"The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal. For no rational reason the marriage laws of the commonwealth discriminate against a defined class; no amount of tinkering with language will eradicate that stain. The [civil unions] bill would have the effect of maintaining and fostering a stigma of exclusion that the Constitution prohibits."
As I was driving home from work tonight, I was brooding about this mistake I made at work a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a big thing, but I was chastising myself for being such an idiot – until I realized that there’s no reason I should have known better. As I have mentioned before, the place where you grow up determines certain assumptions you make, assumptions that don’t get challenged until you move to a place with a different set. I find myself defending certain ideas I have and choices I make by saying, “Well, in Wisconsin/Iowa it’s this way....” Sometimes I feel like Rose from that old show The Golden Girls, who would always defend herself with stories about Lake Wobegon or wherever she was from. And so, for your reading pleasure, I present:
ERRORS AND ASSUMPTIONS I'VE MADE IN NEW MEXICO, or MIDWESTERN MISTAKES
1. If you address a letter to someone’s house, it will reach them.
This is the mistake I made at work: a few weeks ago, we were sending out a mailing to people in the East Mountains, asking them to come to a meeting on February 12. There were probably 35 people on our list, most of whom hadn’t listed their mailing addresses. Without putting much thought into it, I looked up the names in the East Mountain phone book, and only called people for their addresses if they were unlisted in the phone book. Last week, about 10 of the letters I’d sent out were returned, and my boss was pretty irritated. “You can’t send mail to a person’s address,” she said, using a tone generally reserved for the very young, the very old, or the developmentally disabled. “No one gets mail at their house; everyone has post office boxes.” “Um, sorry,” I said, feeling stupid. It wasn’t until tonight that it hit me: why the hell would I know that? I come from a magical land where people either get mail delivered to their houses, or else list their mailing address in the phone book.
2. “I know how to drive in the snow! No problem!”
When I moved out here, I had eight years of winter driving experience under my belt. I had driven through some pretty freaking horrible snowstorms, including one so bad it took me nearly four hours to drive the 60 miles from Iowa City to Grinnell (we left at 2:30 am and didn’t get to Grinnell until 6 in the morning), with visibility at, like, two feet and semi-trucks jack-knifed on the sides of the highway every quarter mile. But. One big difference between driving in an Iowa winter and driving in a New Mexico winter is that if you go off the road in Iowa, chances are good that you’ll land in a cornfield. Whereas if you go off the road in New Mexico, chances are good that you’ll go plunging down some ridiculously steep embankment and end up bruised and broken hundreds, maybe thousands, of feet below at the bottom of the canyon.
3. Gigantic jeeps, trucks, and SUVs are evil.
Modification: gigantic jeeps, trucks, and SUVs are evil if they’re only manifestations of a suburbanite’s wish to pretend her life is far less tame than it seems. I’d guess that 96% of the people in this country who drive these monstrous machines do not actually need them. However, they’re necessary if you live at the top of a mountain and need lots of horsepower and four-wheel drive simply to get home at night.
4. “You don’t need a coat today.” Pt. 1
This continues to trick me: in the mornings when I take the dog out, I decide how many layers I’ll need for the day based on how cold it is in my backyard. Please note that, for the most part, this is a totally viable strategy in this midwest. However, the weather in Albuquerque is often completely different from the weather in the East Mountains. Tonight, for example, I left work early because it was a right blizzard in Tijeras, with big wet snowflakes, slick roads, and crappy visibility. This weather bothered me for all of six minutes on the drive home, until I came far enough down the mountain to be back in the drier, warmer climate of the city. Though I had been freezing my face off all day at work, once home I took the dog for a walk and didn’t even need a coat. Go figure.
5. “You don’t need a coat today.” Pt. 2
A few weeks ago, my new intern and I were strolling from the parking lot to the Talking Talons center, enjoying the balmy spring air and sunshine. At least, I was strolling and enjoying the day. My intern was hunched over and shivering, cursing the bitter winter. After a minute or so of listening to her bitching, I finally snapped, “Oh my god, woman, it’s in the mid-50s!” She nodded miserably. “I’m wearing thermal underwear under my jeans and sweatshirt and jacket, and I’m still c-o-o-o-o-o-o-l-d!”
6. “You don’t need a coat today.” Pt. 3
This weekend, I was at a conference in Santa Fe and it was legitimately cold. The temperature was in the teens, and it was snowing and windy. Leaving the hotel for the day, me: thick wool socks, boots, long corduroy pants, a teeshirt, cardigan sweater, long wool coat, scarf, gloves. Leaving the hotel for the day, my intern: open-toed sandals (!!!), no socks or stockings, thin linen pants, short-sleeved silk blouse, loosely-knit cardigan sweater. And that’s all. Being the paranoid midwesterner that I am, I usually have one or more sweatshirts, hats, pairs of gloves, extra socks, boots, and sometimes jackets in the back of my vehicle (in case I get in a blizzard and have to exist in my car for a few days, or dig myself out of a snowbank, or stand around talking to police officers after someone slides into my truck, of course). Raising an eyebrow, I offered my intern an extra jacket and pair of gloves – “You’re welcome to take an extra sweatshirt as well, if you’d like.” Understand that this was just a light unlined spring jacket, good for keeping out wind and rain, but not much else. Imagine my surprise when I came back to the truck to find that my intern had put the jacket on but had taken the sweater off and was throwing it into the truck. “Don’t you want to wear the jacket over your sweater?” “Oh, no, that’s not a sweater, that’s my winter coat.”
7. Given the state’s rich Spanish heritage and bilingual nature, places with Spanish names have Spanish pronunciations.
WRONG! Even though I studied Spanish for more than five years and had a good enough grasp on the language to get by in Costa Rica, I never guess the correct pronunciations of towns and cities. This week’s example: Malpais. El Malpais National Monument is in New Mexico, and whether it was this area or the Malpais Pueblo in Arizona to which Aldous Huxley refers in Brave New World, I am not certain. However, I am certain that “el malpais” is Spanish for “the badlands.” I was talking about the book this weekend, and said something about the savage from “ell-mal-pie-ees” when a certain snooty someone jumped in and corrected me. “You mean Maal-pie.” “Oh, is that how you say it? I just assumed the Spanish pronunciation.” “It’s not Spanish, it’s Indian,” says my know-it-all friend, as if I am the most retarded person she’s ever met. [For the record, I looked it up, and it is Spanish, and I actually pronounced it correctly.]
Other cities I’ve pronounced incorrectly:
Amarillo, TX (Spanish: ahm-ah-REE-o, Texan: Aa-mah-RILL-ah)
Santa Fe, NM (Spanish: san-tah FAY, New Mexican: SANNA-fay)
Madrid, NM (Spanish: mah-DRID, New Mexican: MAD-rid)
And so it goes....
The thing that really bothers me, though, is when people are really condescending and snotty about my incorrect pronunciations. I mean, for god’s sake, if someone from New Mexico were visiting me in Wisconsin and wanted to go to Prairie du Shee-ehn, I wouldn’t be laughing at them, I’d be laughing at us. That’s Prairie doo SHEEN, friend.
8. “Up” and “North” are the same direction.
Because Albuquerque is built at the base of the Sandia mountains, the entire city slopes eastward. Thus, if you tell someone to go up the street, they’ll take you literally, and go east. Naturally, “down” and “west” are synonymous as well.
Of course, this list is only a small sampling of all the ways I make a fool of myself here. One day, perhaps, I'll make a list of all the ways a person can kill themselves out here (spider bites and mouse poop come to mind, not to mention the plague), or all the words that have different meanings (hot sauce, patio, weather).
For now though, I'll leave it be, with this post-script only:
If you want to make fun of someone from Wisconsin, it's funny to mock their exaggerated long o's (AriZOna, MinneSOta) or talk about cheeseheads, hockey, hot-dish, Lutherans, or Mary Jo's lemon bars.
It is not funny to say "Wis-CAN-sen! Wis-CAN-sen!" because NO ONE IN WISCONSIN ACTUALLY SAYS THAT! Everyone from Wisconsin pronounces the word like it's spelled: Wis-con-sin. The only people in the whole goddamn world who say "Wis-CAN-sen" are the idiots from everywhere else, who think they're so funny by misprounouncing the name of the state in a completely inaccurate manner.
However, if you want to make a Wisconsinite fly into a homicidal rage, I've got just the ticket....