A few years back, an (ex-)girlfriend and I were in line at, I think, the New England Aquarium, when we wound up talking to a couple from Atlanta — my home, and where we’d just come from. My companion was from nearby Philadelphia, so naturally, we two couples were trading stories of things to do, and see, in our respective geographies, when one of our new friends asked me — “so where are you from in Atlanta?”
I’ve since come to dread this question, and learned to either hedge, or lie. Because with my answer – Buckhead – the conversation ended. You see, Buckhead is a wealthy neighborhood, and infamous for producing smarmy, entitled types. Neither I nor my family fit that mold, but it didn’t matter. I’d suddenly become a new person in the eyes of our line companions. The stereotype trumped an interaction that had been, until then, quite pleasant.
Similarly, leaving Texas yesterday afternoon, I was absolutely unable to convince a flight attendant that, yes, I was sad to be returning to New York. I miss my college friends! And Texas beauty is something that New York can’t replicate, for all of its charms. But she was having none of it. What could a New Yorker see in Texas?! Best hurry back to the big city… with an implied, “where you belong.”
It’s axiomatic that stereotypes are sad, limiting, and never do justice to the individuals they describe. But they’re also persistent, and very real. This, I think, is what’s always bothered me about the “culture wars” — “real” vs. “fake” America, and red meat appeals to small-town vs. big-city values. The more we’re told we’re different, the more we become different.