We’d moved from Sparta, NJ, a town where we knew people everywhere we went, which I loved! Popping into the library with hellos, grocery shopping and chatting while selecting tomatoes, pushing a swing at the playground and calling out to a friend entering the gate. I loved the feel of the TV-perfect-small-town-charm. Little did I know that Rhode Island would be like moving to a large town where everyone is joined to everyone by a mere tethering thread.
Almost instantly, we discovered connections to both my hometown and my husband’s, weekly, new small world stories unveiled themselves. That know-everyone feeling we’d left behind was rebuilt amazingly fast in our new town and we quickly learned the state-wide personality and the typically Rhode Island quirks.
Officially, we still have decades to go before we’d be considered Rhode Islanders, and frankly, I kind of take pride in not being “official.” Though it shocked me one day to realize that my children are growing up here and will be true Rhode Islanders!
The language took some adjusting to, I couldn’t understand what a bubbler was, (pronounced, bubbla and means water fountain everywhere else). I nearly fell over when I was quizzing our second grader years ago: “Spell, ‘idea.’” He proudly replied, “I – D – E – R.” His teacher’s thick RI accent was affecting his learning and I quickly composed a song, the first in a repertoire, to counteract the dialect: “There is no ‘R’ in idea! There is no ‘R’ in idea!” Over our years here, there have been many times when one child will call out about another child, “Mooooom, we need to move! Anna said ‘Ka,’” Of course the offending child always vehemently denies any such swap of ending sounds, even if it may have slipped out.
I was baffled one of our early nights here when the local Gregg’s diner chain had chocolate and coffee ice cream but no vanilla. Coffee but no vanilla? When I expressed my confusion, the waitress replied, “Oh, yeah, we like to be sure to have the most popular flavors.” Puzzling. And I’m still not 100% sure what an awful or a cabinet are. I hear they’re wicked good.
Well-known tests to tell if you’re a Rhode Islander:
You believe that you have the right of way when making a left hand turn and that it’s totally appropriate to give someone the finger for going straight when you’re trying to make a left.
You have no problem being inconsiderate and pulling out to stop lanes of traffic forcing people let you in, but then you’re so considerate that you slam on your brakes in a line of cars causing a sudden braking chain reaction just to allow a stopped vehicle to enter from a parking lot.
You say, “It’s all the way in Barrington?” Everything in Rhode Island is easily under an hour point A to point B, yet you complain about how far everything is and pack a lunch to go to Newport.
You give directions to people using things that used to be there as guiding landmarks, for example, “You know where the old Apex used to be? Go right there. Then go down to where the old firehouse was and take a left.” If I knew where that used to be, I wouldn’t need your directions!
I joke that you could accidentally roll out of bed and be in another state, yet it’s not unusual for people to never leave. I could understand not venturing out of state if you lived in a big state like Texas or California, but we’re the tiniest state, it’s hard to NOT leave. If you do get out, the RI-Magnetism pulls you back in. It seems if both spouses didn’t grow up here, then the spouse who did wins and returns.
So neither Nick or I are locals and we’re a long way off from being “real” Rhode Islanders. I carefully watch before driving straight to guard against the left-turners and sudden-stoppers, I use GPS to give me directions based on the roads that still exist and I have no problem hopping between towns, north to south without planning to stay overnight (though I have caught myself saying, “It’s all the way in Lincoln?” an early sign of transition to Rhode Islandism) We still drink from water fountains in our family and pronounce “er” as “er” and “a” as “a” at the end of words (mostly).
We love our life here. It is our home and we are well entrenched in our community with no plans for packing up anytime soon, except maybe to go to Providence for the day.