A cousin of mine recently asked me if I missed living in our hometown, Fort Myers, Florida. I answered that, although Fort Myers will always be my hometown, it has not been my home since I left for college in 1976. She seemed surprised, then she said, “Well, you lived in the same house for 18 years. Don’t you miss it?” to which I responded that I may have lived there for 18 years, but I have lived in Southeast Florida, from Homestead to Deerfield Beach, for a total of over 34 years, almost twice as long as I lived in Fort Myers. She followed up by asking what I like about the place I have called home for so long. I explained that, not only do I enjoy “the action,” which ranges from having so many activities to choose from, more amazing restaurants than I can count, and lots of cool places to see, but I really enjoy the diverse population in Southeast Florida. On any given day, when I am doing errands, I can encounter: (1) the Muslim family from Guyana who own and operate the dry cleaners I have patronized for 30 years; (2) the Greek man who owns and operates a deli David and I love and who manufactures excellent olive oil he imports from Greece; (2) the Russian couple who own and operate a shoe repair and tailor shop where many of my clothes and shoes have been repaired; (4) the Venezuelan woman who owns and operates an amazingly delicious restaurant we recently discovered; (5) the Italian family who own and operate one of our favorite restaurants, and who spoke almost no English when we met them many years ago; and many more. Then, there’s one of my favorite people, Button, who is from The Bahamas and who has been our landscaper for over 30 years; Betty, who is a former police officer from Peru, who cleans our home until it sparkles; and most of our neighbors, who are from Brazil, Venezuela, Switzerland, Canada, and places outside the U.S.A. I am easily bored, especially when surrounded by people who are similar to myself, and the benefits of being around all kinds of people have provided me with a fun way to learn about other cultures and their customs. Other people may enjoy small town or rural life, interacting with people who are similar to themselves, but suffice it to say, I thrive on my South Florida existence!
Variety is the spice of life. And, the melting pot of south Florida is full of spice. There are fewer native Floridians in Florida than ever with residents from all over the country and world. Who can blame them? The snow birds from Canada and New York are one thing, and many are seasonal. But, with the weather we have, especially in the cold months “up north,” why wouldn’t they flock here if they can? We’ve met true refugees from oppressive governments, like the doctor down the street who had to escape from Venezuela. And, of course, the south Florida Cuban community is tremendous; we certainly enjoy the spice they have brought to Florida. Fritas anyone? El Reys Fritas is a favorite spot in Little Havana, which is, perhaps, 40 miles from our neighborhood, but we consider that close by. Not to mention La Caretta or Versailles. Then there is the place, 2 minutes from our office, that serves Pide, a type of pizza, from Turkey. The grocery store in the back of the restaurant offers an array of Turkish delights. We have Mexican tiendas, stores selling fresh tortillas, chips, and imported goods. The same is true of other Latin American countries, including the mother/daughters who the run Venezuelan cafe/grocery near the Turkish place. Asian, well, we have that too – though not as much as in other places. But, we can easily find Thai, Japanese, Chinese and more. Dim sum anyone? We even have a British store/bakery if anyone wants a meat pie or pastie. The fact that we live in a place which is not homogenous does make life interesting.