While our writers take off on what they hope will be enchanting August breaks, The Displaced Nation will occasionally be reissuing some posts that, for one reason or another, enchanted our readers. Enjoy these “return trips”!
Mandy Rogers wrote this post — about what it’s like to be a Southerner in New York City — in response to Kate Allison’s “The Domestic Expat.” Since then, her domestic expat adventure has entered a new phase. She and her husband, Kerry, packed up pets and belongings again at the end of July and set out on across-country trip to their new home — in San Francisco. We hope to hear back from Mandy before too long…
I don’t always understand what people are saying. I’m temperamentally unsuited to the noise and lack of personal space. I don’t think I’ll ever completely fit in. What am I?
A Mississippian in Manhattan!
My husband, Kary, and I moved to New York City two-and-a-half years ago, when we were in our early thirties. Until then, we had spent our entire lives in Mississippi. We loved it and had a great community of friends, whom we still miss.
Making the move
What possessed us to pick up stakes and try out life somewhere else?
Kary and I met in the marching band at Mississippi State. I played the flute and he the trumpet. We both landed jobs at the university immediately upon graduation. But there was something in each of us, a kind of restlessness. We knew we couldn’t be content with staying in Starkville forever. Was it a passion for travel or a fear of growing too complacent? Perhaps a bit of both…
There was also a practical reason for making the move. I’d gone back to school in my late twenties to do a masters in landscape architecture. I discovered I really enjoyed doing projects involving public spaces, such as parks, gardens, and streetscapes. Public green space isn’t a priority in Mississippi, where most people have their own land.
During my graduate studies, I’d taken a road trip with Kary and my sister to New York City, visiting Central Park, Paley Park, and Bryant Park. The amount of green space was a surprise to me. It’s something my mother, another garden lover, noticed during her first visit to the city, too.
In the end, it all happened rather quickly. Kary was offered the first job in New York he applied for. He actually got it via Twitter!
We packed up our belongings in a rental car — our cocker spaniel, Callie, in her seat belt harness and our three cats in their carriers — and traveled over three days to our new home in the Big Apple, staying in pet-friendly hotels along the way. (We’d flown out to find an apartment just beforehand, signing a lease for one in Brooklyn, which several of our friends had recommended as a great place to live.)
When we first moved, I didn’t have a job so spent the time exploring gardens and parks in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island. Even now that I’m working for a landscape architecture firm in Manhattan, I escape to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden whenever I can to see what’s in bloom. My dad gave me a membership there just before he died. We had a complicated relationship so it’s a nice reminder of him and our common love of gardens.
The adjustment process
People still ask me: where are you from? They usually guess North Carolina or Georgia; no one has guessed Mississippi yet.
I’m still picking up new vocabulary and pronunciations. “House-ton” instead of “Hue-ston” Street; standing “on line” at the grocery store (in the South we say “in line”).
And I continue to be amazed that the number of people living in Brooklyn equals the entire population of Mississippi (2.5 million). No wonder one of our most difficult adjustments has been to the noise and (by our standards) overcrowding.
Still, there are lots of things we love in this part of the world, beginning with the climate. Thunder and tornadoes are much less frequent here. And believe it or not, even after this rough winter, we still can’t get enough of snow.
We’ve adjusted very quickly to living without a car. You can see and experience so much more on foot than behind the wheel. That said, I usually did most of my singing in the car, and I miss that! (I don’t sing around my apartment too much, as the neighbors could hear me.)
And, although the South is renowned for its hospitality, I am often surprised by how much nicer, friendlier, and helpful New Yorkers are than they are given credit for being.
Moving right along…
Despite these many “likes,” I don’t think we’ll ever be true New Yorkers. To this day, I always relish running into other Southerners. The past two years, Kary and I have attended the annual picnic held in Central Park for folks from Mississippi. There’s always a blues band and plenty of fried catfish, sweet tea, and other Southern delicacies.
Not all Mississippians have exactly the same values, but each of us knows what it was like growing up in that neck of the woods, and it gives us a powerful bond.
During the year, Kary and I congregate with fellow Mississippi State alumni at a local bar to watch our alma mater compete in football or basketball. We’ve made some new acquaintances that way, such as a native New Yorker who went to MSU in the 1970s to run track.
Like most expats, Kary and I debate about the right moment to move on and where to go next. Will we try the West Coast, or consider moving back south? Every time I visit Mississippi these days — I’ve been back three times since we left — I realize how much I’ve missed its hospitality, beautiful forests, and tranquility. Plus it’s been nice catching up with family and friends over hearty Southern meals.
Still, the hot, humid summer would take some getting used to again. And now that we’ve been bitten by the travel bug, we’re contemplating our wish list again. We visited San Francisco last year and liked what we saw.
Being mobile in America — it’s a trip, in more ways than one. Tell me, why do so many Americans seek adventure overseas when it’s perfectly possible to be an expat here?
Question: Can being an “expat” within your own borders be just as enriching as becoming one by crossing borders?
Mandy doesn’t have a blog but you can follow her on Twitter: @mandyluvsplants
img: Mandy (right) and a friend she ran into at a Central Park picnic for Mississippians in New York. Mandy’s comment: “My friend still lives in Mississippi but was here with her daughter, who was attending the picnic as part of her duties as Mississippi’s Miss Hospitality. My mom says I can’t go anywhere without running into someone I know — I guess she’s right!”
STAY TUNED for Some Enchanted Reading on Monday!
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