Saturday, February 11, 2012

NYC to SLC (The Salt Lake Tribune, 2/11/2012)


“So, are you converting to Mormonism?”

“Are you going to get another wife or two?”

These are some of the questions I was asked when I told my friends that my wife and I were moving from New York City to Salt Lake City for work. At first I laughed them off, but after hearing the same questions over and over, I asked myself, “What’s with all the Mormon-bashing? When did that suddenly become OK?”

I imagine that if I were moving to San Francisco, no one would ask me if I was coming out of the closet. If I were moving to Detroit, no one would dare ask if I was going to buy a gun to carry to work. And yet, when it comes to the LDS Church, its open season for jokes that border on ignorance and often cross into outright bigotry.

The most surprising aspect of these barbs is that they often came from people who belong to minorities that have been stereotyped and marginalized into oblivion: Muslims, homosexuals, among others. Often the people who made these comments are some of the most tolerant and accepting people I know in almost every other respect.

And what has been my “Mormon experience” in Utah? I hardly notice it at all.

I think people have knocked on our door once or twice. No one has suggested that I take on more wives. In fact, the mainstream LDS Church denounced that practice long ago. When I’ve visited the Salt Lake Temple grounds I have been approached a couple of times with offers of more information about Mormonism. But when I declined, the young women handing out pamphlets respectfully allowed me to go about my business. In fact, if I went to the very center of any religion and didn’t get solicited, I’d be halfway disappointed.

Allow me to explain our particular situation and thereby qualify some of my statements. We live in a fourplex occupied exclusively by graduate students or hospital employees near the University of Utah, so we likely get less exposure to religious proselytizing than most. I am sure our location contributes at least in part to our not noticing the Mormon influence about which we were constantly warned. That being said, here are the four major differences I have noticed in Salt Lake City which are a function of it being the center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

1. Beer on draft at a restaurant/bar must have an alcohol content of 3.2 percent or less by weight. Bottled beers are unrestricted in alcohol content.

2. All beer purchased at convenience stores like 7-11 must meet the 3.2 percent rule.

3. All liquor or beer with an alcohol content greater than 3.2 percent must be purchased at state-run liquor stores.

4. These are the nicest, most polite people I have ever met.

As you can see, three of the four differences are related to alcohol.

There also is a quality that is undeniably welcome, especially to an interracial couple from out of state. My wife is Caucasian and I am an Indian-American. When we walk down the street pushing a stroller carrying our half-Indian, half-Caucasian daughter, well-intentioned people approach and speak in high-pitched baby gibberish, just like in any other city.

While I don’t mean to sound like I work for, I can honestly say that I have never lived in a more pleasant and simultaneously more misunderstood city than this one.

Arjune Rama and his wife moved to Salt Lake City from New York City in 2010. He just completed a psychiatry internship at the University of Utah.

© 2012 The Salt Lake Tribune