I think we have all experienced being far from home, perhaps enjoying a vacation away from it all, only to make a random acquaintance that just happens to hail from your own home state. Within seconds, a volley of questions are exchanged to discover if you've ever visited each other's neighborhoods, or perhaps visited a familiar trendy restaurant or landmark.
But when two Rhode Islanders accidentally meet, the exchange is somewhat different. They don't want to know if they've been to the same restaurants, they want to know if they're related.
"You know Jerry? Hey, I know Jerry! He used to bowl with Tony at Lang's on Tuesday. Wasn't he goin' out with Jenna in Rumford? Jenna used to work with my cousin Bobby at the Dunkin Donuts on North Main Street."
It's a Rhode Island thing.
In a previous blog post (http://annettesnyder.blogspot.com/2012/09/rhode-island-big-happenings-in-little.html), I chronicled Rhode Island's rich literary past, it's world-class restaurants, it's breathtaking attractions, and even its unenviable inclination for sinister corruption -- all amplified to legendary proportions by its diminutive size like a well-worn, favorite Seventies subwoofer. But what truly sets Rhode Island apart is a familiar, distinctive culture only true native sons will ever recognize. Even out-of-state transplants who have lived here a generation never feel truly like a Rho-dy-lander. Nor will they hope to figure out what the heck the white-shoed, white-belted old-timers are talking about.
"Yo, nobody can't tell me I don't feel like no meatball grinder, me"
(Translation: A "grinder" is a local term more commonly known as a "sub," "hoagie," or "hero" in less civilized parts. As far as the triple negative and the rest of the sentence, well, it's easier if you simply accept that the speaker wants to eat lunch.)
The flood of double-negatives and misplaced modifiers in the local tongue is the evolutionary result of the close-knit mingling dialects from Italian, Portuguese, rural Canadian-French, and Spanish immigrants, blended by a fine spray of influence from many other cultures. The end result is an exciting tapestry of customs, food, color, music and bewildering grammar understood only by those who have been raised within it.
"Yea, Jenna's working at the new restaurant across from where The Tent used to be. You know, next to where they used to have that Old Stone."
(Translation: "The Tent" was a local name given to the world-famous Warwick Musical Theater, closed in 1999. "Old Stone" refers to Old Stone Bank, a popular chain of local savings banks that failed infamously in the late Eighties. )
If you visit Rhode Island, avoid asking for directions. It's not because Rhodylanders aren't helpful -- in fact, they are quite the opposite. Ask where the local supermarket is and you'll be hit with a well-meaning barrage of right and left turns at defunct landmarks that will keep you driving in circles for hours. Besides, you can't really get lost in Rhode Island anyway. Drive 30 minutes in any direction and you'll either find yourself entering Connecticut, Massachusetts or submerged in the Atlantic Ocean.
It has been said that the biggest critics of the State of Rhode Island are the residents themselves -- that everyone loves us, except us. In 2012, at a forum designed by business leaders to jump-start the state's stalled economy, (http://www.boston.com/news/local/rhode-island/2012/09/07/economy-forum-takes-self-esteem-problem/kRVVjx0lFDgvdcoPOyDBRN/story.html) discussion turned oddly to the state's "self-esteem problem." Could self-esteem really be at the root cause of high unemployment rates and economic struggles? I think not. I think the so-called pessimism is misdiagnosed, and is the same crabby strain you find in close-knit families, too honest, bold and blunt for their own good, a comfortable voice devoid of any politeness whatsoever, and frank to a fault.
"Them Sox ain't nothin' but a bunch of stinkin', over-paid bums and you know it ... Hey, can you get me tickets?"
So if you see someone wearing a Taylor Swift t-shirt (yup, she just moved here), dousing their French fries in vinegar, then searching aimlessly for a bubbler, don't ask questions. Just tell them you'd like to sit down and talk over a couple of hot weiners and a Del's under a Big Blue Bug some day. Although you won't understand what you just said, they'll appreciate it. And you'll make a loyal friend, forever.
It's a Rhode Island thing.
Steven R. Porter is founder and president of the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA) and is the author of two novels: Confessions of the Meek and the Valiant (http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Meek-Valiant-Steven-Porter/dp/1463542003) a crime novel set within a tight-knit South Boston family and Manisses (www.amazon.com/Manisses-Steven-R-Porter/dp/1478354801) an award-winning historical novel based on the history of Block island which is located just off the southern Rhode Island coast.
(Pictures provided by author)