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Life travels a little faster out East

By Debbie Leffler • Feb 22, 2018 at 10:00 AM

A while ago I was reading a Facebook post from someone who had taken a trip to New York City. Despite its awesomeness, he was complaining about the unfriendliness of the people there. He wrote that when he tried to be friendly and greet people they looked away and did not greet him in a friendly way back.

Are Easterners really unfriendly?

Before you jump to judgment, always consider the culture.

I am from that part of the country and I remember well when I first came to live in Norwalk (decades ago). I was surprised at how people I didn’t even know would come up to me and say “hi, how are you?”

Where I came from, that just didn’t happen. It didn’t mean I was not a friendly or kind person; it just wasn’t what we did when we encountered new people.

This is a cultural difference, not a personality trait. For example, when we visited our daughter in France, the people there — even if they were only casual acquaintances — greeted each other with kisses on the cheek. That would not happen here, but it was accepted practice there.

I’ve been away from New Jersey a long time, but I spent my childhood there and in my heart I am still attached. We recently made a quick trip back East for my father-in-law’s 91st birthday. And driving in the East — I mean in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut — is not like driving in Ohio.

We passed a sign which said “congestion alert when blinking.” The sign was not blinking. However, the cars on that highway were thick and crowded across five lanes. That is not congestion? Yet out East, it was not considered “congestion.” I wonder what is.

Then there are the speed limit signs. Speed limit 60 mph? Forget about it. If you did obey that speed limit sign you would find yourself passed by cars on both sides. No one drives according to the speed limit. Twenty mph over the speed limit is typical; many go much faster.

And my favorite New Jersey-ism: the welcome rest area just after the Delaware Water Gap on I-80. It is almost always closed.

When it is open, it is wonderful. It has decent bathrooms, free maps of the state, brochures and a friendly person to talk to. Outside the building, there is a lovely lookout and space to walk around and stretch.

When we approached on our recent visit East, I was worried that it would be closed, leaving us with the only option of using the Porta Potties outside. However, this time it was open. Although under some construction, it was a welcome oasis before dealing with the difficult traffic to get to West Orange (where my niece lives) and then on to Connecticut, where the 91st birthday celebration was to take place.

Connecticut? Now that’s another story. Driving on the Merritt Parkway takes great skill to negotiate the curves while driving at 70 mph alongside Porsches and Mercedes Benzes — all the while seeing deceptively familiar exit signs for places like Greenwich and Norwalk — only remember, that is Connecticut and we are the Firelands (“fire lands”) and our towns were named for those Connecticut towns after the traitor Benedict Arnold burned the towns for the British.

By the way, out East it’s Gren (rhymes with hen) itch, not pronounced like the color green at all, with no “w” sound in the second syllable. If you pronounce it incorrectly, you will give yourself away as a foreigner. And if you greet people you don’t know with a friendly “hello” and a smile, don’t be offended if they don’t smile back. And if you follow the posted speed limit sign and people speed on by you, don’t be puzzled. It’s the culture.

People out there actually are kind; the neighbors in Connecticut stop by and help my elderly father-in-law when he needs them, just like we do here. They just have their own ideas about what “speed limit” actually means. I know — I was once one of them. And part of me still is.

Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]

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