Born in the USA

Sometimes I’m cautious when I speak. The complexities of responding to innocent, and what one would think are common questions, is overwhelming. You’d be surprised by how troubling this could be; speaking out loud.

I was at a bar I frequent called Black Bear Lodge a few months back during a local music festival. I stood at the bar, debated the two beer taps, then the red verses the white. The music came to a lull between sets and I just hung there for a minute. A nice gentleman standing next to me began to make conversation.

“Hey, how you going?” That’s Australian for, what’s up, or how are you. He was a Kiwi though. That’s slang for New Zealander. Regardless, I think the “how you going” is common language. Tomato Tomato.

“Hi”, I responded.

“Have you seen them before?” (Referring to the band.) “Nah”…

“Are you in the industry?” An appropriate question considering the evening was part of the Big Sound conference. “Nope…”

So right when I thought things were getting quite awkward due to my one word responses, BOOM!

“So where in North America are you from?”

Seriously?! Seriously?! One word responses, was not in the mood, thought I could trick you. Ahhh, he’s good.

So this is where it begins to get even fiddlier. Perhaps if you’re a fellow comrade from New Jersey you can relate, however, for those who aren’t you will begin to see how this question could potentially have one debate their very existence.

A typical response could be, and get ready:

New Jersey; South Jersey; Philadelphia; New York; New Jersey just outside of Philadelphia; New Jersey/New York; or even just New York , but then I get “what part?” and that’s when I respond “the Jersey part”; or “like New York, New York?”, and I say “just across the river from Manhattan.”

Whew, see what I mean? Complications. Now you may be asking yourself, what’s with all the fluff? Again, I bring you back to the statement two sentences up; perhaps this is something that someone who’s only lived in both North and South Jersey can attest to. Here we go…

It basically comes down to who’s asking. I wouldn’t expect a non-Australian resident to be familiar with every state or city in this country, so it really depends on who’s asking about mine. If I assume they’re going to go the Jersey Shore route, I avoid the word “Jersey” at all costs. Then there’s the whole phony “joysy” nonsense if I do decide to speak the word, and I normally respond with, yeah, because clearly that’s how I talk. The whole Jersey Shore fiasco, have I been there? Is it really like that? Are your friends like “the Situation”? My response is, I grew up going to the jersey shore, however it’s not like that, but that does exist.

I feel like I’m back in college in Baltimore, or should I be more specific to avoid any further confusion, Towson, MD, defending the fact that I’m from South Jersey, not North Jersey and they’re totally two different worlds! Anyone can tell you that. But that was also at a time that anything north of Trenton was considered North Jersey and all of Central Jersey got left out of the equation all together.

Then I moved North. I think I wrote a blog about it back when MySpace was still an active medium of communication, and that was when I first moved to <insert relative excuse for living in North Jersey>, I’ll be more specific, Hoboken, that I felt inspired to write about that fact that yes, I actually now live in North Jersey. Perhaps you don’t feel the impact yet.

Let me clarify. South Jersey is where people who support Philadelphia sports teams live. Suburbia is filled with summers “down the shore”, but to be more exact, the Atlantic City to Cape May coastline. South Jerseyians eat cheese steaks while watching the Phillies, get hoagies from Wawa before going to concerts in Camden, the 2nd most dangerous city in the whole country, and get fresh produce from roadside farm stands. In South Jerseyian eyes, North Jersey folk speak with funny accents only seen in TV, they’re filled with muscled up Guido’s, and support New York Sports teams, the enemy. I will admit that some of the above is stereotypical, and some of the above is also reality. These worlds are vastly different, and both think the other has it all wrong. This is coming from a state whose population is a bit under 9 million however you can drive the distance top to bottom in less than 5 hours.

Having newly famous, thank you reality TV, Cake Boss’ Carlos Bakery a block from my office and the birthplace of Frank Sinatra under my doorstep (not literally) didn’t help my cause. And get this; rumors are that the Jersey Shore cast is coming to Jersey City – stop ruining it for us all, please!

Now, I’d like to disclaim that I’m not saying I’m not “proud” of growing up in New Jersey. I had a fun filled childhood in middle class suburbia on a street with a kid around the same age in every house on the block and summer nights spent playing jailbreak, however, what I am left with while traveling the globe is the sour taste of the only association with the word Jersey is Jersey Shore; Philadelphia, poor sportsmanship; and New York, tourist haven Time Square. For example, I just Googled the statements “Jersey”, “Jersey quotes” and “famous New Jersey phrases” to be inspired for a title for this blog, and the first two pages of entries were specific to the show Jersey Shore. See what I’m getting at? What happened to Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi people?

So the conversation will typically start like this: Where are you from? And, to keep it simple before all of the above comes in to play, it’s a darn hard task of responding awkwardly “America”, “the US”, or “the States”. Regardless of which association I choose, I am undoubtedly greeted with, “Well obviously, but which part?” Yes, my accent usually gets me brownie points.  I’m just grateful when I don’t get the “Oh, I thought you were Canadian”, because, don’t get me started there.


One thought on “Born in the USA

  1. Geraldine says:

    I hear you. Fortunately when I find myself in similar situations I can respond with an authoritative “Brooklyn!” Though I have been shocked by how many times that fails to illicit the look of awe I expect it too.

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