I wanted to add a second part to the title of this entry to the effect of: Circumstantial Observations and Some Airy and Unfounded Speculations on the Cultural Dissimilarities between New England and the Mid-Atlantic Region and Other Broad Brush-strokes but there was no room.
You see, my wife took a corporate job in New England and I was forced to come along, along for the ride if nothing else. To be truthful, that's how it turned out having spent most of that time unemployed since jobs in my former field are scarce where we've come.
In Delaware, let's just say I was responsible for some half-dozen old and retired policemen and soldiers in an unspecified job setting. Nowadays, it's cooking (which I love) and housework (which you can have) and writing a fantasy novel of a very self-serving nature which I hope will result in an unusual retelling of a Buddhist legend largely unknown in our climes.
But I was actually reporting to a job up here, at first, as soon as I came to the Land of Damn Yankees, before I was absolutely forced to flee, running for my life, to put it metaphorically. I had not been employed there long before I very quickly realized I was "a stranger in a strange land."
"What?" you say. "You speak as though you were transferred to Nepal. Only the most squeamish of wimps would talk like this! Cultural dissimilarites between New England and the Mid-Atlantic?! Quit wasting my time!"
Au contraire, mon ami.
My first clue that I had actually departed from a familiar culture was in the manner of professional conversation. Let me explain. As I was being being trained for a job up here, I quickly found myself in a state of "cultural vertigo" because of the odd fashion in which people spoke and addressed one another at work.
For example, I was talking to a young man on the job who had been charged with training me--a very sharp lad. Suddenly, he started to ask questions about the site. I looked at him quizzically. Not because I didn't know the answers, but because it felt so unusual. I looked at him for a moment because I had to verify that the questions were not rhetorical, where it is expected they ought not to be actually answered in normal discourse.
But they were not rhetorical. Wow, was I flabbergasted! It was actually a real oral quiz! I was in fact suddenly being subjected to the Socratic Method, where someone questions a person on fine points of assumptions for purposes of reinforcing a learning process.
I hear you talking, reader. "Well, he was training you, wasn't he, you dumb Southerner? I find that rather astute. There should be more of that in America, goddam it! Why when I was a young man, I...." Don't misunderstand. I am not at all saying that the Socratic Method is bad or is not effective, or even that it should not be immediately implemented all over the country and throughout the schools.
But it was just a very strange and embarassing fact that I had not experienced that kind of an interchange before. By more southerly standards, the act of wielding the Socratic Method on an unsuspecting victim is considered...well, rude, discourteous (this is only my own persepective which may be erroneous) and showing a lack of grace. Conversely, I suppose New Englanders find their southern neighbors perhaps flippant, insincere and soft--particularly in the head.
Whatever notion I had that this "Socratic treatment" was the personal peculiarity of the young lad was quickly dispelled. I talked to a superior soon after this, and lo and behold, he started using the Socratic Method on me. I was at a terrible disadvantage, as I felt it, and I had the immediate feeling that I was like some lab animal with its innards opened. My wife also described the similar Socratic procedure in play at her job. Very peculiar, but strangely consistent!
These people are nothing if not thorough, you had to give them that. But they were often thorough in ways that, quite frankly, took a lot of getting used to.
One topic that engrosses me more than most is that of different cultural methods for castigating shortcomings in others which have to be addressed: for correcting persons in need of correction, whether for errors of logic, performance or behavior. Various cultures have different ways of going about this bitter business which I find as unsavory as wormwood myself, though indeed a necessary evil. I particularly dislike people who seem to get off on the activity to broaden their own ego. And the mere thought of corporal forms of this stagger my mind, and I believe some cultures still practice face-slapping, very loud shouting, and even shoving.
However, I could admit that in the Mid-Atlantic, castigation is perhaps underdone and neglected too much. The region may very well suffer from not exhibiting a good castigation in season. For there, it is very much the custom not to berate a fellow too harshly (except at a Flyers game) and more importantly, too quickly. More commonly, people dance around issues like revelers around maypoles, and that only when the appropriate festival has arrived.
New England, on the other hand, does not suffer from this ailment.
A shortcoming on the part of an individual is met with swift and sure force. Of course, if you come from the Mid-Atlantic and are met with this custom, you may find it disorienting to a huge degree. At my job here, I would have to say (only by Mid-Atlantic standards, mind you) that I was treated worse than a cur on a few notable occasions. In fact, I had no choice but to consider it the worst treatment I had ever received at a job ever, at least as far as my perceptions were concerned. Many folks here are brusque, there can be no doubt.
Shouting, loud denunciation, and open and expedient castigation are all in full effect here, for better or for worse. It gets to be such that I can imagine any human being would just get used to it, since after all it's the order of the day. One would develop a "thick skin" and this mode will soon pass for normal. Enough of it and you will develop the hide of a pachyderm.
But before you can get to that phase, it's a hard road. I often find myself feeling out of sorts. You can't help it, really: all that interpreting the ways here according to the cultural lexicon back home. Of course, the Mid-Atlantic's prescriptions for certain behaviors have indeed troubled people who've come there from foreign places.
I remember a woman from Iran who went to a dojo I trained at in the Delaware Valley. She complained to me one day that she and others from countries like Germany found it unsettling that people's faults were not expressed to their faces quickly and fiercely enough, and it was a tendency she thought endemic to the region. One never knew where he or she stood among their fellows. Well, being a local, I heard this and blinked as though to reply, "And.......?" Suffice it to say I had yet to live anywhere else at the time and had not yet been expanded by the experience of this.....