Michigan Transitions – D

Once I’d been here and observed people and the environment, I tried to engage in a little amateur anthropology. Sure, being in the upper mid-west and being in the northwest, or even being in southern California aren’t really big differences. It’s not like I found myself in Zaire, after all.

But that’s the challenge, isn’t it? There are differences, even though they are subtle, and it is important to attempt to understand them in order to determine how you will respond to the differences.

Much of what I learned came from people already here. People who were born and raised here, but had travelled and spend significant time in the places I was formed in, were able to give me a perspective. “Where you’re from, things seem to be like this …, but around here, it’s more like ….”

I’ve had to come to grips with my “sub-culture perspectivalism.” That is, my perceptions are shaped by my formative environment. I was born and raised in southern California. That, right there, is a sub-culture apart from most of the rest of the nation of the United States of America. I am a “SoCal boy” and my formative years were spent living a mile away from the Pacific Ocean. The rest of the country was about football or hockey; we were about surfing and volleyball. Southern California, because of the movie and television industry, became the media capital of the country. Though all the media money was in New York, much of the creative talent was in my neighborhood.

I grew up in suburban sprawl, pleasant weather, and was surrounded by people who came from somewhere else. In fact, that “somewhere else” was a subliminal message: “Where I came from was not good.” That is, the east coast, mid-west, and south were places that were bad. California was the land of “opportunity,” meaning that the rest of the country were places of stifling tradition, oppressive conflict, and narrow-minded bigotry. That was the worldview that formed me.

So here are a couple more differences:

  • One of the natives here in Michigan says that they are not an optimistic people. Life is hard, the future is not always bright or hopeful, and it is entirely possible that things will get worse. This is in stark contrast to the “California mindset:” life is good, the future looks better, and we can have hope. I’m not really convinced that mid-westerners are pessimistic, but there is a mindset of “toughing it out.”
  • Mid-westerners are rooted people. They frequently live within 10 to 20 miles of where they grew up. They are in weekly physical contact with family members. Their friends have been friends since elementary school. By contrast, the west coast is full of people who got there by up-rooting and travelling to a mostly unknown place. West-coasters are mobile people who will not find it hard to move from Portland to San Francisco because of job relocation. “Our real friends will keep in touch and we’ll make new friends when we get there.” Family ties are a bit looser in the west – it is not as important to visit mom and dad every weekend. In fact, because family and friends are more scattered, it gives an excuse to travel frequently to visit.

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