We hear a lot about globalization. Not so much about its precursor, nationalization. No, not nationalization as in nationalization of an industry, in which the commies take over the railroads. Or something. No, the nationalization, I’m talking about my own coinage. It’s the process through which, over the years, regional identities have to some degree disappeared.
Oh, they aren’t totally gone.
I was in Texas last week and a number of folks in the Dallas neighborhood I was staying in were flying the Texas flag.
Not that we don’t love our state: we do. And not that we don’t fly flags: we do that, too: US, Ireland, Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, Patriots. But, other than on a public building, I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen anyone fly the Massachusetts flag.
It’s just that a lot of the little things that marked your city, state or region as different have been lost in the giant homogenization of the world. Filene’s used to say Boston. Marshall Field used to say Chicago. No longer. We all shop at stores owned by Federated. Or at Target.
I still get a kick out of seeing a Dunk’s in a foreign location, like Dallas. But it also weirds me out. America doesn’t run on Dunkin. New England does. And my friends found Polar soda water for me at their grocery store. Polar? It’s made in Worcester, for crying out loud.
And then there are the regional linguistic peculiarities. Those little quirky regionalisms are dying out. We move around too much. We watch too much TV.
We used to say elastics. Now it’s rubber bands. Corner stores were spas. Porches on old wooden multi-family houses were piazzas. Bubblers were water fountains.
Part of this is self-defense. If you’re in, say, San Francisco, and ask where the bubbler is, you may be directed (as I was many years ago) to a mailbox.
Fortunately, some have managed to stay the course. No one from New England would order a milkshake if they wanted a concoction of ice cream, milk and syrup. We’d still ask for a frappe. Unless we’re from Rhode Island. Then we’d ask for a cabinet.
And then there’s good old tonic…
While other parts of the country may debate soda vs. pop, we clung for more than a century (since 1888, when the first use was recorded in print) to tonic as the catchall for any carbonated soft drink.
This despite the fact that “tonic” was already the name of a specific beverage, a clear liquid made of soda, sugar, and quinine, originally developed as a defense against malaria, whose flavor was so bitter that it actually improved with the addition of gin. (Source: Boston Globe)
It’s no longer used all that often – we came down on the side of soda: I’ve never heard anyone say pop around here – nevertheless, it persists, if not in usage then at least in understanding.
Or so Globe columnist Billy Baker found out when he went around asking for tonic.
What do you get in 2018 when you ask for a tonic in Boston? Would people know what I was talking about, or would I be looked at like I had three heads? The answers: Yes. And yes.
Billy went to Roche Brothers in West Rox. When he asked for the tonic aisle, an youngster drew a blank but an old timer working the cheese counter was able to direct him to Aisle 7. The aisle was full of sodas, but it also had tonic water. So, while I’m guessing the old timer knows tonic from tonic, the persistence of tonic wasn’t proven.
At a lunch counter around the corner from Roche Bros, a younger woman didn’t get what Billy was asking for when he ordered a small tonic. But, once again, an oldster:
…named Nancy Slyne came around the corner from the kitchen and stepped in for her younger colleague.
“Do you want Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite?” she said gesturing toward the fountain machine.
Admittedly, the younger woman had a pretty good excuse. She was from Albania. But yay, Nancy!
At a pizza joint, ordering tonic at the bar yielded a coke. At another lunch counter, yet another elder, Paula Ferzoco knew what Billy was asking for. He said tonic, she pointed him to a cooler full of Pepsi cans. Yay, Paula!
When I explained what I was up to, she laughed. “I used to call it tonic, but then I changed to soda because I was in Disney like 30 years ago and I asked for a tonic and they gave me tonic water.” Ferzoco said she knew what I was asking for, but it was rare to hear it nowadays.
At two renowned Boston watering holes, the bartenders knew the drill.
“What kind of tonic?” [Doyle’s] bartender Bob Donato, 65, said when I ordered. “You want Coke, ginger ale, 7-Up?”
The same happened at the Eire Pub in Dorchester, where an older man with a thick Irish brogue knew exactly what I was asking for, and said that people still ordered a tonic all the time, expecting a soda.
At Sullivan’s on Castle Island, an older fellow knew that Billy wanted a soda. A younger worker served Billy’s father a soda water when he ordered a tonic.
After his experiment, Billy Bake concluded that knowledge of tonic was mostly age-related. People of a certain age who are from around here – people like me and my ilk – know what a tonic is, even if, like Paula Z, we’ve converted to soda. Younger folks, on the other hand, think tonic is tonic water.
What’s next on the loss of local-ness front?
I really hope we don’t lose my personal favorite: the negative agreement. As in, when someone says “I like tonic,” you answer “So don’t I.” This used to drive my Midwestern mother batshit crazy. And if one of my sibs said, “I like driving Ma nuts”, there is only one answer: “So don’t I.”