Living: A Visitor’s Guide to life in the Real World
By JOY CRIST
couple months ago, a friend called me and said she was on her way off
island for the first time since the hurricane, and asked if I had any
suggestions for her re-introduction to the Outside World. I laughed and
said, “Above all else, as long as you remember to wear pants, you’ll be
shoot,” she replied. “Guess I’ll have to stick to drive-thrus.”
I think she
let’s face it -- a trip to the Real World can be a little strange and a
little intimidating. It’s not like we islanders can’t function if we’re
not close to home, it’s just that we get so used to our lifestyle,
which is quite different from the rest of the world, that when we do
finally take a long trip elsewhere, there are a few cultural
differences that we might miss or might not be used to.
holidays are just around the corner, and for many of us this marks the
first extended trip we’ll be taking off-island in months, as our
friends and family are not very bright and decided to live elsewhere
for some reason.
before you pack up the truck and head over the Bonner Bridge, you might
want to read over these key differences between our island community
and the rest of the country, also known as the “Real World.”
don’t talk for five minutes while standing in line.
many times on Hatteras or Ocracoke island have you been in line at the
Post Office or the convenience store, and nonchalantly stood around
while the person in front of you finished up his or her conversation
with the person behind the counter? Happens all the time, right? It’s
common here. It’s perfectly fine, and it’s not a big deal. After all,
clearly the people in front of you deserve to catch up on the latest
news and gossip, and what’s the hurry? There’s a reason it’s called
what? Believe it or not, this totally does not fly in the Real World.
a good example. Last year while visiting my hometown, I recognized the
person behind the counter at the local coffee shop as an old high
school friend and immediately started firing away questions:
are you? What have you been up to? Oh, you’re back in college? What
college? What are you studying? What’s your favorite class? Are you
married? Do you have kids? Can I see pictures?” She answered me
patiently, while a chorus of sighs and mumbling started to grow in the
line behind me. (This didn’t deter me at all. In fact, it made me talk
slower.) This tension rose and rose until it became clear that I had
better grab my latte and run, as there might be an angry mob ready to
follow me into the parking lot and attack.
what’s the hurry in the Real World? Who knows? Apparently they have
terribly important things to do and places to go to, and if they have
to spend an extra few minutes along the way waiting for chatty,
annoying folks like me, it will ruin their entire day.
As for us
islanders, if we’re five minutes late to the fishing pier or the beach,
we’ll survive somehow.
2. There is
more than one Walmart.
at some point while we’ve been living on a sandbar, the mainland passed
a national law that every community with a substantial population must
have the same 20 to 30 stores and chain restaurants, anchored by a
sure why this needed to come to fruition, but this is why you’ll notice
a Walmart in every town you pass. So on long road trips, don’t worry
that you’re completely lost and just going around in circles when you
see the same five stores everywhere you go. There is just simply the
same stuff in every town.
as a Real World visitor, this is terribly convenient, as this means
that no matter where I am I can go to Taco Bell, travel 30 miles, go to
Taco Bell again, travel 30 miles, and repeat. (This also means that my
bathroom scale has to be hidden until February.)
I must warn you that if you choose to visit the big-box stores, be
prepared to be shocked at the size of these suckers -- some are
literally an acre or more wide -- and to get totally lost trying to
find your way out. (When all else fails, find the camping section and
just set up a shelter until you can resume your hunt for the exit the
fact, just last weekend my good friend in Wilmington took me to a
little store called “Costco,” which was an Indiana Jones-style
warehouse filled with crates and crates of every possible type of
merchandise you can imagine. Had we stumbled upon the Lost Ark while
wandering down mile long aisles of hair dryers or frozen quiches, I
would not have been surprised.
feel free to visit these stores, but use extreme caution. Bring a
buddy, a cell phone, a compass, and as little money as you can, because
once you have the option to buy absolutely anything in the universe,
you’ll kind of want to buy it all.
dress up for things sometimes.
I have one lovely fancy dress from a wedding six years ago that I held
onto because at the time I thought to myself, “Well, the next time I
need to get all dressed up, I can use it again.”
It has sat
in my closet ever since.
you think about it, we really don’t dress up for too much around here,
except for the occasional dance at the Hatteras Village Civic Center
is not the case in the real world. People wear suits to work, wear
evening dresses for a nice dinner, and wear makeup and styled hair
pretty much all the time. Now, granted, part of the reason islanders
don’t dress up very often is that it never lasts. After all, how many
times have you spent a good 30 minutes doing your hair, only to have it
blown into a salty, tangled mess the minute you stepped outside the
door? (Locals will recognize this particular look as “Hatteras hair.”)
while you’re out in the real world, take the opportunity to get really
dolled up and enjoy looking nice for an evening on the town, because
once you get home, you can get back to normal being the happy, sloppy
person you are. Just make sure the venue you’re dressing up
is appropriate, like a fine restaurant or a theater trip. In other
words, you don’t have to get dolled up to go to Walmart.
Strangers might not want to talk to you.
of my favorite examples of how we’re totally different from the rest of
ago, an old buddy of mine flew up to Boston to visit me while I was
staying there over the holidays. I picked her up at the airport, and we
lugged her suitcases onto the subway platform.
I consider myself somewhat subway savvy and know that you should get on
and off as quickly as possible, shouldn’t talk to the other folks on
board, and never look anyone else in the eye.
didn’t know this.
asking a couple strangers to help her move her luggage to a seat in the
back, she sat next to a very formal and serious looking man in a suit
reading a Wall Street Journal. The first thing she did was reach for
the paper so she could see what it was while asking him, “Whatcha
did his best to ignore her and move the paper closer to him, while she
read over his shoulder, chattering away with comments like, “Hey, what
do all those little numbers mean? I never could figure that out. And
did you read this piece on foreclosures yet? You know, my aunt is
getting foreclosed on, but that’s not much of a surprise since she’s
always been a bit flaky, and truth be told, I’m pretty sure she has a
drinking problem, but now we’re all wondering who’s going to take care
of all of her damn dogs when she finally does get kicked out…”
rambled on while the man, silent, was clearly uncomfortable and doing
his best not to move or respond in any way, and to ignore her as much
a few minutes, she finally stopped talking and looked at him in
silence. Then she touched his hand and said very compassionately and
sincerely, “Hey, you’re awfully quiet… Are you doing okay?”
the point is, as much as I truly enjoyed watching that scene, in the
Real World you are not expected to strike up a conversation simply
because you are within five feet of another human being. I know -- it
doesn’t make much sense to me either. But apparently not everyone out
there wants to be your new friend, especially serious looking people on
you might think after reading these weird rules and behaviors that the
Real World is a scary, rude, awful place that should be avoided at all
costs, but I assure you that’s not the case at all. We’ve met some of
the nicest and friendliest people in the world on our adventures off
the island, so, clearly, the mainland is full of them.
have been plenty of patient, friendly folks in Boston who helped our
confused selves navigate our way around the city and have a wonderful
time, even going so far as to walk us around a block or two to find the
landmark or store we were looking for.
also once met a really friendly couple in New Jersey that not only
helped me get un-lost when I was driving around slowly in circles and
blocking traffic, but also directed me to one of the greatest diners
that I have ever been to.
perhaps most amazingly, there was even a Sunday school class in North
Wilkesboro, N.C., whose members had never met us, but had heard about
the “Hurricane Irene evacuees” that were staying in their town, and
raised a little money to help us with our trip home. That gesture
completely and totally blew me away.
please, don’t take some of these generalities to heart. Enjoy your
holiday travels this year, and feel free to go out and explore, and
shop, and meet new people, and spread a little of that Hatteras Island
cheer and personality into the Real World.
chances are the folks you are trying to chat up in line at Costco, or
even in the subway, are in need of a little dose of Hatteras Island