Floridafication guide to help new Florida residents get settled in

Ellen Contreras

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Mulligans Vero Beach FLEllen Contreras

We joke here in Florida that there are only ten native Floridians left in the state. For some reason, many of them up and leave when they graduate. Why? Who knows? I personally love living in the land of summer and sunshine.

Ever since the pandemic hit, and people started working from home, Florida has seen a huge influx of new residents moving from all over the country. Many of them are coming from NY, CA and TX looking to escape the skyrocketing housing market. A lot of them are in IT and financial services, enabling them to work remotely with relative ease.

According to the Census Bureau, just over 221,000 people moved to Florida in 2020. That number rose to just over 329,000 in 2021. As of now, we are averaging 845 people moving to the Sunshine State every day and it is projected to stay at that level for the next 3 years.

The biggest problem we have is when new residents complain and want to make Florida like the state from which they came. Our answer to that? If you don’t like it here, move back. We like things the way they are just fine. Thank you very much.

Don’t get me wrong. Tourism brings in lots of dollars to our state and we enjoy meeting people from all over the world and other parts of the US. It is fun to meet people and learn about other cultures. We also appreciate the snowbirds too. Sometimes some of the new residents can try our patience until they get acclimated to our sunny state.

Floridians started posting their frustrations on social media about the new residents. There was one post making the rounds on Facebook in rapid fashion. It was more like an open letter warning new residents about our wolf spiders, fire ants, mosquitos, alligators, Florida panthers, snakes, murder hornets, etc. If you haven’t seen it, I will include a screen shot of part of the post in the article. It really was hilarious. Mostly tongue in check with a touch of truth.

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Florida Caution social media postEllen Contreras

This leads me to share my tips for acclimating to the Florida lifestyle. I call it the Floridafication process. Nope it’s not a word yet, but perhaps if this article gets enough traction, it just may be added to the dictionary by years end.

When I moved to Florida, many wonderful people helped me figure things out – best places for produce, restaurants, doctors, fun things to do, etc. I also had a number of people politely call out my behavior. I was born and raised on Long Island and thought I was a fairly thoughtful and well-behaved person. But apparently, I had some aggressive manners that needed addressing.

When running errands in NY, you are rushing to get them done, even when you aren’t actually pressed for time. New Yorkers are so used to dashing off here, there, and everywhere. There was a Publix a stone’s throw from my apartment where I used to live. After work, or on a Saturday, I’d pop in and do my shopping. I’d walk in list in hand, and purposefully and methodically gather my items and cross them off said list. The first day when I went to check out, the cashier smiled and said hello. I stopped, turned, and looked behind me. No one was there. She smiled and said hello to ME! I was floored! I remember half-smiling and mumbling hello in reply. I honestly thought she was acknowledging a coworker. It did not take long to realize their slogan, Where Shopping is a Pleasure, is taken to heart by the employees.

The following week, I go to Publix again and make sure that I smile and say hello back to the cashier. This time the cashier tells me, “I see you in here and you’re always rushing around. Why are you so busy?” I shrug and say that I recently moved from NY and that’s what we do. I really didn’t have anything better to say. I was also amazed that they bag your groceries, walk you to your car AND place them inside. That took some getting used to. Now I cannot bag groceries to save my life.

These encounters at Publix made me pause and think about how different things are in Florida compared to New York. Slowly but surely, with the help of new friends, coworkers, and my own observations, I successfully went through the Floridafication process.

I knew I had changed when my NY friends asked what happened to me, remarking on how different I had become. I told them that’s what happens and joked that it was the relentless Florida sun baking my brain and mellowing me out.

A few years after I relocated, I returned to NY for a visit. Driving from LI to Manhattan, I stopped at the midtown tunnel toll booth and startled the person taking my money when I said hello. Then when my brother came for a visit and went to a store with me, he lost his patience when I was chatting up the cashier at checkout. Apparently the 30-second conversation was time wasted.

If you have recently relocated to Florida, here is some advice to help make your geographical transition go smoother. Because trust me, Floridians are getting sick and tired of your behavior, and we’ll put you in line if necessary.

Driving. Most of our roads are pristine and free from potholes and cracks that make for a bumpy ride. We also have left hand turn lanes and multiple lanes in each direction. It’s so nice to be able to stop and make a turn without having to block traffic behind you.

Many towns and cities are set up in a grid without too many winding and twisty roads making it easy to get around town in minutes. Traffic flows nicely (most of the time) but it also encourages speeding and changing lanes to get ahead. This is what drives us nuts (pun intended – I love them BTW). Constantly changing lanes isn’t going to get you there faster. We see you coming in our rearview mirror, and we will keep pace with the car next to us to slow you down. Tailgating makes us take our foot off the gas pedal.

Relax. Take a breath. You left the rat race for a reason. Chill out and embrace the Florida lifestyle.

Manners. It may come as a surprise but only the northern part of Florida is part of the south. However, many of us appreciate and practice southern hospitality, especially in small towns. Bless your heart. Mom and pop retailers smile and say hello to everyone that enters their stores. The folks in the big box stores also do this. They may even make small talk. Smile, take a moment, and be nice. It doesn’t hurt and may even make you happy. The same thing applies to restaurant workers. They want you to have a great experience and it makes their job more fun too.

We enjoy making connections with people. Even if it is just for a minute or two. The other day, I had to take my car to the dealer to check my tires. Rather than go into a private office to make a call and check my email, I decided to go to the coffee bar. Barbara poured me a cup and gave me a freshly baked cookie. I sat next to a retired gentleman named Marvin and the three of us had a lovely conversation. We were having such a nice time that I took a few extra minutes to linger over the coffee and small talk. This is something I wouldn’t have done in NY, but I have fun meeting people here.

The next time you go grocery shopping, don’t block the entire aisle with your cart. As you go to select an item, stand with your cart on the same side as the item, so others can maneuver around you. We shouldn’t have to wait for you to find what you’re looking for. Think about those around you, bless your heart.

Stopping to check your phone? Again, move to the side and let others pass. Keeping with the phone topic, do not use your speaker in a store, restaurant or a doctor’s office waiting room. Talk, using an indoor voice, with your phone to your ear. Better yet, wait until you are done shopping and talk in the car – hands free of course.

Heat. Florida typically has two seasons: warm and hot, very hot. And humid. Get over it. That’s what we have air conditioning for. Most of us put up with it because the winter weather is glorious. Trust me, stay here long enough and your blood thins out. It won’t take long before you start wearing jackets when the temperature dips below 70 degrees.

Remember to keep a light jacket or shawl in the car because some restaurants and stores keep it cold. Don’t ask them to make it warmer because they won’t. They’ll smile and say they’ll take care of it and laugh at you in the kitchen.

Bugs, lizards, spiders, and snakes – oh my! We’ve got plenty of them. Many of the bugs are so big, they cast their own shadows. You can tell when someone’s lived in Florida for a long time when something buzzes past them. They don’t react. They just look at the bug to determine what it is. If it’s not something that’ll bite or sting, they move on.

Do lizards bother you? Consider them your friend as many of them eat mosquitos and their larvae. Don’t worry about the iguanas. Yes, they can grow up to 3 feet long, but you have nothing to fear. They are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. Fruits and veggies are their vibe. They also love hibiscus flowers.

Give red ant mounds a wide berth because those suckers hurt when they bite! When their mound gets disturbed, they swarm, and you won’t feel them crawl on you. They send a signal and will bite you at once. Do not lie on the grass or stand in one spot for too long and you’ll be fine.

Spiders are another critter to be wary of. We’ve got a ton of them that are big, scary, and hairy. While many of them are harmless, there are a number of them to watch out for. My advice is to Google Florida spiders, look at the pictures and avoid black widows and the brown recluse. I’ve met a few people that have had nasty bites with scars to prove it.

Snakes cannot be avoided. The longer you live here, the more you’ll see them. Black racers and rat snakes are abundant and harmless. I’ve eaten at restaurants on their patios and pay them no mind. Black racers move fast and want nothing to do with you. Rat snakes will play dead when you come up on them. Just keep walking and they will leave you alone. Corner either one of them and they will bite, and it hurts but they’re not poisonous. Again, my advice is to Google Florida snakes so you can identify them and give them a wide berth.

The Floridafication process is to help you let go of where you moved from and embrace the Florida lifestyle and all that this beautiful state has to offer. No place is perfect, otherwise it would be called Eden. We have our drawbacks and if we could only capture the elusive Florida man, which may help turn things around.

Floridians are friendly. We like to have fun, relax, and enjoy the outdoors and put our toes in the sand. We work hard but we also know when to end the day and pick up where we left off the next.

I’ll end it here by saying, “Welcome to Florida!” If you are nice, we will welcome you with open arms, give you plenty of advice and tips so you can settle in with ease. If you’re not, we’ll put a wolf spider under your pillow. JK!

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Ellen Contreras is also known as the Treasure Coast Connector because she shares information and writes articles that connects business owners to consumers in the community - Florida's Treasure Coast and beyond. Ellen is an iHeart Radio talk show host at Planet Vero. Her show, Treasure Coast Connector, airs on Saturdays at 3pm on WCZR 101.7FM (Stuart to Melbourne, FL). She also writes helpful articles and shares opinions on careers, business development, the Florida lifestyle and more. Follow Ellen on: Livestream - iHeart radio talk show: https://livestream.com/planetvero/events/ Spreaker: https://www.spreaker.com/show/treasure-coast-connector-show Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TreasureCoastConnector Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/treasurecoastconnector/ LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ellencontreras/

Vero Beach, FL
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