False Advertising About Places

A couple of years ago I met a lovely couple, a German married to a Brazilian, who live in Minneapolis, MN (USA).  After basically doing their schooling and making their life together in the Twin Cities, they had moved to the south of France for a while.  Three years in the south of France was enough for them, and they moved back to the Cities.  I wondered out loud with them how that went over with their friends in France.  I asked, “How did you explain that you were moving from Montpellier to Minneapolis?”  It was easy, they replied, “We just said that we were going home.”  I was impressed. 

Of course that makes sense.  But it also runs against the way in which people talk to each other all of the time.  One thing I have noticed on Facebook is that if someone complains about the weather where they live, there are immediately all sorts of posts by people who write, “Move to California!”  Telling someone to move somewhere doesn’t make sense to me.  And when I first moved to France people wrote to me, “You are so lucky.”  Luck had nothing to do with it, and some of those people would not like living in France, but again luck would have nothing to do with it.  The problem with telling people to move for happiness is that first, it implies that the person doing the advertising knows what things bring happiness (in the California example, they are assuming that the weather trumps everything and brings happiness).  It also assumes that everyone likes the same things (I, for instance, like seasons. I also like snow and snow sports).

And speaking of happiness and moving to another countries, a long time ago, in the mid 18th Century to be exact, my paternal forefathers left Germany at the invitation of Russian Tsarina Catherine (who was German) to settle along the Volga River. My ancestors were promised all sorts of stuff including freedom of religion, certain tax exemptions, some free land and cash grants, exemption from military service, the right to use their own language, the right to build their own villages, churches, and schools.  Then, after a long and horrible trip, they arrived.  And things didn’t work so well.  Promises were broken.  Rights were taken away.  In short, life sucked.  The lives of many who stayed the course finally ended in Siberia under Stalin. 

But some of them, like my particular relatives, moved to the US.  I am sure they went through Ellis Island.  They probably read the signs in German saying that they could get some good wheat raising land in Kansas.  So they did go to Kansas.  And if you have read “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan, then you have read an entire chapter about the High Plains Deutsch, and those are my forefathers.  You can see that for a variety of reasons, some of them social, some of them material, life wasn’t as great as the signs promised on the plains of Kansas..  Or you might have read “Giants of the Earth,” about people like my maternal forefathers.  Those Norwegian ancestors came to Wisconsin where they lived in sod dugouts along a river.  Just like in the Little House on the Prairie books. They probably read about the nice land on signs, written in Norwegian, when they went through Ellis Island.  Living in dugouts was un-fun. Snakes fell from the ceiling. You get the point.  Nobody was lucky or had an easy time in all of that.  There was false advertising. There always is. There has to be because no one is prepared for the new country.

Posted by Paula Niedenthal at 7:02 AM JUN 6, 2011