Sunday, January 31, 2010

Regional Rudeness

An innocent click on Facebook is all it takes, these days, to start either a near riot or a virtual argument.

I "became a fan" of "I'm a New Yorker so rudeness comes naturally to me." Now being a NYer, specifically someone from "downstate" (Long Island or one of the 5 borroughs) is a badge of courage when you're west of the Hudson River. It makes you kind of cool in other's eyes, or so it seems. It also makes you automatically rude. Kind of like how being an American abroad makes you automatically egotistical and rude. I like to tell people we're not necessarily rude, we just don't have time for bullshit. And when it's your bullshit I don't have time for, I may come across as rude.

So my mother (native NYer) and friend (native OHan) begin a series of back and forth messages commenting on my joining this "group." My mother is convinced the rudest people are found in Ohio. In her defense, she hasn't traveled that much and I don't think rudeness is necessarily confined by State lines. My friend who has visited NY (Buffalo) twice mentioned how rude/dangerous NY drivers were. My lame attempts at humor to dissipate the tense conversation backfired (there was a reference to the Cleveland Browns that probably didnt' go over too well with the OH friend).

Granted, when my mother comes to visit in Ohio, and soon when she moves here to live, it sometimes seems like they're gunning for her. Granted, she sees more Walmart and second-hand stores when she visits than say museums and restaurants, and I think the location of the rudeness has more to do than the region. But this exchange by two women that are probably more alike than they think though they're as opposite politically as possible, got me thinking (and blogging now) about regional rudeness. Is it just relative?

I first moved to Ohio to go to college in 1996. What I think a lot of people thought of NY they've learned from the movies like Taxi Driver, Tootsie, Big. To understand a place and its people, you need to LIVE there, not visit. I was even guilty of this knee-jerk reaction. My first approach to Columbus airport I looked out the window and commented to my Dad, "This (pointing outside) is a skyline??" But I chose the Midwest specifically over my 2nd choice which was too close (4hrs) to NYC. I wanted to live in the Midwest to concentrate on studies, not cultural opportunities (read: clubs). Classmates explained to me why I might be construed as rude - I didn't smile or nod to strangers, sit near people I didn't know, make small chat with the person in front of me at the bookstore even though I didn't know them. These are things, I told them, that are considered agression in NYC. I once saw my dad and uncle get a guy's face on the Subway because they think he looked at me and smiled. Someone comes near you in a checkout line, you think they're taking your purse. It's not that something like that happens in NYC any more often than downtown Columbus, but it's just the street smart, always-on-the-defensive type of reaction to the world that I was taught from a very young age.

So maybe perceived rudeness is just a different way of seeing things. I'm not talking about rudeness when you shove me out of the way to get in front of me. That's just wrong, no matter where I or you are from. I CONSTANTLY complain about Central Ohio drivers - great generalization huh? In general, Central Ohio drivers do not use their signalling device, do not check blind spots when changing lanes or pulling out of parking spots, do not yield to right of way, and I've NEVER seen so many people go through red lights to make a turn. And NYers are pretty damned impatient - so if someone were to go through lights, I'm fairly certain I would have seen my fair share before 1996. Perhaps it's just the way they were taught how to drive here. Kind of like a generational pull towards bad driving. Just the same NYers are considered aggressive drivers. I'll admit it, I want to get where I'm going and get out of my way. It's due to impatience, not necessarily aggression. But if I want to go 70 in the left lane and you're in front of me doing 60, the unwritten rules of the road are for you to move over, right? So my tailgating might be seen as aggressive.

What's rude in one region is considered normal in another. Besides, how many times do we think to ourselves or get to work thinking how nice drivers were? Or how kind the person who held the door open for you as you left the bank was? We tend to simply focus or realize the negative. It's human - we look for what is different in our environments. We seek out those that are breaking the social norms. Without that tendancy, social norms would not be maintained, we wouldn't know how to act.

I hardly think an answer of "it's relative" or "it's evolutionarily sound to point out how others are doing wrong" would have sufficed on the Facebook thread. So I simply deleted it and hope mom and friend will just let it go. And the next time at 6:05am on I-670 in Columbus, Ohio I'll try to see the good with the sometimes bad.

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