By Mordechai Schmutter
This summer, if you’re looking to go on a vacation to get away from it all, I would suggest going somewhere out of town. Particularly somewhere “out-of-town-y.”
Of course, “out of town” is all a matter of perspective. To people in Brooklyn, I live out of town, inasmuch as, when I leave the house, I don’t have to take into consideration whether I’m going to lose my parking spot. But I’m not really out of town. I can see the city from any hill in my neighborhood. Whereas people who actually live out of town are thinking, “Which city?”
Originally, I think, “out of town” meant that there was a town of people, and your house was literally in the middle of nowhere, and there was a pretty good chance on any given day that you’d be eaten by wolves. Then, once everywhere became settled, “out of town” started to mean “out of the town that we personally live in,” and is generally said by people from bigger towns, such as New York, about people from smaller towns, such as anywhere that is not New York. But most people define it as an area where there aren’t enough places to get pizza.
Some people actually like living out of town. The fact that there’s no parallel parking, ever, is a big draw. Those people like to come into town for vacation, so they can spend the entire trip sitting in traffic, and then come home and tell their friends, and their friends ask, “Traffic? Really? What’s that like? Do you have pictures?”
Life is a lot simpler out of town. That’s why most people in town rarely go out of town. Because what’s out there, really? At most, we go there to look. Also, people involved in kashrus go to look at cows, because cows live mainly where there are very few people, because of the smell. (People do not smell great.)
I recently took a trip out of town, when I went to Cincinnati to host a Chinese auction. Most of my job was to announce the winners and make funny comments about the prizes that would hopefully not offend the donors, most of whom were in attendance. And then get out of Cincinnati before they could come after me.
And yes, Cincinnati is out of town. Okay, fine, so the people in Cincinnati think they’re in town.
No, I’m just kidding. They know they’re out of town. There are only about 200 frum families living there. There are over 80 families in my shul in Passaic, and it’s one of the smaller shuls in town. And they all know each other’s names in Cincinnati. I don’t even know the names of everyone in my shul. With half the people, I’m still not sure if they live here or if they’re guests who come to Passaic a lot.
But on top of making jokes and trying not to offend anybody, I was asked to do some stand-up comedy.
“What should I speak about?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” my contact said. “How about some of the differences between Cincinnati and New York?”
So I said, “I’ve never actually been to Cincinnati. You know I’m not going to write all my material after I get off the plane, right?”
So she said, “Okay, here are some differences: First of all, we’re very polite over here. Very out-of-town-y.” (See? They know.)
And that’s true. People out of town tend to be more polite. Before all the in-towners write me angry letters, I should explain why this is true: If you live in town, and you go out of town for, say, vacation, and you see another frum person, even one you don’t know, aren’t you more likely to say hello? It’s like how, when you’re in a boat, you’re 80% more likely to wave at other people in boats. (“Hey, it’s another person! I’m in a boat too! Keep an eye on me, because I might fall in later.”) But in town, everyone’s thinking the same thing: “I don’t want to go; everyone’s gonna be there.” For example, if you see another frum person in ShopRite, your first thought is “I bet he’s going to get the last two grape juices.”
We want to live where everyone else is, but we don’t want to see them.
Another thing that my contact told me is that people in Cincinnati are more punctual. Are in-towners late to everything? I wouldn’t say that. We just learned over the years that if you try to come on time, there will be traffic. So we leave later because we figure that way we’ll get there sooner. We actually might pass ourselves on the way there.
So I came up with the following joke: “This place is really not like New Jersey at all. For example, I notice that over here, everyone’s a little more . . . punctual. Everyone’s here now! So I hope I have enough material. I was actually counting on everyone showing up at 9:30. Back where I’m from, I’d still be bothering my wife to get ready to go.”
Another thing she said was that instead of “excuse me,” people in Cincinnati say, “Please?” With a question mark. I did think that was interesting, because the word for “excuse me” here in New Jersey, is . . . Well, I don’t know if we have a word for it. I think it’s, “Hey!” With an exclamation point.
So I got up at the event and said the following: “I was in the airport today, at the car-rental counter, and I gave the guy my information, and he said ‘Please?’ I guess in retrospect, he was saying he didn’t get everything I said, but I thought he was just telling me to say, ‘Please.’ Like he’s my mother. I was pretty sure I’d said ‘please,’ but look, if he didn’t hear me, I’ll say it again. So I started over: ‘I would like to pick up my rental car, please. My name is Mordechai Schmutter.’ And he said, ‘Please?’ And I said, ‘Please.’ ‘Please?’ ‘Please.’ And he said, ‘No, I didn’t understand what you said,’ and I responded, ‘Oh. You didn’t understand “please”? What part of New Jersey are you from?’”
Now the truth is that I made up that story. Like I said, I wrote my whole routine before I left home, and besides, not a single person said, “Please?” to me the entire three hours that I was in Cincinnati before the event started. So I was starting to wonder if people in Cincinnati are the opposite of polite—that my contact had told me about the “please?” thing as a joke, so I’d get up and say a whole routine, and then later they could say to each other, “Remember the time that guy flew in from New Jersey, and he was saying a whole routine and no one knew what he was talking about? In-towners are crazy!”
But it turns out she was telling the truth. That story got a big laugh, especially the parts where I made fun of New Jersey, because if you’re moving to a town with 200 families, and it takes you 12 hours to drive to your parents for yom tov, you want confirmation that you made the right choice. Also, for some reason, New Jersey is a funny state to make fun of, no matter where you’re from. It’s like New York’s annoying little brother.
And people are definitely polite in Cincinnati. Some people came over to me afterward and said, “I can’t believe you noticed the ‘Please?’ thing after only a few hours in Cincinnati!” And some older gentleman came over and explained the origin of the expression. It turns out it comes from the German “bitteh,” which means both “please” and “excuse me.” He said the town had some German origins, as though all the other European explorers tried to settle near the ocean, and the Germans somehow took a turn and ended up in Cincinnati. But that would explain the punctuality.
So I would definitely suggest going out of town for vacation. It’s quiet out there, except that people keep coming over and talking to you, even though you’re clearly a guest. But that’s just Cincinnati. Maybe different cities will bring different experiences. I’ll let you know the next time I go somewhere. But don’t count on it. As someone who lives in town, I hate getting out of the house. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.