At my last job in Virginia, I was having dinner one night with my boss at a restaurant when the conversation turned to how people are different in different parts of the country.
He was from Minnesota. I had long heard that people from the Midwest were stoic and humble, but had never had much exposure to it until I began working with him.
I'm not the world's greatest conversationalist that's why I'm in print rather than broadcasting but I often found myself having to shoulder the burden for maintaining the bulk of the conversation that occurred between us. He was perfectly found sitting there quietly and eating. It drove me nuts.
On this particular evening, we were dining at a rather swank restaurant in downtown Norfolk. My boss spotted an attractive young woman in a black, skimpy dress, sitting at a table with a couple guys.
"I bet there's not a woman in the entire state of Minnesota right now dressed like that," he said. I've been there. He was right.
I, on the other hand, didn't really think much of it, accustomed as I was to seeing Norfolk area women's skirts rising and necklines descending to the point that, short of seeing one naked, nothing surprised me about how they dressed.
He told me the story, too, of a lady who lived in his town in Minnesota who bought a new car every year, yet she bought the same model in the exact same color. She did this so nobody knew she had a new car and would think she was putting on airs.
I encountered nobody like that in eastern Virginia. In fact, most people I knew bought the most expensive cars they could afford (or couldn't afford) and then put vanity plates on them to draw even more attention to themselves. Outside of perhaps California, I would guess there are more vanity plates in Eastern Virginia than any other region of the county.
It was the same with their houses, the biggest, most elaborate house they could get into even if it meant they couldn't afford a stick of furniture, drapes or even food, everyone had to have a showy house. It was as if being noticed is life's highest calling.
I must admit, I found the whole thing somewhat tiresome and annoying.
I bring this up because my family recently joined me in Norwalk after having finished up the school year in Virginia. On her first weekend here, my wife needed to go to the grocery store and spent about an hour and a half getting ready, finally emerging from the bedroom wearing several necklaces, bracelets, bangles and lots of eye makeup. She was very sparkly.
She laughed it off when our daughter suggested she might be a little overdressed for a trip to the grocery store. In Virginia, it would never have occurred to her to leave the house any other way. By the time she got home, however, she realized her daughter had been correct.
I, for one, find myself appreciating more and more the way we Midwesterners are, compared to what I was accustomed to in Virginia. I like feeling perfectly comfortable going to the store in jeans and a T-shirt, and otherwise actively trying not to be seen or, for that matter, paying any mind to what anybody else is doing.
My wife, though, will likely take some time adjusting, I'm sure. She's got a closet full of sparkly shirts and revealing dresses, so if you notice her around town please give her a break. She's not trying to put on airs. She just doesn't have anything else to wear.