Monday, February 09, 2009

Becoming "Local"

It's not a really big thing, but did you notice that when a couple of Obama nominees for Cabinet offices had to withdraw because of tax problems of varying severity, that the President did an unusual thing? He did the "A" word - "apologize". In the process he used the "M" word - "mistake", and even the "S" word - "sorry". Not to encourage errors in judgment, but these words, pointedly never used by Bush & Pals, came in the third week of the Obama presidency.

In this country, moving to new places has always been pretty common. I got to thinking that we made our big move here a full three and a half years ago. Sometimes I'm still surprised to wake up in California, but it's also true that we've adapted and learned some things after arriving. The difference between succeeding and not might be as simple as a thing you could call "becoming local", which really just means knowing things that only the locals know.
Some things are pretty obvious. Wardrobe, for example. Making the wrong wardrobe choice after moving from Arkansas to South Dakota could be fatal. People dress in a great variety here even though the temps don't really range far at all. It's just that people have differing standards in our typical mid 50's to mid 60's daytime highs. Some need an overcoat, hat, scarf and gloves. They stand in line at the supermarket next to someone in shorts. Both are comfortable. It took me awhile to understand that, and that going to a baseball game in the evening, for example, didn't mean it would stay warm through nine innings.
You have to know about the local news, the local radio and TV stations and their schedules, the local stores and where to go for everything from a haircut to a new transmission. You have to know which roads are straight and which are winding and treacherous. Things like geese overhead are common here, and are lovely, but I'm still kicking myself for not finding the way to see a dead 70-foot fin whale on an obscure beach - something inconceivable in Iowa.
And then there's people in all their varieties. Local native tribes and their histories, however bloody, local foreign minorities and their contributions, the entertainment scene, and, at least to me, the local athletic scene beyond just your kids. Can you name the teams and their nicknames? In Iowa it was the Hawkeyes, the Muskies and the Beavers. Utah has Beetdiggers and Cavemen. Here it's the Lumberjacks and Loggers who play against teams with names like the Gauchos. Throw in the women's teams and it can get pretty strange. Lady Knights? Rams? Peacocks? Oy.
You aren't local until you have people you can touch for babysitting, dinner dates and rides to the airport. You have to know about local employers and the epic sagas of past corporate empires of the area. Have you been to a funeral? Taken food to someone sick? Tended someone else's kids? Served a good local cause. cleaned up a local mess not of your own making in a public area? You have to know who can fill out a foursome competently and which of your friends can take some kidding, and which ones can't.
It's a matter, I think, of knowing what makes your new digs special, not that the old digs were so horrible. People will cut you some slack at first when all your stories are about the old place, but you don't want to be known as the guy who only talks about it. Then you're just a bore.
And the ultimate measure of "localness"? Fixing your funeral plans. I'm not that local - yet.


Blogger allison said...

I like it because I can totally relate.

8:19 AM  

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