Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is Howard County an Un-friendly Place?

I'm going to come right out and say it. Howard County is un-welcoming at best. And I say this having spent the majority of my 35 years here.

I think I've always known it, but it became abundantly clear as the family and I spent last week near Fenwick Island, DE. Everyday at the pool, other parents would strike up conversations with us, encourage their kids to play with ours, and encourage their kids to share toys with us etc.  And yes, I realize we were technically on vacation, but I can't understand why people can't behave like this at home.

But at the CA pools, it seems that any time we try to talk to other parents, they politely respond and then cut off the conversation. I don't get it. We clearly have things in common, even if it's just that we have kids of similar ages that are in the pool together. There is no reason not to have a friendly conversation.

And at my girls' pre-school it's even worse. Here, we clearly have things in common and should share an interest in making sure our kids are in a friendly and welcoming environment. It seems that parents communicating with each other would be a great thing.

But no, anytime I try to strike up a conversation with another parent, I get nothing. Sometimes I try to smile and get a frown in return. WTF? I just don't get it.

We're lucky, we live on a street in Columbia with other young families. We moved in five years ago and immediately started having the other young couples over for drinks and dinner. We all took turns hosting at our houses. It's wonderful to have people that are friends and neighbors.

I remember when my family first moved to Columbia in the late-80s. My mother was generous with our new neighbors, assumed that they all worked for NSA and that they must be brilliant and that's why they were unfriendly. They had "super secret jobs" and were introverts.

I don't buy it. I think we are all caught up in our own lives and don't care about the rest of our community.It would explain why we require a PR campaign to remind us to be civil...


  1. Interesting theory. Since I am one of those unfriendly people I feel a need to explain myself. But I won't. Choose Hostility.

  2. perhaps the folks you try to engage are at the pool with their family at the end of a long day or on a weekend trying to foster some precious family time. Try signing up to work on a committee at your daughter's preschool- the folks you meet in working on a project will have the time and focus to socialize.

  3. I tell you, no one on our block spoke to anyone else until you guys moved in. We were very un-welcoming. Such a different vibe after you guys joined us. Glad you did.

  4. :-(

    Sorry to hear your story, P90Noir. Have my own versions. Keep up the faith. And keep the conversations going. You never know when you'll strike gold!

  5. Fascinating: Your post and Annethologie's post came in one right after the other on hocoblogs. Read her post here: http://annethologie.blogspot.com/2011/06/in-third-place.html

    And here's my visual proof of the co-incidence of your posts coming in on the heels of each other: https://skitch.com/jessienewburn/fr212/hocoblogs-howard-county-maryland-blogs-and-local-news

    Perhaps you'll come to the tweetup this coming Monday evening at dusk ... and your family. http://twtvite.com/monday-night-at-the-movies

  6. Having grown up in a lower middle class, blue collar Baltimore suburb, I used to get those vibes when I moved to Howard County 30 years ago. I raised (am raising) five children and finally just jumped in and got involved.

    I jumped in for selfish reasons. I was feeling lost and needed to feel connected. Best decision of my life was joining a Rotary Club, a fellowship of people whose sole mission is to support and improve their own community and in communities around the world. I can't tell you the blessing this ragtag gang of "do gooders" has brought to my life.

    I think that one of the flaws in an affluent community is that people have a sense of accomplishment and "stuff" but are lacking connection and meaning. Having also gone through Leadership Howard County, I can tell you, programs such as these open your mind and your world and bring about a sense of humbled appreciation again. The common goal of serving the community strips away most of the ego.

    And, I would talk to you at the pool! I am odd that way. I must admit that I am mostly civil, but occasionally uncivil when provoked, especially in traffic. And, you will never find me at the Columbia Mall on a weekend...I go there twice a year, max, and never willingly.

  7. Jessie - Thanks for sharing Annethologie's post - it was a great read and provides hope...

    Sadly, I'm on business travel next week, but I do hope to make it to one of the HoCoBlogs meetups soon.

  8. What pool do you go to? I'll come join you and I'm happy to chat. :) I have a young daughter, too.

    I guess I find what you're saying generally true wherever I go, possibly because that is just what I expect, and therefore I am not usually open to anything else happening. And because I am sure most people are busy and wrapped up in their own little worlds. And perhaps most importantly, though I'm happy to talk to someone, I usually keep to myself until someone approaches me, possibly with a little persistence, so I probably appear pretty unfriendly most of the time.

    But sometimes I am surprised by a good experience. Other times, I try to make it happen, but it usually requires that I am in a particularly outgoing mood. I do find it easier to reach out and talk to people now that I have a child because she makes the openings for me.

  9. Thank you for writing this--you really got me thinking:


  10. @ Macsmom - nice article. I like "Choose Neighborliness."

    @ Anne - Dickinson mostly.

  11. Whew! We've been at Kendall Ridge mostly, so at least I don't have to feel bad for being one of the unfriendlies you mention. :)

    Macsmom reminded me that I also wrote a post on being neighborly, and my changing ideas about what that means:

    But it sounds like I'd really like being in your neighborhood. You're making things happen!

  12. A post I wrote a couple years back on social media in the suburbs - http://hometowncolumbia.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/social-media-sizzle-in-the-burbs/

    I so recommend checking in more on FB and Foursquare, and tweeting more. As, for example, @annathema suggested re connecting at the pools, perhaps you'll find more vibe and connection by checking in at places and seeing who in your network pops in to say hello.