Fitting In With the Locals

It is a real challenge moving into a new community, especially when you want nothing more than to “fit in.” But I can tell you from my own experience that you can fit in (in a way), but you’ll never be a local. In the last year I worked at the hardware store there were a noticeable number of customers telling us they had just moved into the county. Clearly, they hoped to “fit in” and become members of the community. I hope my story might help them.

Toward the end of the last century, my family decided (well, we the parents decided) that we would make Cook County our permanent home. As early retirees, we could live wherever we chose, and our strong attraction to the North Shore, and Cook County especially, brought us here. We had no discernable roots in the county, so of course, we were not considered locals by the established community. I might have been kinda sad about that except we hadn’t been considered locals in Bloomington either.

Early in the process of making the decision to move here, I remember speaking with a gentlelady realtor in the West End of the county about this need to feel like a local. She explained to me that people like her who spent a lifetime here had a cautious approach to newcomers. She’d seen many come, dive into the local community, desire to “change things,” and eventually (within five years) pack up and leave. It was hard for her to make new, deep connections for that reason.

I understood that cautious feeling and I deluded myself into thinking we were different, we wouldn’t abandon our newfound community. Yet not five years later we packed up and left. And so did many of the other newcomers who jumped into the community while we were here, hoping to change it to a better place, only to bail out for reasons good and bad.

Our next new community was Clark County in Nevada. Despite the difference in numbers of people, the issues for newcomers were the same. The place prospered because of tourism. People moved here from all over the globe. And there was a significant minority of people who were born and raised there. Locals.

The wise proprietor of the village cigar shop I’d been frequenting when we settled there taught me two things.

First, as he handed me a cigar one day he said, “This is the best cigar there is.” After lighting up, not quite the aficionado, I asked, “What makes this the best cigar?” He cocked his head, looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, and said, “It’s free.”

Second, he told me that in Las Vegas it takes five years of residency to be accepted in the community. After five years, he said, doors would start to open and relationships would grow.

I’d say he was right about both things. A good cigar is a free cigar and it takes a long time to really feel part of a community.

We returned to the North Shore in the fall of 2016. Once again, to make it our permanent home. Much humbler, older, and wiser. We don’t suffer from the desire to fit in or dive into the community to change things.