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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Regionalist assumptions. 
20th-Jun-2009 12:06 pm
One of the most perceptive posts I've seen in a long time about what it means to be from the Northeastern United States (the authors says "East Coast," but he actually means Northeast), from the point of view of someone who is not from there.

It's a long post, and I heartily recommend reading it in full, but it can be distilled into two main points:

1) To people who grew up in or around New York City, New York is just a city.

2) People in the Northeast have incorporated a hierarchy of higher education institutions into their beliefs about personal worth.

Both, inasmuch as they are generalizations, are probably true. What's interesting, though, is how the author juxtaposes two "Northeasterner" assumptions, one of them wholly pragmatic, and the other decidedly not.

Yes, New York is "just" a city. For someone like me, who comes not from the city proper but from the greater metropolitan area (and who did not regularly visit FAO Schwartz as a child), Manhattan isn't so much a plausible place to live as it is a plausible place to go to work. Or take in a show/museum exhibit. Perhaps that is why I took so quickly to the loooooong commute back and forth from NYU, why, given a dearth of options, it seemed the most plausible--for most of my childhood my father worked in the World Trade Center. (Yes, the iconic Twin Towers pre-9/11.)

As for the whole Ivy League arrogance, well, yeah, it bothers me. There is no good evidence to prove that attending, say, Harvard as an undergrad over another institution results in a better life outcome, all other things being equal. I'm sure there is something to be said for the Old Boy Network you can plug yourself into as a consequence of getting your bachelor's there, but most eighteen year olds are not prepared to exploit it. I know I wouldn't have, at that age. Later on, if you're savvy, you may be able to turn other Northeasterners' school snobbery to your advantage, but even that seems a marginal fringe benefit.

I am occasionally troubled by the assumptions people make about me on the basis of where I come from. When dealing with people hailing from within the region, they tend to combine "New Jersey" with my last name and think: boorish, uncultured, possibly mafioso. Lately, though, because I attended NYU and clearly did not move cross-country in order to do it, people from other parts of the US have been associating me with "New York" and its associated glamour. I can't decide which is worse. I grew up in the woods, people; sidewalks are more civilization than I was accustomed to for the first eighteen years of my life!
22nd-Jun-2009 01:53 am (UTC)
Hm, but the guy in the post seemed to argue that people in this part of the country don't consider schools like Stanford or UC Berkeley among those high tier schools like the ones you just mentioned (and to be honest, only Williams College rings a bell to me, though I know I've "heard" the names of the other two), and I honestly disagree. I did grow up knowing those schools were prestigious. It seems to me this guy just has one douchebag friend whose worldview is very small and likes to rag on his other friends, and probably as a "joke." The "state school" comment is simply based on a general understanding that, in this part of the country at least, schools with state funding are easier to get into, and therefore have a lower "standard" of admission (generally because the legislature wants to give access to higher education to everyone who wants it), but at the same time, we all do essentially understand that just because a school is a "state school" it doesn't mean it sucks. It's a joke. Like ragging on Italians for all being in the mafia. No one actually believes we all are (unless they are a moron). It's not meant to be taken so literally or seriously. Maybe it's simply a matter of a difference in the sense of humor between people of different regions of the country.

If anything, I have found in my dealings with people from other parts of the country that they look for reasons not to like the northeast. There are two "outsiders" in my department at work. One is from Florida (the "voice of the south") and the other is from Wisconsin (the "voice of the midwest"). They both take great joy in ripping Connecticut apart for all of its "failings" at any given chance (bad drivers, rude/lack of consideration, blah blah). I'm not saying I wouldn't do the same if I were outside my general realm of cultural upbringing, but I consider their criticisms to be indicative of their own insecurities about their place in this new environment. It's like a regional scale of "patriotism." You defend the way you were raised and mock the way others were.

It rubs me the wrong way when people go out of their way to insinuate that certain people of a certain area, based entirely upon evidence gleaned from a very small data pool (two friends) are a certain way. I honestly hate generalizations, particularly ones that are made by people outside a group, looking at that group, but only focusing on the things that make them feel better about themselves. I'm not saying this is what this guy is doing. His thoughts were far too incomplete to even begin to presume what he meant by them, but it gives me that irritated feeling, like this is just a prelude to another ridiculously insulting rant against the "people" of my regional culture.
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