Becoming a resident, Part 2

Another part of becoming a resident is the realisation that local practices really are the most practical response to local conditions. That idea looks obvious when the words appear on my screen! But consider the ugly American tourist who says, “They do things wrong here. Don’t they know about [fill in the blank: Wal-mart, fast food, turn lanes, etc]?” There’s a milder version of this arrogance, and here’s my best description of it.

It rains a lot here, right? I paid attention to how people dealt with the light showers that can come from nowhere, even when the sun is shining. Most people carried umbrellas everywhere, but many toughed out the rain, wearing a coat.

I hate carrying things around in my hands, and I prefer to use a smaller bag when a bag is necessary. So, from the options I saw, I chose to wear a decent coat and leave the umbrella at home.

CAUTION: THE FOLLOWING MAY INSPIRE ENVY. The coat serves a double purpose. When the sun is out, it serves as an ideal pillow for a grassy knoll or a park bench.

Here’s my experience without the umbrella. I’m not just running from my car to the indoors; I’m walking a real distance around the city. I occasionally arrived at a store or a cafe soaking wet, and anxiously tried to avoid shaking drops on people and goods around me. My approach just wasn’t working.

So I started carrying an umbrella. And later, I noticed that many of the people “toughing it out” through a light rain were carrying an umbrella — they just had a different threshold for using it. When it rained a little harder, very few were without umbrellas. And the ones without had an expression on their faces that read, “Damn, I wish I had my umbrella.”

So now, I carry an umbrella almost every day. I walk through light showers while the men and women in fine work clothes use an umbrella immediately. But in real rain, we’re all under cover.

This post is about joining the mainstream. Eventually, one comes to understand the minority opinions and the exceptions to the rules. I don’t expect that to happen for many months. Many people reside in places — even their hometowns — without ever understanding the practices outside the mainstream.

When it comes to our last home, in Gurnee, I wonder whether I even came to understand the mainstream. I took a minority approach to life in the suburbs — even a dissident approach. Was that the arrogance of the visitor, condemning the mainstream habits of locals without understanding them? Or did I already know the mainstream, and so adopted an informed alternative? It didn’t occur to me to ask the question, while I was living there.

I wonder what I’ll learn here.

2 Comments to “Becoming a resident, Part 2”

  1. Theodora said...
    28 July 2007

    um…and where did you find that (those) fabulous coats???? :) Love ya and miss you!

  2. Theodora said...
    28 July 2007

    oh – and i know exactly what you mean, both with the mainstream and the umbrella (note: Gustbuster brand umbrellas are hands downt he best i’ve had – no question). I love to see how mainstream city habits cross social groups – i.e. everyone wears galoshes in the city when it rains here) it’s not really mainstream, it’s mainstream behavior. the beauty of a real city is that even where behaviors and practices are the same – people retain their individuality. welcome to city life big brother.