No Small Talk: Inside the Mind of a Philadelphian Abroad
I should start by saying that, by Philadelphia standards, I am perfectly nice.
When in my natural habitat, out there in the wild among you people, I’m somewhere between inconspicuous and pleasant. I have been known to save spots in grocery store lines, hold doors on the El and even, on occasion, nod good morning to the new couple in my apartment building.
Considering I grew up in the Great(est) Northeast, this makes me a downright snuggly Miss Congeniality.
I try not to travel any farther than Wildwood, but when I have to for work, it’s to another coastal city where I fit in just fine.
To wit: In New York, anything other than brief eye contact between strangers is off the table. Los Angeles looks the other way and pretends to not see my pale softness, which I respect. Although it’s a little cold for my taste, Boston eventually won me over with its aggressive apathy to my very existence. Good people up there in Boston.
This is not, however, the way most of our country interacts with fellow humans, as I recently learned at a resort full of Midwesterners in Mexico.
My problems started on the plane. The gentleman next to me wanted to tell me about his layover (so long!), the food at the Philadelphia airport (so salty!), and his thoughts on aisle seats (so convenient!). By the time he asked me about my job, I had decided he must be a bomb-toting terrorist with cold feet, trying to calm his nerves and blend-in with idle chit-chat. Cue the mayday Hail Marys, which I generally prefer to save for take-off.
Why else would anyone, in the year 2015, honestly want to get to know one more human being? This isn’t freshman orientation, buddy — what could you possibly gain from a conversation with a woman wearing knock-off Uggs?
But my row-mate was nothing, it turned out, compared to the crowd at our resort. St. Louis, Kansas City, Indianapolis: If you’re listening, this is what goes through the head of a lifelong Philadelphian as you attempt to engage her in polite conversation.
“All-inclusive! How ’bout that! We’re going to hit up the beach bar for happy hour if you want to join!”
Oh my God, this is a swingers resort. A swingers resort! They want to swing with us. And then steal our faces as souvenirs and wear them around back home. Expedia has done me dirty.
“This chair isn’t taken, is it? Beautiful beach day. Just beautiful.”
Oh, hi. Is your name James Patterson? Because he’s the only man I invite to the beach. I am confused.
“Philadelphia!? Oh my God I love It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Charlie is so cute! The cutest!”
And where did you say you were from, you sweet trusting thing? Iowa, was it? That word doesn’t have one solid consonant. If Iowa is actually a real state, I am going to move there and take all of its things.
“Good to meet ya! Ya’ll don’t mind if I change up the music, do you?”
Is this guy whipping out an iPhone dock at the pool? Where in the hell is he from that this behavior hasn’t gotten him killed yet? I think this is a Kenny Chesney song. I am going to eat my hand now.
“Wow, Philadelphia. I was there once. There’s so much fast food. Does everyone really carry a gun there? I can’t believe the amount of gun violence in the States.”
Oh hello, Canada. I thought your accent sounded funny. The only reason our fat asses haven’t invaded your country with our plentiful firearms is because poutine is disgusting. Once you up your French fry game, me and my boy Kenny Chesney are going to pay you a little visit up there. ‘MERICA!
I should note that Mexico itself is paradise, and the Mexican people are beyond lovely. Not once did someone drop a “This is Mexico, speak Spanish” on me — gracias, amigos! — and the temperature never dipped below 75. I’m fairly sure an iguana winked at me.
But even so, I have to admit that it was nice to land at Philadelphia International last week. The freezing rain had just started, and the customs officer was in a particularly bad mood. As he confiscated my Cuban cigars and broke them in half on the spot, I did detect a slight sparkle in his eye, but he didn’t smile or — God forbid — ask me about my trip. After a silent, 25-minute cab ride, I was back in Queen Village, where no one, obviously, had bothered to shovel my sidewalk.
Home isn’t always sweet. But it is home.
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