I Heart Suburbia

Clarissa‘s post “Provincialism” gave me much food for thought. She used to be a big-city person, but now fears she’s become provincial because she is dreading traffic, crowds, and noise in the big city where she used to live and that she’s about to visit with her husband and baby.

I grew up and spent much of my youth in a big city. The apartment where I grew up was on a major street, with a busy bus stop right below. I spent years riding overcrowded public transport. I have smelled enough unwashed armpits for five lifetimes. Having various body parts of strangers shoved in your face and pressed all over  you in scorching 100-degree weather on a bus without airconditioning was just way of life. In a part of my childhood, my parents and my sister and I shared one bedroom in a three-bedroom apartment; my aunt and her daughter were in another, and my maternal parents in the third bedroom. Later, the aunt moved out so I just shared a room with my sister. Whenever my parents and I we would travel anywhere, we’d stay with friends or relatives. I always shared rooms and beds with mother, sister, grandma, cousin, someone. On a daily basis, we always had to be mindful of neighbors and not make too much noise. There were people everywhere, all the time, always around, and they all had to be considered, all the time.

When I moved to the States I thought I’d, of course, always live in a big city in an apartment. Why, that’s the only way to live, and nothing else will do!

Only now I own a big house in a suburb and I drive a car, and I love both the house and the car as fiercely as you can love inanimate objects that make you very, very happy. I am never moving to a big city, where all the people are. *shudder*

One of the best things about living like I do now — in a big house, with lots and lots of space — is how calm and comfortable I feel. I also love driving, it’s one of my favorite activities. If I were to never ride public transport again in my life, I would be totally okay with that. When I travel, I thankfully have enough money to never have to stay with anyone and can go to a hotel and have my space. (Now if only I could do that when I go visit my parents; my mom would never forgive me is I stayed anywhere but with her, even though I am totally putting her out when I do.) A dear colleague recently offered that I stay with him and his family at an upcoming conference. I just can’t. That’s too much togetherness. I need to be able to go to my hotel room and unwind all by myself.

Perhaps this makes me provincial, but I don’t think that’s the right term. Would a curmudgeon fit better? I still enjoy theater and concerts as much as ever, probably more than before because now with kids it’s always such a treat to go out. There is more to do here than we are able to pull off due to work and family obligations, and I don’t think I have become less worldly simply by living in a comfortable house.

Mostly, I never knew just how much I needed space and how much the perpetual intrusion of other people in a big city really bugged me until I got some space. Now that I know what it feels like to have some and to be left alone, I just can’t take the crowds any more. Air travel also bothers me more and more, because it’s so uncomfortable and so crowded; we are packed tightly like sardines. I have traveled extensively all my life, so travel logistics don’t faze me; really, it’s mostly all the darn people. I think I am also getting more introverted with age, in that time around people exhausts me much more than it used to even when I nominally enjoy it.

But will this lifestyle make my kids provincial? Perhaps. Almost certainly so, I’d say. But there’s something to be said for not being squished between strangers in public transport on a daily basis, at least not until the kids go to college. After that, the crowds of the world await them.


  1. I moved from an European capital to a small remote location in the US. When a family member visited and I shouted him to grab something from my room from downstairs, he came down and told me not to shout because of the neighbours. And I told him….what neighbours??, we do not share walls with anyone…welcome to the US!!!!! 🙂

    I was recently in DC, which I normally enjoy a lot. It felt good for a minute to be back to civilization….until I got trampled by it in the metro during rush hour.

  2. I never realized how much I HATE driving around town/in traffic (I enjoy driving on long road trips, when its an adventure and there are no time constraints and you are on vacation) and how much of a joy it is to able to walk places until I moved to the city. I grew up in suburbia (my parents moved OUT of the city and were so so happy to live where there is space) and I thought I would miss it, but I feel very much at home & myself in my urban jungle, avoiding public transportation whenever possible.

  3. Mid-size town, townhouse condo. I used to like public transit, but I realized that I like my 10-minute bike ride to campus much more. Do not like driving ever. Driving in cities is the worst.

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