As someone studying in Massachusetts, it would be as easy for me to expound on CT-MA relations and stereotypes as it is to talk about the essence of either place. I’ve traveled across the United States from the southernmost point to the Canadian border, from LA to Seattle, and from the East Coast Atlantic to San Francisco to the Pacific Islands. The further away I find myself, the less and less people think about my tiny home state. While Massachusetts residents tend to have a unique familiarity (and likely a few stories and some stereotypes) with Connecticut, the most I heard from anyone in Hawaii is, “Oh, that’s north. So cold! You get the full four seasons there.”
Yes. Yes we do.
The state is geographically small compared to others. In fact, the only one smaller is Rhode Island. (Being a southern New Englander used to crossing several states in a day trip, I will never forget sitting down with Google Maps, joined by my first college roommate to talk about our homes, and gawking when I realized how massive Oregon is, comparatively.) However, the area is full of people and full on the spectrum of more than one kind of diversity. The heavy congestion comes from a high population density and lends itself to cliques, heavy localization, and regionalism within some areas of the state. In other areas, it promotes a great mobility within thriving pockets or back and forth across the nearest tri-state border. The reality is that despite the small geographic area implying overall community intimacy, you can have any one of a wide variety and range of experiences that may be contradictory to another.
When I first came to Mount Holyoke, I found it shocking that someone from the “Quiet Corner” along the Rhode Island border could have such a different understanding than another acquaintance from Fairfield, or from my own in the Northwest corner.
We could all agree on statewide sentiments like, “What will they do with that one abandoned bowling alley nearby?” or “Yes, all the tiny graveyards are haunted” or “I feel like our Democrat governor shouldn’t be defunding state colleges and slashing school budgets in the most antithetical-to-appeared-values-way but why is he so eerily and noticeably effective in weather-related disasters?”.
We all note our museums and orchards, farms and golf courses, most widely stratified income inequality in the nation, the tales of local celebrities or politicians clashing with the opiate epidemic and homelessness, gorgeous historic estates and unmatched state parks, pockets of diverse multilingualism, the countless prestigious colleges non-dietetically bordered by towns with low high school retention rates and students underrepresented in higher education, and even the countless ghost stories from the most haunted state in the nation.
There’s a shared hatred of the extreme cold but a passionate love of snow, a mutual distaste for sickening humidity at the height of summer but palpable, wild-eyed enthusiasm for beaches at one’s favorite lake, pond, swimming hole, or ocean spot. There’s an excitement for autumn weather totally separate from the joy of rainy summer days breaking through a dreary, mushy early spring.
In short, like many Northeast areas, there are strong feelings about the weather, a deeply personal relationship with each season, and a motley of “ideas about people”.
I’ve overheard people who don’t know a thing about the state making claims about bad driving or bad attitudes (you are in an immensely congested area 50/50 between New York City and Boston, so spirited sass and colorful drivers shouldn’t be a surprise, and it’s hardly monopolized by the Nutmeg/Constitution State). Other comments that get me salty with a vengeance (in my own non-confrontational way) is how boring they find it. My gut reaction is that they don’t know what where to look, or what’s to offer – the restaurants alone should occupy a fascinating weekend, not to mention the state parks, the Mystic tourism area, the charming theatre scene, the nicer beaches at the Sound, spooky stories to check out, vineyards, and quaint, exemplary New England towns full of inns and history that inspired the likes of Gilmore Girls. And yes, plenty of antiquing, historic landmarks, great American public figure’s home-museums, and golfing for that crowd (you know who I’m talking about).
My own great-aunt’s house was sanctioned off by a robust and fierce Historical Society, freezing and inevitably halting desperately-needed renovations to update her home, an exact replica of John Brown house (…might as well get used to saying it now: “Only in Connecticut”.) I’m related to an alleged ghost in a century-old local cemetery that’s now tucked far into in a landowner’s private acreage and inaccessible to the public, and most of the barely-labeled, dilapidated back-roads graveyards are filled with relatives from here and there. My father probably could recite an overly specific story about any one of them, though the plots my family claims affiliation to t must be climbing towards the hundreds by now. The other half of his family are first-generation Polish immigrant grandparents. Regardless of the fresh blood in the New World, the reality is that if you have any ties here in one of the oldest colonized states in the nation, they tend to be roots that run as deep as you can fathom. This is hardly unique to my family.
Just speaking for my own hometown, innumerable locals live in homes their grandparents or great-grandparents built. Others settle for the same neighborhoods as their parents, or never even left the street they grew up on. Many of us are somehow related to the town’s founders, even if ancestors left and returned over the course of a century (my own not excluded). I wasn’t born in my hometown, but both my parents, my brother, and I were all delivered by the same doctor in the same hospital across one long, local career, if that speaks to the internal mechanism of the historic communities. (Trust me, don’t think too hard about it.)
We may only be a sliver of a pie to some states, but we think of ourselves in terms such as “inland” versus “coastal” and have distinct communities between the northeast and northwest or southeast and southwest corners. What a pro-tip? Here’s the most northeast corner thing you’ve ever heard: my parents’ first date involved parking at a package store so they could walk through an orchard, then spending the afternoon hiking through haunted Dudleytown, eating farm-stand apples, and getting caught in the middle of a nor’easter.
What follows is in some ways quintessential Connecticut, in its charm and chaos and constant contradictions. In other ways, some of this just the Northwest Corner speaking loud and distinct from your favorite Litchfield County-‘ex-pat’ blogger.
as much as I rag and rag on the state (seriously, do we need to be that agitated about waiting in line, or an older driver going a hair below the speed limit in a no-passing zone? Will you really shrivel up and die if you smile and have two seconds of patience? Will your face really stay that way? Could our demographics be any more stratified? Can we get along for five seconds?) – it is home, it is beautiful and special and one-of-a-kind, and the moment I’m talking to a non-Native, those rose-colored classes feel like 20/20 vision.
Either way, I've been offended and therefore must rant. Because that's the nutmegger thing to do.
1. People need to stop saying “Connecticut accent”, or lumping us in with Boston, New York, or even Maine.
We’re just like you… with a dash of fast-talking word-slurring weirdness.
Yer gonna go t'da package store? Stop fer gas at Cumbies, cawfee at Dunkin, then pick up'a coupla grinders at Carbone’s. Stay outta downtown if ya can. South End i'n't great, but the fair's up outside/of/the Warner 'n cops got the road blocked off. You gotta drive around, up Prospect so kin avoid the raggies on Main.
(This has been an illustration of pronunciation. Literally no one is that indirect about anything, ever. All communication is info-exchange and then zipping off to go do the thing. Time is always of the essence. In fact, wasting time talking about the great unspoken Time Wasting Ultimate Nightmare is Taboo #1. I feel dirty now. And moving on.)
Here’s the key to comprehension: you're only missing letters because you're talking so fast. In fact, if you don't say it out loud and speak it fast, that will read 100% wrong. If you slow down, you must everything enunciated perfectly and fully. There's no relaxed lazy talk here – not like the South.
Plus, we have so many people passing through that at this point, we use other people’s accents for flare. Southern ‘Y’all’ is mock-used in the New England appropriated vocal fry, along with a few Spanish words, ironically used surfer comments, and other regional accents. I'oun't-know, bruh.
(Yes, I know how terribly, terribly disturbing it all is. ‘Cool’ is relative. There’s your next socio thesis.)
So what exactly defines a “Connecticut accent”? Everyone disagrees about how our accent is spelt and that's pretty much why no one "catches" it the way they do with Boston or New York. If it exists. We will insist that it does not exist.
It sure isn’t whatever the heck they’re saying on the ‘Newman’s Own’ McDonalds commercials. Also, regional marketers, take note: no one casually lives on a dock except for the rare and random people who casually live on a dock. Plus, if you’re implying our world is exclusively a plaid, flannel place, your target audience isn’t the Constitution State. Please defer to the Winchester Brothers. If that’s on your brain, think ‘Carhartt’ and scope out the nearest Tractor Supply/Home Depot parking lot. Why not invest in a NorthFace (or LL Bean, we’ve all seen ‘em) while you’re at it? We definitely have a vibe, but do your homework.
2. There are so many pizza parlors, Chinese restaurants, and car dealerships. Apparently all we do is eat take-out or order-in and drive in cars that get three-year-max-turnover (if not grabbed for a few hundred dollars off Craigslist, because public transportation is an untested social construct here). We’re in a rush, living to work, and spend Rush Hour in agonizing and endless eternal-damnation construction. It’s practically a new Sartre, just writing itself.
3. Apparently all roads lead to Rome, because everything is sanctioned off with orange cones into no-mans-land of detours, but somehow you phase through a blur of side-street Suburbia and you get where you’re going. Of course, it only happens by following the guy in front of him following the guy in front of him. You’ll probably then move onto going single-file through the road work that takes up a lane at a time, get frustrated and pass them both, then get stuck at the same red light while you grow old waiting for Godot- *cough* I mean, green-light-go.
3. Everyone is obsessed with driving (Hi. See 2 and 3. Whoops.)
4. We swear a lot, because swearing isn't as bad as talking about disgusting or taboo topics. It's a different kind of vulgarity that's condemned. What's taboo here and taboo down South is different, with some baseline similarities (you know, the general things that disturb common humanity).
5. There's a lot of archetypes that are completely polarized. Everyone thinks that everyone else is either pretentious and arrogant or crazy and raggy. No one thinks they're any of the above. (Raggy is an important term in the NE – a major “how dare you”. Why? Something to do with the mills? I don’t know, ask your local eleventh grade history teacher. They all know, somehow.)
6. The state is both very, very conservative and very, very liberal, and very rich and very poor, and all mushed together very close.
7. FAST FAST FAST. Being quick and to the point and avoiding small talk and brief but pointed eye contact is the ultimate form of polite, respect-for-other-people consideration you can possibly show. None of this 15-minutes-about-the-weather hospitality nonsense! You're not marrying your waiter, are you? (But geez, smile for once, would you?)
8. Everyone knows someone who went to UCONN, and probably also the local community college and one of the CSU's.
9. Everyone is mad at each other for reasons momentary and fleeting and unspeakable (because no one knows why).
10. Word on the street is, NW CT people probably relate more to SW Mass people than they do southern CT people. Quiet Corner folks allegedly spend more time in Mass and Rhode Island than they do in the rest of the state. What is truth, what is fiction? The world may never know, but CT people have a theory and they’re probably gossiping about it right now.
11. “Gossip” sounds a lot like shouting opinions that sound a lot like randomly acquired convictions, and it’s probably happening at a table in a Dunkin Donuts on every ‘Main Street’ ever.
12. CT people seem to hate CT people, but hate everyone else more because the thought of being anywhere else is bewildering. New Yorkers? Can you imagine? Southerners? Can you imagine? Midwesterners? Can you imagine? CT people also seem to think other CT people are a bunch of regional snobs, make vast generalizations, and then immediately excuse any actual individual they meet from those places as being ‘an exception’ to the rule. There’s a boatload of assumptions for you. Now a small mob wants to fight me, some man with a pickup truck who is also waiting in line is pointing a finger to aggressively tell me what’s-what, and I’m getting passive aggressive unaddressed cards in my mailbox that look like they’re from a local church but probably are an invitation to a midnight duel. It’s cool. (You mad?)
13. Only people who live, or have lived, in Connecticut are allowed to openly hate Connecticut, because they say they do, but they do not. (Also because their irritation is as arbitrarily triggered and meaningless as everyone else’s, but they’ve earned it.) Everyone else is not allowed to openly diss Connecticut, even if they say the exact same thing as the person who lived there said, because RIGHTS. (I don't make the rules. Don't shoot the messenger).
14. We like to be contrary. People will probably respond to this with "no" just because everyone is very defensive of the exacts of their experience and everyone thinks only they (and either Jeff Foxworthy or Bernie Sanders, but only both if at penultimate paradox) are objective (they're not though?).
15. It's a melting pot state. Both many immigrants and many old-as-the-nation-itself families crammed together. "Country" areas are city-like in some ways. It's the shortest drive from city-urban-sprawl/plight to "country" that I've ever seen.
16. If you're excited about going there, we'll rant about everything we dislike about it. If you drag it, we will fight you and maybe obliterate your own state’s reputation on principle.
17. There's always one guy who's horrible and loud to a waiter or cashier or costumer service worker and 15 people around him gossiping about how much they hate guys like that. There's always one in every establishment at a given moment. He eats a lot of spit from a lot of public servants. Why do they exist? Do they even have friends? It’s an epidemic.
18. You can mostly tell who's religious in the first fifteen minutes of actually talking to them. People bring it up to feel you out because it divides social groups a lot, and also because there's strong feelings about it on both sides. It’s part of the clashing.
19. There's always one cashier who's a really angry Trump supporter and one college-educated person who voted for Bernie in the primaries cringing two yards away.
20. People can name the towns by red or blue or poor and rich.
21. If you're from Northwest or Central Connecticut and someone starts talking about East Connecticut, you go "oh, you mean basically Rhode Island" and tune out. If they're talking far Southern CT then it's, "Oh, basically you mean Long Island" aaaaaand tune out again. According to RI-liners, Litchfield County essentially Poughkeepsie or The Berkshires, depending on who you ask (which makes no sense, but the reputation allegedly stands).
22. We are very grumpy. We also are quick to remind you that our skies are either blue or gray or peach and you can only see the brightest stars and there are 10,000 things to do.
23. If Connecticut was a state, it would be Ron Swanson.
24. There’s a stereotype that wealth is related to conservative mayors, but in many areas, others believe the political divide is actually related to an education level attainment favoring college-degrees for liberal votes and high-school-or-less favoring conservatism. It's heavily nuanced and draws a great deal of attention because of the tension between the two.
25. If you're from CT, you have both given someone a dirty look in a store and fumed about someone giving you a dirty look in a store for 15 minutes.
26. Most common topics of conversation: road rage, traffic, backup, closures, construction, a socially unpleasant interaction, stress, "X is slow" "Y is slow" "Z is SLOW", "It is HOT" or "It is COLD", snow, and politics. Did I mention driving and snow and politics? NOT ENOUGH, APPARENTLY.
27. Everyone thinks everyone is rude except no one thinks they are rude.
28. Individualism is an obsession but conformity is pervasive. Everywhere, but particularly here. (Hence the clothing-brand commentary.)
29. Social time exists within very specific constructions, and everyone is always in a rush to go everywhere.
30. People don't talk to strangers unless they HAVE to. Unless you’re in Dunkin or Home Depot, because then apparently there’s bonding.
31. Where there is a Connecticut Wal-Mart, there is a Subway, a grandma looking at 3-10 month-old Christmas clearance, a futuristic bathroom covered in water, and 10 screaming children for every pair of Tweety Bird pajama pants confusingly made for grown women.
32. For every pair of Tweety Bird pajama pants confusingly made for grown women, there is a grown woman confusingly wearing said pajama pants with either flip flops or Ugg knockoffs in a public place.
33. Everyone threatens to sue everyone and most people don’t actually know a lawyer they can use or how suing someone would apply. Is it the ambulance-chaser commercials with Law and Order sound queues? Is it the wake of the big cities bookended in each direction? The world may never know.
34. A conversation-translation travel guide from a native:
CT person calls you a "raggy", they're calling you trashy and/or basic.
CT person says "grinder", they're talking about a sub-style sandwich with a solid roll.
CT person says pizza, they expect actual crust and red sauce and cheese.
CT person says "gotta" "wanna" "gonna" etc. = "got to" "want to" "going to" etc. Accept it. Do not correct them. Even if they say “gonna to” instead of “going to.” Psst. Radical acceptance.
CT person says "package store", they're talking about a place that specializes in alcohol.
CT person says "Italian", pasta is expected in there somewhere unless it's a calzone or a pizza or "antipasto" and when they say "antipasto" they mean "antipasto SALAD".
CT person says "hurry up", you may be going normal pace but we go FAST so go/speak/finish/move FAST.
If CT person is fast, rushes to get out of your way, and doesn't make much eye contact and doesn't make small talk, in their mind they aren't being rude, they are being polite and considerate of your time and space.
CT people think other CT people are rude but don't think they themselves are rude.
CT people constantly talk about how grumpy and rude everyone else is. Half the population is actually nice. A good forth of the other half will be nice if they found out who you voted for and agreed with your choice or your religion. The other forth is loud and will undoubtedly embarrass themselves with something prejudiced or unhinged (I laugh and yet… it’s true).
CT people generally don't like CT but don't like everywhere else more.
CT people have 10,000 things to do any given afternoon. Everyone is busy and everyone knows how to spend their time, there's not enough time, so if you call CT boring you're going to get a death stare and a bucket of attitude.
CT people aren't being mean if they aren't warm and friendly. Neutrality is politeness. They're only "mean" if they're mean, and when they're mean they're MEAN.
CT people don't talk to strangers unless they HAVE to.
CT people like to be contrary. It's conversational to be a devil's advocate, sometimes even playful, not a jerk move.
An uptight and vulgar population may or may not exist.(…have you met me?).
CT people. Coffee. Dunkin or Cumbies. That's it.
35. Your kid in a CT public school probably learned that corn was a Native American friendship handoff (as opposed to ever actually learning about the bloody war between CT tribes caused by colonists), we have Mark Twain’s house, Noah Webster and John Brown were born here, and we were a sea of firsts: the nuclear submarine and the hamburger and Polaroid Camera and helicopter and color TV and license plates and the first free trade association and so on. They probably have been to a tiny nature center that has an owl and a bunch of captioned photos, and maybe a thing called Nature’s Classroom. (They probably did not learn much about native peoples who still heavily influence the area in the names of everything [Naugatuck, for example] and subcultures and anthropological archaeology sites, but no one learns about it because "mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell". So we're a little disconnected from the same local history we are entrenched in by overly standardized education.
This is likely the only time that you have experienced an article about the state that doesn’t include “You Know You’re From New England When” or a claim that you “must” have experienced all of the above in order to validate your right to affiliate with the area. Now it does, and therefore you have never experienced such an article.
There should be a disclaimer here about subjectivity, but then it wouldn’t be viral Facebook post desperately seeking an in-group material would it?
Qui Transtulit Sustinet, nutmeggers.