Is there something in the water? I mean, there might be—the amount of chemicals in tap water varies from town to town. Beside the point, I’ve noticed trends in the behavior of New Englanders, myself included. I didn’t discover anything earth-shattering that hasn’t been stereotyped before. No life-changing research conducted, but a conclusion drawn nonetheless.
To me, it seems that we have some high-strung ticks to our behavior that I don’t see as often on the rare occasions that I leave the region. Of course, it’s only natural for me to notice what’s in front of my eyes most frequently, but it still feels like it digs at something deeper. It seems to me that in this region of the country, or even in this region of New England, we are very nervous, anxious, frustrated, irritable people.
Perhaps regionally stereotyping the issue presents the risk of making generalizations. On the other hand, if I hyper-localize my argument, I could suggest that people living in the Pioneer Valley embody these traits. I’m a lifelong resident of the Valley, and it often feels that people around here have a go-go-go, hit-the-gas-pedal attitude. You would expect such fast-paced demeanors from faces in New York City, but why Western Massachusetts?
Again, without making sheer generalizations, I notice things from being an observational, writer-type. I think I’m in the minority within my group of friends and family as someone who doesn’t bite their nails. I don’t know anything about the psychology behind this behavior, but it seems wildly popular. I’m not one to criticize either, with a slew of seemingly strange behaviors all my own. I don’t think I’ve ever sat in a chair without shaking my right leg or leaning back of dangerously. It’s not a focus mechanism, but rather a response to being too wound up all the time.
So why are most of us, in our own ways, coiled like a jack in the box ready to jump out at any moment? I can’t help but notice that in the few times I’ve traveled that people don’t seem quite so uptight. The most recent times I’ve left New England were for the cities of Los Angeles and Albuquerque. Both host more travelers than the Pioneer Valley does at any given time, and the cultures are obviously different.
The umbrella way for me to compare people in the Pioneer Valley to these other places would be to say that here it seems like everyone is ready to have an aneurysm at any given moment. The stress level always seems so extreme. When I go for a walk in my own neighborhood or at a local park, I casually say hello to people out of sheer politeness. More often than not, the recipient of this act of kindness is sporting a mug so mean they could incite fear at Alcatraz.
In Los Angeles, the local strangers I interacted with were surprisingly soft spoken. Even when stopping for a burger at In-N-Out during the dinner rush hour, workers were calm and collected. They worked steadily, unbothered by lines out the door. For a hustling, bustling city no one seemed to be made into a ticking time bomb by the fast-paced lifestyle.
In Albuquerque, I took a walk alone around the city on a sunny afternoon. Strangers would say ‘hello’ unprompted, or even ask me ‘How are you today?’ It feels like a real cultural difference. Obviously not everyone can be blanketed as rude, uptight and pretentious in the Valley, but the difference is noticeable.
Driving is an instance where this issue comes to the forefront. Anywhere in the world there will be unsafe, annoying drivers. There will also be unreasonably safe drivers who treat the open road like more of a mine field than a highway. Still, people here seem to really flip a serious switch, myself included. In Los Angeles, my shuttle driver from the airport to the hotel dipped and bobbed between lanes haphazardly. Sure, others around were annoyed—but no horn slamming, no showing of the longest finger, no shrieking of creative insults.
Just a few days ago, a friend here in Springfield texted me to tell me, “Some guy just had a wild moment and threw a Subway sandwich at the car a few places ahead of me.” My friend felt the need to tell me this story because I often recall the story of a certain family member of mine throwing a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee at another car like a Pedro Martinez fastball.
Anxiety and anger are two discernible emotions. Still, it seems like I see a lot of this loose cannon, not-so-happy-go-lucky behavior quite a bit. Is it the harsh winters?
Regardless, I don’t have the answers. Maybe it’s just the American way now; it just seems particularly prevalent in this area to me because I closely observe it. It’s cliché, but maybe we all need to just relax a little bit. We’ve let ourselves hasten away from reasonability to the point that we have anxieties and frustrations over every day, menial, inconsequential daily occurrences that were never in our control to begin with.
Next time you have a nice, steaming hot coffee in one hand and the other on the steering well, enjoy it. Even if the woman next to you is swerving in her lane and talking on her cellphone, remember New England is beautiful. Take another sip. Hell, bite your nails or give the dashboard a few right hooks if you must.