USA road map (ScalableMaps sample) from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 breki74, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

One of the first things you notice upon arriving in a new region of our incredibly diverse country, is the local accent. This is quickly followed by differences in pronunciations, colloquial phrases, and actual names for things.

I’ll never forget when we arrived in Alabama to candidate for my husband’s pastoral position and someone announced they would carry us to church and then carry us to a restaurant afterward. Thankfully this didn’t involve any actual lifting.

Or when I heard a mom tell her young child in New England that if he didn’t stop messing around, she would put him in the carriage. After looking around confusedly, I finally realized she meant the shopping cart (or buggy, or whatever you call it where you live).

Over 12 years of marriage, Dan and I have lived in four majorly different areas.

We learned to tough out hard winters in small-town Michigan: Dan worked outside doing masonry for a few winters – antifreeze in concrete anyone?

We discovered how to navigate the “L” in Chicago and which pizzeria houses the actual best pizza in Chicago.

The North Shore of Boston taught us how to pronounce Worcester and Gloucester, not to be offended by extreme directness, and the best way to prepare for a nor’easter.

In Alabama we quickly identified the importance of the Rolling Tide, grits, and we even came upon grilled cheese donut sandwiches at the county fair. And the workers at the DMV were extremely friendly!

The things we learned in these different regions of the country were immeasurable. Some things were funny. Some disturbing. Some stereotypical. Many not so much.

But some of the most important lessons we’ve learned from living in the big city, the small town, and the countryside, New England, the Deep South, and the Midwest, are these: There are loving, caring, broken people there. There are hurting people. There are people who see beyond their doorsteps and people who don’t. There are people willing to engage in conversation and people who have no interest.

Living in distinct areas of the country gave us perspective. On what matters and what doesn’t. On seeing things from a different point of view. On looking beyond talking points to actual people.

But we haven’t learned to break bread with such a diverse group of people by agreeing with everyone. We learned to do it by listening. By putting aside our assumptions. By realizing we could be wrong. Because the imaginary boundaries we draw around others and their viewpoints aren’t as solid as we think. There’s room for nuance. And the best way to discover the nuance is to surround ourselves with people who aren’t exactly like us. And this, this is the best gift we’ve received everywhere we’ve lived.

And we can’t wait to learn more, right where we are now.

Where have you lived? What have you learned by living in different places and/or surrounding yourself with people who are different from you?