Even though I’ve never visited New York for more than a week, much less lived there, I keep being told, “You belong in New York.” (Note: I also apparently belong in Canterbury, London, Denver, Ohio, and Madison, WI, so I’m taking that with a grain of salt.) Of course, there’s a large body of evidence for that statement. For example: I like baseball, and NYC has, I’m told, a couple of baseball teams. I’m a liberal, and, if you didn’t know, Nashville is at best moderate. And, apparently, I’m standoffish.
Now, this last one I have to take issue with. There’s a big difference between standoffish and what I am.
I call myself reserved. Outside of the office, school, or when I’m with family and friends, I’d rather not give my life story to everyone I meet. To put it another way, when I’m walking my dog in the morning and evening, listening to music with headphones on and blaring, I don’t want to stop for a conversation. This, apparently, makes me a jerk.
See, for those of you who don’t live in the South, day-to-day interactions down here take the form of loud conversation for ten, fifteen minutes and then, after that, arriving at the point of the conversation.
Which, you know, is all well and good if I know you well and we’re out for some drinks. However, if I’m out doing something, and you stop me in my tracks by saying, “Hey, can I ask you a favor?” and then proceed to ask about my mother, my dog, brother, writing, music interests, last time I had a fever, then we have issues. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to you (though I might not), it’s that I’d rather get the favor out of the way first. The way I see it, we’re both mature enough that we can talk to each other on a level that doesn’t require fifteen minutes of shooting the shit before getting to the point.
And that’s why I apparently belong in New York (or London, for that matter): I’ve got a lot on my mind (note that I didn’t say it was important) and I like to use the time I spend walking around from point A to point B figuring it out.
Now, our hypothetical conversation wouldn’t be a problem if we were discussing something I’m interested in, but my interests are such that anyone who’s not a writer or an academic would think of them as uninteresting. They belong in places where football and church are subjects that are met with nothing but scorn.
Once, I was in a class at UT. The professor had moved down from the Northeast and she spent a good portion of one of the first classes talking about the differences between her home and the South. And, guess what, this talkiness came up pretty much off the bat. Look: It’s not a bad thing, it’s just an annoying thing. If, for example, I am a tenant in an apartment complex and you are the landlord. A pipe has burst in my apartment for the nth time, sending disgusting water everywhere. I, justifiably, am livid. It takes a while to work up a good rage and then pair it with a list of grievances throughout an entire tenancy, so when I storm down to the office to have at you with such a tirade you’ve never heard, only to have it derailed by your infuriating friendliness, that’s not Southern Hospitality, that’s a douchebag thing to do. Defenders of the Ways of the South, you can make excuses all you want, but what it all boils down to is you’re afraid of some good old fashioned American confrontation.
(That right there brings up an interesting point, as a lot of the Christians and Republicans here in the South are happy to engage you in heated arguments about religion and politics, but the second it goes from that to anything else, everything is sunshine and gumdrops again. It’s insane. And, by association, anyone who can flip the rage switch off that quickly is insane.)
But let’s back up for a minute, as I’m sure I’ve gone and infuriated a few people by stating that opinion in conjunction with Republicans and Christians. Essentially, what I want is for people to stop coming up to me at random and starting conversations. If I’m in a setting where I’m going to see you more than one or two times a week – even if that means I’m going to the same coffee shop multiple times a week and you’re the barista – that’s fine. That’s kosher. But if you come up to me outside there, neighbor, and I’ve got my headphones on, you’re not drawing me into the fold. You’re not making me a part of the neighborhood. You’re making my blood pressure rise as I’m trying to jerk my extremely friendly dog away from you so I can continue on my way without having to talk about how hot it is even though it’s October.
Basically: Not everyone’s automatically your friend. To Southerners, that makes me standoffish. To everyone else, I hope, that makes me reserved. If you want to talk about books, have an intelligent debate about religion (not limited to “I believe and you should too”), or talk about how much the Astros suck this year, then we can go to the next level. Unless we have business to take care off. Let’s take care of that first, shall we?