Becoming a Rhode Islander

becoming a rhode

I came to Rhode Island from Washington state thirty-five years ago, in August 1978. There were some obvious differences. Rhode Island is a tiny provincial state with a long history; Washington is a large diverse state with a much briefer history.



It took me a long time – almost until the present day – to figure out the subtler differences between the two.



I was puzzled (at first) by people who kept asking me if I was “one of the Rhode Island Williamses.” I had no idea what this meant. I finally realized they were asking if I was descended from Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island colony in 1636. I am not one of his descendants, so far as I know. But I wasn’t here more than a year or so before I became acquainted with someone who was. See? The Roger Williams family is still here. Everyone’s still here. People here stick around.



They seem to like it here.



They like it so much, in fact, that a lot of people never cross the state line. I saw a cute bumper sticker in Frog & Toad the other day: THIS CAR NEVER LEAVES RHODE ISLAND.  (That’s not a joke, for a lot of people.) The Rhode Island border is a little permeable here and there – into Attleboro, Mass. in the northeast, and into Seekonk, Mass. in the east, and maybe just a little into Stonington, Conn. in the southwest – but it is generally a very watertight little enclosure, in which everyone bounces around, but which no one ever really leaves.



Which leads to the next thing: everyone knows everyone here. 



In Washington, you know the people in your community, or at least a few of them. In Rhode Island, you know everyone. Of course you do. You keep running into the same people over and over again. How can you not know everyone?


But Rhode Island is a very private club. It takes a while before you’ve really been accepted.



Now I’ve been here for more than thirty-five glorious years. People smile and wave at me in the street. I say hello to everyone, and they say hello back, because they know: deliverymen, cashiers, business owners. Even one of the homeless people downtown greeted me the other day with casual familiarity.



I’m a local, at last. A real Rhode Islander.



And it only took thirty-five years!



About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

11 Responses to Becoming a Rhode Islander

  1. I’ve heard tell it’s the worst in Vermont. This from Urban Dictionary: “People from the state of Vermont. True Vermonters have been living in Vermont for at least seven generations. Does not include lame New Jerseyite/Connecticut/Massachusett transplants and annoying out-of-stater UVM students. real Vermonters are not hippies. Real Vermonters hose tourists and laugh at them when they gawk at leaves.” Unlike NYC, where you’re immediately a New Yorker; they don’t care; where you’re from? Whatever.

  2. starproms says:

    Sounds like a great place to me. I love that the car sticker said ‘this car never leaves Rhode Island’. Lovely post.

  3. Sounds wonderful; it sure does take a long time to become a true local. I have heard of older people who never left the Long Beach Peninsula for their whole lives! I love the bumper sticker…

  4. Your comment on the Peninsula fascinates me. There is a story behind that. Maybe it will be revealed when I read your entire blog over this winter.

    • My sister-in-law’s family had a house in Ocean Park where we used to spend a lot of time. I developed a whole childhood fantasy about spending the rest of my life on the Peninsula.

      • My friend Kathleen, who commented, has a fantasy about moving down here for retirement, and we hope she does. Maybe someday all of us can go out for dinner (when you visit sometime).

      • I fantasize about moving there in retirement too, sometimes. Although I think, now that we’re here, it’ll more likely be Cape Cod or Vermont.

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