Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Where'd You Go to High School?"

I will never be considered a native St. Louisan, though I've lived here for 14 years, long enough that I have become more like a local than an interloper.

When I was 18, I moved here to go to Washington University and then stuck around afterward. When I graduated from college, my boyfriend was still an undergrad so I looked for a job here. When he graduated, I already had a job so he looked for a job here. Then after we were married (here) we both had jobs here so this is where we bought a house. Now we have children who will indeed be native St. Louisans.

During college, our friends were from all over, and our first exposure to large groups of St. Louis natives came after graduation, with our first jobs. "Where'd you go to school?" was the first question we noticed people asking each other at parties, rather than the more commonly heard elsewhere "What do you do," and "How do you know the bride and groom?" Or, in my family, "Who'd you vote for in the last election?" and "What's your favorite NPR program?"

I didn't use to understand the high school question, but now I do. St. Louis is, more than many other cities, truly a city of neighborhoods, and residents are categorized by which part of the metro area they're from. I could try to explain that, but this does a better job than I ever could. Suffice it to say that if you move here, expect to be confused for about 5 years. Also, pick someone you really like and live near her family, because your neighborhood will become your identity pretty quickly.

St. Louis is also a Catholic city. I understand this much less, not being Catholic myself. Basically, whether or not you went to Catholic school says a lot about you, and there is a hierarchy within the parochial schools, which helps place you as well.

Some people from out of town try to answer accurately when asked where they went to high school. I always say that I'm from away, which stops the line of questioning immediately. No one cares what state I'm from; there's no important frame of reference outside the St. Louis metro area.

Given the importance neighborhood plays in St. Louis living, school district was definitely a part of the consideration when we were house shopping. We're still a little flummoxed. We don't want our children to grow up to be Hoosiers (it's hard for me to accept that this is a pejorative term here, raised by a proud Indiana native as I was). We don't want our children to go to unaccredited schools. We believe in the importance of art and music in the curriculum. But we don't want our kids to grow up surrounded by over-privileged kids, either. There's only so much that occasional community volunteering and church work camps can do to counter-balance a life of being surrounded daily by kids who have so much.

We're still figuring it all out. But at least we have a few years until the kids are in high school.

[This blog post is part of the first St. Louis Blog Carnival, topic: High School.]


Rebecca said...

So true! I'm a native, but you've got in down!

brooke said...

i appreciate your commentary on that part of st louis culture. i was trying to think of something similar here in Utah, or in Eugene. i think the one around here is "where are you from" - usually inquiring about being from utah or not.. being from happy valley (provo) or not. if someone says they are from utah there is a very high chance they are lds. if it comes out that the two people involved are from utah and lds, they usually end up finding some connection (oh. your uncle was my mission president. or -- ohh yeah, your cousin was in my ward in college.) for a state this large in geographical size, it is scarily small.

Seasonal said...

I was befuddled as well when I moved here in 1997 by people asking what high school I went to. I would always say "I'm from California" and then they would persist in knowing my high school. This further befuddled me because no one would know my school!

I love that you wrote about this because it definitely describes what I went through too, and you have hit the nail on the head as to why this question is so important.

Kristi said...

I get a kick out of people's responses to where I live--both our current house and our previous apartments. I think it's mostly because Maryland Heights doesn't know exactly where it should stand in the St. Louis hierarchies--we get a "West County Journal", a "North County Journal", and "Northwest County Journal". Folks I've worked with from across "the river" (either one) seem aghast that as caucasians we are in the minority in our neighborhood (well, we don't hold a simple majority...we might be almost even with Indian/Pakistani and black families). Some have expressed true fear for the Central West End neighborhood we used to live in. And yet, our home and neighborhood is as nice as most "farther out", and our school district (Pattonville) is quite solid.

Of course, I've never been one for putting too much store into stereotypes, generalizations, and "what everyone else thinks". After all, I am a female software engineer. :)

Anny Monroe said...

I really enjoyed this explanation of St. Louis. I have been trying to figure it out since my brother moved there.

Camera Obscura said...

I too give the "I'm from out of town" answer to The Question when meeting new people, usually proceeded by, "Don't bother asking because..." before they even open their mouths. Despite going to university w/ and then working w/ lots of St. Louis area natives, I to this day do not fully understand the hierarchy of Catholic high schools, altho I know there is one.

For the truly pushy, I can admit that my husband is a McCluer North boy. That shuts them up fast, especially when they know where we live now (deepest Wildwood) since that part of the metro area (older Florissant) is going downhill. When Hubs was growing up it was what St. Charles County is now, but they never think of that when they hear it, do they?

The only person I've met who had reason to persist in asking me where I went to school is #1-Son's cello teacher, who it turns out graduated from my mom's high school, albeit 10 years later. Her mom taught voice at (what is now) Missouri State.

Sorry, but when we moved back here from L.A. we chose to look for a home by cross-referencing school district stats w/ housing prices, and the residential demographics could go hang. Perhaps the majority of kids out here are over-privileged, but it does not seem to have rubbed off on mine (good thing, too - grin.)

Martha said...

I found your blog when I was searching for flavors at Tropical Moose..kinda funny. The "high school" question is so odd. We moved here from the east, and I'm not sure I've been asked that elsewhere. I still feel like a liberal, eastern outsider a bit here. But maybe not as much as when I first moved here.

I like your blog, btw.

Sarahlynn said...

Thanks, Rebecca! After 14 years, I'm beginning to understand a little . . .

Brooke, I've made some of those same assumptions about Utah.

Seasonal, it's so odd, isn't it? I've never heard of this anywhere else.

Kristi, true. And you're a software engineer who likes to sew and bake!

Anny, maybe if you moved here, it would become more clear . . .

Camera, I'm trying *not* to learn the hierarchy of St. Louis Catholic schools! I think I'm better off this way.

Martha, Thanks! I hope you enjoyed your Tropical Moose. I've still never been there, but every time I drive by, I'm tempted. Have you been down to Wash U? It's chock full of liberal, eastern outsiders. ;-)

Seasonal said...

Saralynn, you're not a true Kirkwoodian! You've never been to Tropical Moose? For shame!

I only go about once a summer, but I love it so. The line is intimidating, but it moves fairly quickly and the prices are hard to beat.

Redhead Editor said...

I am also an "outsider," but because I taught here, I know the structure and can "talk the talk." I also help "outsiders" by providing a high school for them because sometimes it's just easier to lie. Funny, I often tell them to say "McCluer North." It's large enough that you can say you don't remember that teacher or that classmate (but not too large)!

And I'm with Seasonal... you can't call yourself a true Kirkwoodian if you've never been to Tro Mo. It truly is one of the top things I miss since I have moved. (And you can't really Fed Ex it to Columbia.)