February 28, 2008
Most of my readers know I grew up in the South, albeit in an offbeat, almost-Northern enclave therein. I heard of Southern hospitality all my life, have encountered it often, assuming it to be a unique phenomenon indigenous to the area. And maybe no place else.
Now that I'm back in the cold, businesslike North, I didn't expect to discover that hospitality is everywhere, least of all in Hoboken, New Jersey. But everywhere I turn I am greeted with smiles, warm personalities, and kindness. It has been this way since I landed, and I don't expect it to change.
Yesterday, for example, I found the name of a local tax accountant from a directory on the Internet. I called his office and a pleasant female voice with a heavy New Jersey accent (to my ears) answered and asked how she could help. I said I was looking for someone to handle my income tax. She asked if I were a client and I said, "No, I'm new -- to the state."
She had the nicest laugh as she said, "Well, welcome to New Jersey!" and put me through to her boss, who was the accountant in question. Again, a deep voice with a strong accent, this time with the masculine, commanding helpfulness I've come to think of as Jersey macho, asked me pertinent questions about my tax situations and said he'd be happy to help me. He suggested I get all the papers in order, call the office or "drop by anytime" and we'd look it over together. All this made me feel that getting my taxes done was going to be a nice adventure.
This is not the first time I've encountered New Jersey hospitality. In fact, it's remarkable how often I encounter it on a daily basis. There are as many smiles here as in the South; people go out of their way to help, and there is an unexpected atmosphere of warmth just about everywhere. It's more congenial than New York, and probably as efficient, having just enough of everything to make life easier in a strange place. I have yet to find a little circle of close friends, like the ones I left in Alabama, but making friends doesn't seem to be difficult. It's the hospitality and the kindness of strangers that pave the way toward a secure and productive future.