Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Stranger in a Strange Land

Whenever I come home for Christmas, and we gather 'round the tree with my uncles and aunts and step-cousins, there's a little family ritual we go through that is highly amusing to all parties, myself included. I like to call it: Roast the Yankee Traitor.

It started when I went to Chicago for my first year of college. Illinois, as you know, is not traditionally associated with the Union forces of the Civil War, but Texas geography works something like this: everything roughly north and east of the latitude and longitude of Kansas is Yankee Land. Anything touching the Pacific Ocean is a bit queerish, though it defies easy classification.

Now when I come home from DC, just as when I came home from Chicago, the exchange usually goes something like this:
"How're all the yankees up in yankee land?"
"Oh, I'm keepin' an eye on 'em."
"You let us know if they start causin' any trouble."
"Oh, I will. You know, they don't really think of themselves as yankees in DC."
"Yeah, there's people there from New York and New Jersey that think they're practically in the South. And you know, you drive two hours due south of DC and you're definitely in the South."
"Well let 'em come to Texas."
"I don't think they want to."
"That's right. "

And the closing is some variation on, "See you later, yankee traitor!"

It's all in good fun, and I enjoy it as much as they do, which probably explains why we go through the whole song and dance every time. But I do confess, when I moved to DC, I was expecting it to be much more yankee than it is.

Back in Austin, whenever I got off a bus, I'd always say "thank you" to the driver. Most people did, really without thinking about it. So when I moved to DC, I got off my first bus, and out of habit, thanked the driver. I stepped off cursing my silly provincialism. Here in the big city! Saying "thank you" to a bus driver! What a little country hayseed I am! How embarassing. But it wasn't long before I noticed that pretty much everybody does this here too. And the driver tells us to have a nice day, a good weekend, whatever. On one of my routes, there's a driver who knows people's mothers, knows where the kids are getting off for school, and it's almost like a little morning community. It was comforting to find this little touch of what I associate with southern courtesy in what I assumed would be the cold tundra of yankee land. But I don't tell my relatives at Christmas that yankees are people too, just like I don't tell my friends from New York that my relatives aren't all chest-beating rednecks looking to canonize President Bush. I'll leave the missionary work to someone else; I like relishing Texas pecan pie while making fun of the woeful state of yankee barbecue and Tex-Mex just as much as I like swilling chardonnay and mocking the parking lots and strip malls of Dallas.


Post a Comment

<< Home