Today I had a pleasant chat with a woman who was visiting California from New England. We got to talking food and she mentioned that we seem to eat avocado with every meal out here, no matter the cuisine.
After you’ve been living someplace for a time, you no longer notice the various regional quirks that may seem odd to a newcomer. It got me remembering some of my own experiences when I, too, was a stranger in a strange land.
After graduate school, I moved to Boston to take a plummy position with an on-fire firm. There was so much to do that first day — so much to get — essentials for the apartment, clothes for the job, et cetera and so on and so forth.
My first stop was the market. I start to fill my cart with the usual basics: milk, bread, this and that. I get to the eggs and notice all the eggs are brown. So, I find the dairy clerk to ask for help…
Me to Clerk: Excuse me, I’m looking for the eggs.
Clerk to me: They’re right here, miss. [He points to the brown eggs.]
Me to Clerk: I’m sorry, I’m looking for the regular eggs.
Clerk to me: Those are the regular eggs.
Me to Clerk: No, I mean the regular chicken eggs.
Clerk to me: Those are the regular chicken eggs.
Me to Clerk: But they’re brown. [This I say in the “eww” fashion.]
The clerk informed me that all the chicken eggs in New England are brown and that white eggs come from far away and are not as fresh. Who knew?
So back to the apartment where I put the brown eggs away and get ready for the clothes part. My friend had advised me to get a blue suit to make a good impression for my first day at work.
I consulted the phone book (this is before the internet) where I learned there is no Macy’s. No Macy’s? Where were we? Antarctica? It was certainly cold enough.
There was a place called Filene’s (not the legendary Basement) which seemed kind of Macy’s-like. I called the store to ask the switchboard for directions (there were no cell phones, there was no GPS)…
Me to Switchboard: Blah, blah, blah.
Switchboard to me: Blah, blah, blah.
Me to Switchboard: Uh-huh, uh-huh. [Furiously writing down the directions.]
Switchboard to me: Blah, blah, blah. When you get to the rotary, go to the left.
Me to Switchboard: The rotary?
Switchboard to me: Yes, left at the rotary.
Me to Switchboard: [Thinking the “rotary” must be a building that houses the Rotary Club] What does it look like?
Switchboard to me: It’s a rotary. It looks like a rotary.
Me to Switchboard: Well, is it tall?
Switchboard to me: No, it’s a rotary! It’s flat. [She is clearly exasperated with me.]
Me to Switchboard: I’m sorry but I have no idea what you mean when you say “rotary”.
Switchboard to me: Rotary. ROTARY. It’s when the road makes a circle.
Me to Switchboard: Oooh! A traffic circle! [I had seen one in upstate New York.]
Well, I did find the Filene’s and I did buy a suit which I wore the next day. So there I was, all junior executive in my new ensemble, but the co-workers kept giving me the wide-eyed appraisal all day.
At first, I didn’t get it. My hair and makeup were neat enough. No runs in my stockings. No food in my teeth. Later, as I studied the other women, I suddenly understood.
See, my friend just said blue. She didn’t specify navy blue. And the suit I got was more of a sapphire blue. OK, it was really more of an electric blue. And it had a slit. Guess it didn’t blend so well with that famous New England reserve.
Then again, neither did I.
© 2014 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.