Monday, November 24, 2008

A Wide-Eyed Hillbilly In A Room Full Of Yankees

I consider myself a well-educated, well-mannered, relatively cultured person. I am not rich, and never have been. Thanks to a good local choice of places to go on special occasions, I have dined at some really fancy restaurants. Thanks to my college friends with a little money and a lot of good taste, I have attended elegant wedding receptions in swanky, historic homes, family-owned horse farms, and beautiful country clubs. I (mostly) know which fork to use, which wine goes best with red meat, and how to make polite small talk with people I don't know so well. Centre College and the folks from all over the country and from all over the socioeconomic scale I befriended there took the poor little hillbilly girl I used to be and, while not quite taking all the Eliza Doolittle-ness out, at least taught me how to survive in settings more formal than family-reunion pig roasts.

So why is it that eating dinner with Jason's boss makes me feel like a square peg in a round hole and almost a little ashamed of myself?

We ate dinner there Saturday night, and I dreaded it. It's been about 3 years since we last attended an intimate dinner party for co-workers there. His boss isn't ridiculously wealthy, though his house is gorgeous and in a part of Cincy that takes considerable coinage to move in to. None of the others in attendance are overly well-off. But unlike the semi-formal dinners I attended in college or after with my friends, I have no common ground with these people. No shared background. I didn't attend the same school as them or even grow up in the same state as these people. I have not travelled where they've travelled. I have never in my life felt like such a rube.

Oh, they are exceedingly nice people. And it's totally not their fault that I feel so uncomfortable around them. And it's taken me a couple of days to put my finger on why I feel this way and here's what I've come up with:

I am a hick. I am Cousin Eddie at the Griswold family Christmas, I am the embodiment of several Jeff Foxworthy jokes, I am a few bars of Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman." I hide behind my cheap-but-classy librarian clothes and my Master's degree, but start asking me, "What does your family do?" (Hole up in hollers and call each other about picking up the govamint cheese, mostly) and "Where do you travel in winter?" (I hear Dollywood's nice this time of year) and the truth is gonna come out.

When I am the only Kentucky hick in a room full of well-bred urbanites I cannot handle myself.

This dinner with the boss thing gets me way, way out of my comfort zone. Jason works with these people, so they have that to talk about. The women-only conversation over appetizers revolved around private Montessori schools in the area; upcoming trips to Italy; Gymboree; marmoleum flooring; the great little sushi bar in the neighborhood with great happy hour deals; and gourmet cheese shops. I didn't have much to offer.

Especially after the first time I opened my mouth.

The two other women there were talking about schools for their kids, and how they were big believers in Montessori education, and how private was better than public, and how public schools were kind of out of the question, and how Catholic school stifle kids too much what with the disapproving nuns and conformity and uniforms.

"Cranky, where is it you send Ainsley?"

I looked up from some yummy green onion and tomatillo salsa with a chip still dangling out of my mouth.

"Oh, she goes to a Catholic school. It's really close to the public school I work in."


Jason is better at it all than I am. Knowing that both of his male co-workers at the table love Christmas Vacation, he channeled Cousin Eddie when asking for more soup.

"I'll take some more of that, Clark...It is GOOO-OOOOD!"

I can't jest like that. It's harder for women; we're supposed to be the bastions of good manners and social graces. I'd rather stay quiet when I can't relate to what's being said around me.

I was sorely tempted, though, to toss back a few and just let my freak flag fly. Here are some things I really wanted to say but held back for, you know, good taste:

"Y'all got any cornbread in there I can use to sop up this broth?"

"Do you think we could turn the UK game on and open some beer?"

"Do I have cilantro in my teeth? Anybody got a toothpick?"

"I don't see a light switch in here in this don't mind if I leave the door open a crack while I pee right quick, do ya?" (I honestly couldn't find a light switch, and instead of interrupting dinner and embarrassing myself, I just went by the light coming in from the window...Jason later told me you actually had to turn knobs on the sconces to turn the lights on.)

I had told Jason that if the hick in me was feeling too repressed, if the conversation stayed too long on the finer things in life, that I was just going to live up to the stereotype. So had I actually said those things he did get fair warning.

These really are good people that he works with, and I think I would love them more if I had the home court advantage. I'd like to invite them up to our little cookie-cutter bilevel in a semi-bad neighborhood and serve them a big old Paula Deen southern lasagna or maybe some beer-in-the-rear chicken. For drinks, if it's winter, I would just throw some beer on the porch to get good and icy-cold. We could finish it all off with a Snickers pie. And the conversation...oh, I would want to talk about the truly important things. Like our favorite TV shows and movies and video games and whether or not Brit-Brit is really going to make a comeback this time.

And as they walked in the door I would say, "Welcome to Kentucky, y'all!"


Robert K. said...

I know something of how you feel, except in my case the people making me feel like a hillbilly are my family. Mom's brother is a lawyer, her sister is married to a lawyer, one of my cousins is studying for her Masters degree in Germany, another one is a trained flautist who had to leave Oberlin College because they had nothing left to teach her. On Dad's side, it's mostly ex-military and factory workers. Needless to say, Dad isn't real popular with Mom's family.

Karen said...

Obviously these women don't know some of the girls I knew who went to Catholic school. Stifling? ;) Your dinner party sounds like a nightmare to me. I never know what to say in situations like that.

DR said...

Been there a few times. I was invited to a scrapbooking party that BR's ex-boss held. She called me out in front of the room for picking around "The Stilton" in this salad she served. I didn't even know it was blue cheese. Call me Rube.

Then once I was invited to this "girls night out," which pretty much consisted of complaining about husbands (I really like being around mine) and talking about where people bought clothes (uh - the consignment store?). Needless to say, that was a one-shot deal.