Provincialism in the Purest Sense of the Word

One of my personal pet peeves involves people from other places who think that wherever they live is the only civilized place there is, and while frequently never having travelled to Texas, proceed to tell me all about its pitfalls. I remember once being at a party in Westchester Co (upscale, suburban NYC) with a lot of yuppie types who worked in the publishing and arts industry. One woman said to me, "You must be relieved to move away from the desert." Now, this woman knew I had just moved there from Houston, which has a tropical coastal climate similar to Rangoon, and so I replied, "While I am excited to be in New York, not all of Texas is a desert. Only the furthermost western areas are like that." She countered with,"but it's so close." Now I know, to be charitable, she : 1)had no idea what she was talking about, b)was just trying to make conversation, c)was probably trying to save face, and d) I was feeling ornery. But really? The conversation took a turn for the worse, when she said,"But Arizona is a desert!" To which I replied, "Um, gee, Arizona is over 1000 miles away from Houston !" (1,174 miles from Houston to Phoenix, most of it still in Texas.) I do realize all this poor woman had to go on were her experiences driving from Conn to N.Y. To N.J., and thinking that Texas, N.M. And AZ were of similar scale. But this was supposedly an intellectual, artistic gathering, I was alarmed by her lack of basic geographic knowledge.

It's not just New Yorkers, the ignorance about Texas and Texans is pervasive. Upon meeting my future father-in-law for the first time, he greeted me with a dismissive "Welcome to the big city". He lived in suburban Washington, D.C. at the time (population 632,323 including suburbs) and I lived in Dallas-Ft Worth (population 6,700,991 including suburbs- 4th largest urban area in America, and ten times that of Washington, D.C.) Now I do know that Washington is the Capitol of the U.S., and thus truly the center of the world (to Americans), but a more accurate greeting could have been "Welcome to our nations Capitol!" or "Welcome to the center of the universe!"

Once when I was in consumer sales I was at a corporate meeting in Cincinnati Ohio. All the young sales managers got into a heated argument at a bar one night over who was the most educated and spoke most eloquently. The conversation quickly turned from trying to out rhetoric each other, into ridiculing each other...There were many insults aimed at various regional dialects, even though most of us had worked diligently to lose the one we were born with. (Who decides which regional dialect sounds the least educated? Why is a New Jersey or Alabama dialect considered more intelligent than a Texas accent?) As the evening progressed, tempers heated up, and I found myself defending my use of the word "stuff" by quoting Shakespeare :

 "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

Every one's mouths gaped and their eyes blinked, like fish out of water. They didn't even know what I was talking about.

I do realize that people can't help being ignorant if they are not fortunate enough to travel. I blame the media for perpetuating stereotypes for humor, to make points, as a kind of short-hand for reality. Mainstream media frequently depicts Texans as a bunch of fat, cowboy hat wearing tobakky chewing bigoted uneducated idiots (and our current governor, bless his heart! who can't debate to save his life-along with news stories about teachers being forced to teach creationism as a science, have done nothing to dissuade that) ....However, most Texans I know can explain to you the basic geography and climate of major regions of the USA, as well as quote Shakespeare. Like many states, we have coastlines, mountains, forests, rivers, and prairies. We also have 3 cities that are in the top 10 (in terms of population) for the USA, fabulous universities, museums, airports, art galleries, restaurants, corporate headquarters, telephones, roads, and flushing toilets - just like any place in the western world.   

1 comment:

  1. I found this post when googling the words "provincialism" and "Texas" after seeing nasty comments on my local Texas town Facebook page regarding people from NJ. You see, I was born and reared in East Texas and my family roots go back generations in the state. But I lived in northern NJ in the NYC metro area for over 20 years before moving back to (a different part of) Texas a couple of years ago. It seems folks in my newish town are fired up about the influx of Californians. But, evidently, the more magnanimous among them proclaim their tolerance for Californians because "at least they are not from NJ". Most of the hate directed toward NJ and other northeastern states seem to be from people who haven't spent any time there which makes it particularly annoying. And given that I happen to like the state of NJ and my kids are "from NJ" I take a bit of offense. On the other hand, having read your post it does take me back to my early days working in NJ where a colleague once told me she had never been to Texas but she used to watch "The Dukes of Hazard". Evidently the Kentucky setting of that show made her an expert on Texas. How convenient! I had a colleague from France come to me for grammar pointers after discovering the locals on our work team were prone to saying things like "I would have went". My great, great uncle was in the first graduating class of Rice University, his sister and my grandmother both had college degrees and my parents and I have advanced degrees. Meanwhile, several northeastern elitist snobs I knew were the first in their families to go to college. But, somehow, I was the hayseed in their eyes.
    So, yes, even though I often find myself getting defensive at the snide comments of some of my fellow Texans railing against invaders from other states, I appreciate your post for reminding me there is plenty provincialism in the northeast to go around.