boyle, of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Sunshine fame.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! I've always thought I was more of a west coaster (grew up there and moved to the midwest). I've NEVER been a chatter. I just can't get the hang of it. I guess I need to move east instead of west... I wonder whether the southwest is the same as the northwest?

T. said...

It's not just an Oregon thing - I moved from Iowa to North Carolina three years ago and I'm still getting weird looks while I use my chatting skills with people!

Anonymous said...

I also agree that you want to move back to Oregon. I've thought that for over a year now.

Anonymous said...

Good to know you are considering the move. Our goal was to move back home before the kids were in school, then it was before they were in high school.

I'm sorry we took as long as we did, but glad we got them here before high school. The big city is just a memory. But home is now their "hometown" too.

Now that they are older, they feel safe to travel back to the city for a visit, a show, but love having home to come back to.

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

Yay! So glad you are back!

I totally get the Boston thing. When I came home from Peace Corps and moved there, I found the no eye-contact, keep to yourself thing comforting even though it totally goes against my true nature. Ten years later, however, it's probably the thing I hate most about Boston. (Providence is a slight improvement in that regard.)

I love Oregon and feel very at home every time I visit there. I can see how you would miss it.

Susan said...

Oh, so glad you had a GREAT time. I love to read....so relaxing. When my boys were little and got that time away with grandparents it was a mixed happiness/sad. As what your saying...you miss them but you are enjoying a little down time. Have a great week.

caro said...

Welcome back.

Plain Ba has got to be the best grandpa name ever.

L. said...

I grew up in the Boston area, went to school in SoCal, and it took me a couple years to get used to people talking to me. I had that exact same feeling--who are you freaks, why are you talking to me? Then grew to really love that friendliness and chat.

Interestingly, given Michele's comment--I live in VT now, and I still find it chattier and friendlier than Boston. Although it might be different in the more old-school rural areas of VT.

I would say that good friends in Boston are really good friends, though :)

I totally think you should go back to Oregon. Do it, do it, do it. I believe most of us are meant to live in the places we are from originally.

kate said...

I'm from NY(upstate...WAY upstate, not Westchester!) and I think we're pretty friendly folks! I usually chat a bit with cashiers and waitstaff. I DO get mad though, when they don't talk back to me. I think its rude! Maybe I'm just one of those chatty people. I think its nice to communicate with people.

The comment by Maddie was so sweet. Glad you're back! Happy 2009!

What A Card said...

Welcome back!

I'm a native east coaster, who lived for 5 years in Georgia, which also has the big "talking" problem (or I guess not a problem :). The first time a cashier at the grocery stopped scanning to start talking to me, I almost had a coronary. "KEEP SCANNING!" was all I could think to myself, with what I'm sure was a crazy smile plastered on my face. "If you MUST talk to me, at the very least, KEEP SCANNING!"

Enjoy your week, and good luck with your decision. No opinion myself...I absolutely love it here, yet still feel the draw to be closer to family...

uberimma said...

Boston! This is why I couldn't stay in Boston. I lived there for a year and change and never got over the fact that nobody ever said hello or smiled at you or chatted AT ALL. Then I moved to the midwest, got a job, and glory! I got into an elevator and a total stranger wished me good morning, commented on the weather, commented on my comment on the weather, and wished me a good day when getting off!

Much nicer all around. Don't worry, you'd easily get back in the swing.

shmo said...

So glad to have you back! Happy 2009! IMHO, an Oregon move sounds ideal. Complicated, frustrating and exhausting, yes, but maybe *right*. The hubs and I (pre-Jonah) moved to PA and TX before coming home to roost in Arkansas. Best move we ever made. Here's hoping whatever you decide makes you happy.

Watercolor said...

Welcome home. Or back. Depending on where you decide "home" is.

Anne said...

Moo, he need his Mama!?! Precious!!

Maya said...

I've never commented before but have read your blog for some time. I just had to chime in, I'm an Oregonian (born and raised in Portland) and have been living in the NYC-area for about ten years. I have two small children (4 and 1) and like you, feel the pang every time I visit what truly feels like home. I wish I could figure out a way to make it work in OR. I feel trapped where I am by jobs, health care, a house, so many things. It's so hard. Oregon is a special place and I also want my children to have memories there. I hope we can both figure it out! I really enjoy your blog, by the way.

Trenches of Mommyhood said...

I hear you about the Boston thing. When Hubby and I moved back here (to MA) from SC, I thought everyone was so RUDE and everything was so RUSHED! Now I'm totally used to it...and in fact, get suspicious if someone tries to chat me up.
Argh.

Eva said...

This brought up such memories. I lived in Boston for 6 years, then LA for 6. In LA, the bus drivers recognized me and chatted, as did all service people. When I visited Boston again and tried to say "hi" or "thanks" on the T the drivers looked at me like I was assaulting them. Same for cashiers, and the people behind me in lines, who looked at me like I was ruining their day by wasting time saying "happy holidays."

Jordan said...

what books did you read, snick? i'm from seattle and miss my family and the mountains, but after 4 years in the midwest and now 6 in boston, i've realized i'm by nature more of a new englander... suspicious of strangers and birks-with-socks (or, god forbid, tevas). i definitely don't view that as a strength... i'd love to be able to chat and make friends more easily. i'd love to move back to the PNW someday (in the next four years, before my little guy starts school). good luck with your decision!

Crash Course Widow said...

Move to Portland! Move to Portland! Move to Portland!

Okay, that's obviously totally self-centered. ;o) But hey--that'd be fun! And I know a great built-in group of widows to help you feel a bit less crazy sometimes. ;o)

I'm not surprised that the Boston-or-Oregon debate is starting inside you. You're coming up on two years since John's death, you're feeling more stable, more back to (some form of) "normal"...and I think it's pretty inevitable to start evaluating that "next level" of Big Questions About Your Life, now that you're past mere survival in grief. As someone who DID pick up and move post-widowhood, I can't give you any good answers if it worked or not. In some ways it helped, and some ways it made it worse. But that's just me.

That's too funny about the Oregonian ChitChat Gene. Hadn't thought about it much (and haven't ever spent much time out of the NW) but I imagine you're right. We're weird that way. ;o) Since being widowed I get soooooooooo tired of the chitchat too. I used to be really chatty--and sure, I still am in many ways--but since being widowed sometimes I just want to be able to sit and be quiet and NOT TALK. Maybe *I* should move to Boston. Tee hee.

And yeah, it's weird when the kids are gone for the first time. Anna's had multiple weeks away from me over the past 3.5 years, and I *always* "forget" at least once (if not more) that she's not here and go to check on her, about call her name to see what she's so quiet about, etc. Funnily enough, I never really "forgot" in the same way about Charley.

Glad you had a good trip! And FOUR books??! Wow! What ones were they? Sorry we missed each other this trip...but maybe next time!

Michelle said...

Yup, when I moved to Oregon from the East Coast (DC), it took awhile for me to get used to the more laid-back pace here and friendlier people. I was shocked that waitstaff in upscale restaurants were nice and approachable! I recall one day, ordering a coffee in a coffeeshop, a barista asked me why I was in such a hurry. Why, indeed?

I think this is a wonderful place to raise kids. I hope that the logistics work out for you someday, if it's what you decide you want.

Crash Course Widow said...

I have to laugh now, after reading all the comments.

But I can definitely say this: moving closer to family isn't always the magical panacea you (or other people) want it to be. You'll never find what a part of you is always yearning for. I was just having a conversation with a widowed friend last night, and we were both wondering if we'd ever be totally happy (whatever that means) no matter where we lived.

I moved closer to family, in an attempt to help fill the hole in my life, get help with Anna, etc. All of that same stuff you mentioned. It made sense. But the toll it took on my "normal" adult life--proximity to friends, to doing stuff in the city, all the things I'd come to love about my life with Charley (both as his wife and widow)--was too high. And knowing what I know now, 2 years after I made that move, I don't know that I'd do it again...or strongly recommend it to someone else in the same boat. Sometimes the home you picked for yourself as an independent adult is more of a home than the one connected to the "home-ness" of your youth.

Just another 2 bits to ponder over the years...particularly in light of all the "Oregon! Oregon! Oregon!" responses you got. =)

masteroftheuniverse said...

Snicollet,

I'm moving 5000 miles away in a month and hope to start anew.

Jeff

Heather said...

I had the same problem when I moved away from Texas to California's central coast. I'd come from a chatty part of the country to one where people not only looked at me weird, but refused to answer my question. I couldn't believe the rudeness. I understand in my head that it's just a different culture, but I had trouble not taking it personally.

Green said...

I was born in Boston, raised in NY. I *hate* the small talk. Hate, hate, hate it. Almost as much, if not more, as I hate socks with sandals.

I don't like to talk to people like cashiers because they STOP WHAT THEY ARE DOING TO TALK TO ME. I am not there to talk - I am there to get my shit and get the hell out of there!

For one semester I lived in upstate NY and hated that the cashiers would try to ask how I am. They'd get a curt "fine" and that's it.

And yes, I've been in the service industry, as a cashier, receptionist, etc.

jbondsgirl said...

When we lived in Nebraska, everthing was slower and friendlier, even the traffic. Coming back to the east coast was such a shock even though we'd only been away two years. I felt so rushed by everyone and people here seemed so rude! Now, though, there are days when things can't move fast enough for me and I don't want to talk to anyone.

Tough choices. I'm sure you'll make the right one.

Oh, I've also been meaning to tell you that thanks to you, our rice cooker is now commonly sitting on our countertop, full of hot rice. And I like to stop for a snack of rice with grated cheddar and black pepper, a la Snick. Delish! Sarge is in heaven, of course. That's how he used to live all the time when he was in Japan.

xo
Flicka

Cate said...

I've lived in Massachusetts my whole life and it freaked me right out how friendly people were in other places. The midwest is like another country entirely.

What books did you read?

Ali said...

Missed your posts! Checked everyday. Glad that you went dark though and got that needed break!

Anonymous said...

Being from L.A., I found Boston to be fiercely unfriendly. Oh, I wasn't a chit chat person. But, I still found the climate to be very rough. Made my homesickness turn into a malignant boil. I moved. Best decision ever.

Boston did shape me a little bit much to my chagrin.