We all have to live somewhere.
Just as I found myself approaching the tail end of grade school, my parents decided that it would be a good time to throw even more major life changes my way (as if puberty weren't enough), so they moved our entire family to South Florida.
Mind you, since we had visited at least once before we moved here, I had an inkling of what to expect. I had already learned the hard way about fire ants.
We moved in Jaunary, leaving behind frozen, slush-filled gray for mild, sun-lit blue.
Initially charmed, I realized very quickly that Florida wasn't just beautiful: it was also deeply strange.
Why Florida Is Weird:
1. Nobody who lives here is actually from here. Barring a few minor exceptions, (most of whom live in North Central Florida, and all of whom will comment telling me how wrong I am) if you were to move to Florida tomorrow, you would find that most of your neighbors (the ones who speak English, anyway) are actually from New Jersey. They've moved here for various reasons: they've retired; they've divorced; they've gotten a new job; they've always wanted to live some place warm. Whatever the reason, they're here now. Because of this phenomenon, many things in Florida tend to work backwards. Take the holidays, for example. When we lived in the North, we found that the holiday season was the time of year that the churches were the most packed. The reason? It's obvious: everyone would come home for the holidays. The North was the place that everyone came home to. Florida, on the other hand, seems to be the place that everyone goes home from, meaning that even with the twice-a-year attenders out in full force, Christmas makes for slim holiday services.
2. Floridians aren't real Southerners. At least, not in the expected sense. For one, hardly anybody in Florida speaks with a Southern drawl. Remember, most of the residents are originally from New Jersey. And those who aren't from New Jersey are more likely to speak Spanish or Creole than to talk like a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara. Even native Floridians (Crackers1) don't drawl with the syrupy cadences generally expected of Southerners -- instead, they twang. If you're looking for the stereotypical sweet-iced-tea, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth, fried-chicken-and-biscuits, yessir-yess'm, corn-pone-and-boiled peanuts South, we suggest that you look a little further north.2
3. Sometimes our headlines say say things like this:
4. Summers here aren't as hot as you might think. Since we live closer to the equator than most of you, you might assume that the weather here is naturally hotter than the weather where you are. This sounds reasonable, but it's not true. Take this week, for example. While twenty-eight states are experiencing record high temperatures (many of them topping 100+ degrees Fahrenheit), we here in Florida find our thermometers skimming the bottom half of 90. I'm not saying that it doesn't get hot here, but that the heat works differently. It isn't something that gradually inches its way to a peak mid-summer before inching its way back down in the fall. Florida heat is something that suddenly appears toward the end of April. One day the weather is beautiful, and then--BOOM!--it's hot. Just as abruptly, the heat vanishes during the first week of October. The five intervening summer months may be hot, but they're a consistent heat that is easily manageable.3
5. The wildlife really is wild. Living in Florida means that you will encounter huge spiders, alligators, large snakes, panthers, and wild boar (or, if you will, hawgs). It's helpful to know some of the most unexpected things, such as how to deal with wolf spiders. Using a can of bug spray to rid yourself of a wolf spider is preferable, because if you swat at a female wolf spider with your shoe, any babies that she may be carrying on her back will scatter everywhere4, an alarming situation which will perhaps cause you to pee your pants... which is embarrassing. Remember that anywhere there is water, there could be an alligator5, and that running in zig-zags will just slow you down. Learning that panthers do not only live in the forests and swamps of Florida, as Wikipedia misleadingly states,6 but that sometimes they also go wandering through suburban areas, scaring the housewives and (hopefully) eating up all of the small, yippy dogs.
To summarize: Although Florida may have lush beaches, exciting theme parks, and year-round sunshine, it isn't necessarily the picture-perfect paradise that postcard makers would lead you to believe. The truth is that Florida is actually quite a strange place to live. If you haven't yet experienced this for yoruself, feel free to pop by any time. We (the transplants and the Crackers and the spiders and the snakes and the alligators and the panthers) would love to have you.
2. Although we do, thank goodness, drink sweet iced tea. We're not complete savages.
3. You will know this if you've ever visited: it's not the heat that's bad. It's the humidity.
4. Behind this link are pictures of wolf spiders with babies on their backs. You have been warned. You'll probably regret clicking on this one, too, but I'm going to put it here anyway: Florida banana spider.