Friday, June 01, 2007


how do comport oneself as an eastern intellectual in the west

I just came back from a long and delightful camping trip with springydog to south dakota wyoming, montana, and north dakota. and for those of you who are curious, the mall of america is just a big mall with a county fair-style rides in the middle. that's it. and the corn palace of mitchell south dakota isn't cool. not even ironic, kitschy fun. it is just stupid. that being said, we had lots of delightful adventures. we got a flat tire in spearfish, sd. and no fewer than 5 people stopped to help. and the walmart tire center stayed open late to help us. we got snowed on in yellowstone (I am the moron who didn't account for elevation).

which brings me to another point. it is very important to me that my time out west not be "easterners laughing at yokels and feeling superior because they backpack instead of RV." we were in the North Dakota Cowboy hall of fame (#1 tourist attraction for ND in 2006), and some of the inductees were native americans. One of them in a large framed portrait was labelled in big, black bold letters "Cihef White Shield 1". This is clearly a typo of "chief." but the question became, "do I tell the museum proprietors?" I didn't, but I think I should have. same goes for the obese dude at old faithful feeding the 5-lined ground squirrel by hand. should i tell him that is wrong? I didn't, but i think I should have. again for the backpacking boys who were wearing their framepacks like bookbags instead of using the hip strap to support the weight opn bigger muscles.

I know enough to know that westerns know lots of things I don't know. we would have been sunk of the Lakota man hadn't stopped to explain a better method for covering and securing gear in the bed of my truck. that being said, the cultural trope of eastern know-it-all showing up and bossing people around weighs very heavily on me. how can I share the things that I know while operating within that cultural framework which makes it difficult for me to share knowledge without coming off as feeling superior?

I've had several similar situations in Wisconsin. At first, I was worried that people would see me as a Yale-educated Yankee jackass and assume that everything I said to them somehow an attempt to showcase my alleged superiority.

During my first year of law school, I had a number of exchanges like this one:
Girl: Terry, how's the pizza?
Me: Oh, you know, its okay.
Girl: Just okay? Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, Mr. Yale man, if our humble Wisconsin pizza isn't good enough for you!

Eventually, it made me realize that people everywhere have their own prejudices, that reverse snobbery can be just as powerful as actual snobbery, and, most importantly, that you can't let your liberal Ivy League guilt get in the way of just being yourself.

I would say that, if you know something that could really help another person, then share what you know and worry later about how it will be perceived by third parties. For all you know, they might be thankful for the advice.
The Corn Palace? Home of South Dakota Wesleyan!
I did feel pretty darn righteous driving cross country in our two door Echo behind all those blasted RVs going 25 miles per hour in 60 mile per hour no-pass zones.

I agree with Terry and the reverse snobbery thing. And I think you are appealing to general sensibilities not just east-coast sensibilities. That said, I found most of the tourists in the very touristy national parks (e.g. Yellowstone and Yosemite) to be pretty disrespectful of their environment and felt like I was at a general loss on what to do about it.

I hope you made it to Wall Drug.
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