Thursday, April 10, 2008

I'm just a familiar small-town Ivy-leaguer

I find it peculiar that several conversations happen repeatedly with people I am meeting for the first time.  And no, I'm not talking about the "Hi, how are you, where do you live, where do you work, where have you traveled" kind of conversations.  I'm talking about some pretty basic stuff that time and time again plays out exactly the same way, no matter the person or the location or circumstance.  Three in particular stand out in my mind, and I will take each one individually.

The first conversation goes a little something like this: 

Me: I grew up in a small town in central PA
New friend: Oh really, what was it called?

Me: I would give you $100 if you had ever heard of it.  McEwensville.  Population 314.

New friend: Wohhhhh.  How many people went to your high school?

Every single time.  That’s the question.  It’s gotten to the point where I just say the question along with the person.  That kind of freaks people out.  I have no idea why this is universally the first thing that pops into people’s minds when I tell them my town size.  You would think that some people would ask if we had a traffic light or a grocery store or inquire about how far I was to the closest mall/movie theatre/civilized land.  Nope, just how many people in my high school.  Over the years I have tried to posit an explanation.  Maybe it's just a universal frame of reference?  Maybe it’s because people just don’t have a concept of rural areas?  That my town of 314 is surrounded by a few miles of farmland on all sides, then another town of 500 people, more farmland, etc, and a whole bunch of these little towns all go to the same high school.  So the answer to the question is that my graduating class had 147 students.  146 of whom were white.  13 of whom had the middle name Marie (myself included).  But when I don't first explain how our backwoods school system works, people get REAL confused at how it all works out.  Once they have that figured out, then we move on to the equally special question of, "So, how often did you go cow tipping?" Riiiiight...

Or how about this scenario:

New friend: Where did you go to college?

Me: In Philly

New friend: Oh really, what school?

Me: UPenn

(This goes one of two ways)
v1: New friend: Oh, cool, I bet you love Joe Pa, but man, he’s getting old.

v2: New friend: Wohhhh.  You must be really smart.

Alright, let’s take these one at a time.  First of all, I long ago stopped caring that many people thought I went to a branch of Penn State.  And we're talking people FROM PA and people who went to Penn State.  Then I got over it.  But still, it's always a source of a hearty (internal) chuckle to hear someone say "Wow, I didn't know they had a Philly campus."  Right, that's because THEY DON'T.

More frequently, however, I get this big-eyed stare of awe.  Like the person assumes I fall at the top of the curve rather than the bottom.  Like they think I'm that girl who got in because she cured cancer at age 12 rather than because she was FULFILLING THE RURAL QUOTA.  Gotta love affirmative action.  Or is that only for people who aren't white?  (Did I cross the line there?  I have black friends, it's ok.  I'm pretty sure that Rob is the only one laughing right now and everyone else is offended.  Rob isn't my black friend.  He's my cancer friend).  In any event, given that it took me all of a semester to realize I Weren't in Kansas No Mahr, it's rather amusing to me when people go assuming I'm this high fallutin (which I can't even spell, by the way) Ivy Leaguer. No, I'm pretty sure I was the girl who read Huckleberry Finn my senior year of high school, not Hamlet like the rest of my college classmates.  And that I was real confused when people asked WHICH Calculus I took, because we only had one.  And its title wasn't preceded by any of the letters A B or C.  Right.

Last, but certainly not least, is probably the one that is the weirdest for me, simply because of the frequency with which it happens.  The scenario can be repeated on a theme that involves me in a group of new people or meeting a friend of a friend or chatting at a bar/party with someone, you know, telling random stories to help smooth over that inevitable awkwardness that comes with talking to a complete stranger.  And at some point this new friend will interrupt me in the middle of a story and say something like this:

"OH MY GOSH!  You remind me SO MUCH of this girl I went to high school with, you have NO IDEA, it’s like so uncanny, you talk like her, you look like her, it’s sooo crazy!"

Or similarly...
"Wow, I really feel like we’ve met before, you’re so familiar to me and I just can’t figure out why or where we’ve met."

So I’ve come to wonder, am I not unique?  So much like all these other people out there that invariably when I meet someone new I remind them of someone else they already know?  Alternately, is there something specific about my personality/look that is distinct in such a way that people find the similarity to another friend uncanny?  It’s bizarre because it happens SO OFTEN.  Like one time I was in the ER and the doctor (no lie) stopped her examination of me and said “Have we met before?  I really feel like I know you.”  Um, HELLO, I passed out in my office and was brought here in an ambulance in the rain during Friday rush hour traffic, can we table this “familiarity” chit chat for a bit?  Thanks.  I really have no answer, because I can't objectively assess the situation.  And I have never in my life met these "others" like me.  Though often this new friend will say, "Oh man, it would be SO COOL if you two met, it would be TOTALLY crazy, cause you're like, the same person!"  Great.  Thanks.  Glad you've figured me out in the 25 seconds since we've met.  

And that right there is a small chunk of the script of my life.  Played on repeat.  Over and over.  And over.


preethi said...

a) I don't get the high school thing, but I'm pretty sure I asked exactly that.

b) I typically hear, "Wow, you guys have an awesome football team!!" Uh, yeah. And I was fulfilling the Utah quota.

c) It's your middle name.

Amanda said...

hmmmm.....Let's see:

a) I still wear my "Not Penn State" shirt just because I don't feel like answering that question.

b) I filled the Delaware quota.

c) Once you said that you lived near the Little League World Series, I knew we were going to be best friends!