how weird is this? people from hometown edition
January 23, 2023 9:53 AM   Subscribe

How often do you meet strangers from the same general area you grew up in? (Addressing the question specifically to people who no longer live anywhere near their hometown.)

I lived pretty close to my hometown for the first 37 years of my life. After I moved away, though, I noticed that I keep meeting strangers who are from the same general area. I'm trying to get an idea of how common this is.

Example: Yesterday I was eating some pizza with my daughter, and I could overhear the conversation at the table next to us. One of them mentioned attending a college in a city about ten miles away from my hometown that many of my family members have attended. The college is pretty small and regional, and we were about 700 miles away. That seems to me like quite a coincidence, but maybe it's not? After all, something like this happens to me maybe once a month, maybe even more. It's also not just limited to where I live now - I meet people from my hometown traveling often. (And I'm not even counting instances involving my alma mater, because it was a big state school and fellow alumni are nearly everywhere.)

I have some thoughts about why, but I'd like to see how common it is. Does this happen to you? If so, where did you grow up?
posted by kevinbelt to Grab Bag (45 answers total)
Nope. Grew up in the north suburbs of Chicago, and I run into people very occasionally from the area (not my specific suburb, the north suburbs as a whole) or with a connection to it, but we're talking every couple of years.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:55 AM on January 23

I grew up in northern Michigan and moved to Chicago 20 years ago, and I have encountered exactly one person from my home county, never from my hometown.
posted by goatdog at 9:58 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

I'm from a town of ~100,000 people that's ~1000 miles from NYC. I've lived in NYC for 10 years and have randomly encountered someone from my town twice — once at my job (retail) and once at a Duane Reade. Both were people I knew and not strangers, though, so if I *didn't* know them already I would have had no way of finding out they were from my hometown, if that makes sense? We just happened to recognize each other in public.

I encounter people from the nearest large city to my hometown somewhat more frequently, but less often than you might expect given the size of the city? Maybe once or twice a year.
posted by sparkling at 10:10 AM on January 23

It's happened several times to me. I grew up in a college town in the Midwest where many people move to large coastal cities after school (and so did I).
posted by pinochiette at 10:11 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Grew up in the Kansas City area, have lived in Seattle for 30+ years.

I can recall 4 times. A person I was in a game group with had gone to high school in a school in the same school district as me. A friend on my indoor soccer team was born in the same hospital as I was. The other two were less crazy, but it does happen.
posted by Windopaene at 10:12 AM on January 23

I think it depends. If you're from a major metro area pop 3,000,000, the amount of people from your hometown being anywhere is pretty large, compared to say some small rural town population 400. I think also being in a large metro area, just by nature of how many people you are exposed to in any given period, will allow you to run into people from all over and up the chances that one of those people are from your area.

I'm from Asheville, NC. "Metro area" population is about a half million. I live in Brooklyn, a few million deep. I run into people from the Asheville area all the time. There also seems to be a general pipeline from NC to NY since we're on the same coast--lots of people I know moved here after college, so it seems even probable that I'll meet some back-home people.

Seems more likely than say someone from pop 400 Montana meeting someone from there while in pop 400 Kentucky ya know?

So I think it's a statistical numbers game.
posted by greta simone at 10:13 AM on January 23 [12 favorites]

Surprisingly often. I grew up in New England, about 20 miles from a couple of major cities, and it's always a pleasant surprise when someone recognizes the name of my hometown. But by "often" I mean every couple of years, probably.
posted by suelac at 10:18 AM on January 23

It happens to me occasionally, though not as often as you. It is sometimes sparked by seeing a hometown area or college T shirt, or I may catch an accent, or they may catch mine. The most memorable encounters were running into a college dorm mate randomly on the street about 25 years later, and being in a hotel in Mexico City and having my sister's best friend from childhood just happen to walk through the lobby while we were checking in. It helps that I live in our capital/a tourist destination of course, as people are more likely to come here.
My husband is from a college town with an Ivy school so he meets a lot of alumni from that school.
posted by gudrun at 10:19 AM on January 23

Never? Almost never? I grew up in Savannah GA and have lived in Chicago now for 18 years. I don't think the cold big city midwest is a popular destination for small city deep south folks. I don't want to say it's never happened, but I can't think of anyone in my memory I've met since living here who grew up in Savannah.

There was a girl who went to my college who was also from Savannah, but I don't think she counts because I'm pretty sure our paths would have never crossed if we hadn't intentionally tried to meet the one other Savannah person.
posted by phunniemee at 10:22 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

The answer so far are very focused on North America. If it's helpful to have an international perspective, I grew up in an Asian capital city and now live in London, UK. There is a large contingent of people from my hometown living here, including people I went to high school with. Some are friends - some, I would cross the street to avoid :)
posted by unicorn chaser at 10:22 AM on January 23

Sometimes! I grew up in Greenville, SC, and you either stayed or you beat a hasty retreat once you graduated (I still recommend you do this if you are currently growing up there). I used to run into people all the time from Greenville when I lived in Atlanta but then that's where all the concerts are or whatever weirdness you're into, and it's only two hours down I-85. I used to listen to this NYC-based podcast back in 2012 and their admin assistant was from Greenville, and I got to know her outside of the podcast. She's younger than me so her memories of Greenville are slightly different but the broad strokes never change.

Where I live in Kingston, Ontario, there are a lot more Southerners here than I thought! More NC folks than SC folks, for sure.
posted by Kitteh at 10:25 AM on January 23

I'm from northern Wisconsin and live in Chicago, and this happens to me all the time. I feel like I have personally met every Lawrence University graduate in the state of Illinois.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 10:29 AM on January 23

I am from a little Connecticut town (pop. approx 54k) and was extremely surprised to find someone else from the same town in my tiny Florida college incoming class of approximately 60 people (a few decades ago)! Haven't met anyone else from there since.
posted by Glinn at 10:30 AM on January 23

I've got a remote meeting this week with somebody in Switzerland; I'm based out of Toronto, but after after a brief conversation we both learned we grew up in Ottawa.

We'd never had a real conversation before last week, but after a bit of back and forth about ourselves, we figured out that the first time we actually met was at Zaphod's, first week of January, 2000.

Life's weird. I'll let you know how the meeting goes.
posted by mhoye at 10:32 AM on January 23

I grew up in St. Paul, MN, and moved to New England 30 years ago. I run into people from the Twin Cities or greater MN several times per year. Maybe every month? I don't have the accent, but it always jumps out to me.

When I was in college, one of the faculty was from MN or WI and used to stand breakfast once per semester to any Midwestern kid who cared to stop by. From that experience I learned that people from my part of the country seek each other out, so I make an effort to bring it up if I suspect that someone is also a Midwesterner. I have never gotten a negative reaction that way! :7)

And it happens secondhand a lot, too: my son said his college girlfriend's roommate is from Minnesota. Or I met a guy whose event was ending as our meeting in the same room was starting -- and he was from MN. His daughter runs track with my daughter. A guy on a Zoom call last week was from MN. And so it goes...
posted by wenestvedt at 10:32 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Happens more often then you would think if you live in a Touristed area: When I lived in NYC I ran into a band group from my high school (tiny wv village/town 600 miles away) that I had graduated 18 years prior. Their chaperone knew me from high school.
posted by sandmanwv at 10:33 AM on January 23

I think this depends on 1) the size of the town/locale; 2) the distance from your current location; and 3) the number of people you encounter each day.

I grew up in a town of ~50,000 about 400 miles away, and I've encountered 2-3 people from there, here.
posted by amtho at 10:35 AM on January 23

I think it’s more like confirmation bias. People talk about colleges and places frequently but you don’t notice and “log” it in your mind unless it’s meaningful to you. If I lived nearer to military installations/communities I’d probably meet more people who have lived where I lived. But where I live now, it’s not very common. However, I did meet someone at a job that I worked for only a few weeks who had not only lived in a place I had lived but she literally had my bedroom! The conversation between us was sparked by an offhand comment about “military brats.” 5,000 miles and one country away and we lived in the same village, the same house, the same bedroom.
posted by amanda at 10:36 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

I'm transplant from New England to Washington state, and I'd say a few times a year I meet someone from New England that has some sort of connection (went to the same college, from my home state of CT, etc). It happened a lot more often when I still had my Connecticut license plate on my car, because people would notice it and share their connection with me. Two weird ones are when someone saw it and mentioned they went to the same college and we discovered we lived in the same dorm a few years apart, and a group hike that a friend organized through a meetup group where out of about 12 people that showed up, like 8 of us were from Connecticut. It's always a fun thing when it happens, maybe 2-3 times a year.
posted by carlypennylane at 10:44 AM on January 23

It is an absolute cliche for New Zealanders that when we travel, we will meet another New Zealander who is one degree of separation away. Or talk to someone who says Oh, I know a New Zealander, you know might know them? And we scoff -- as if we all knew each other! -- and then discover, shit, I went to school with that person.

The truth is we are a small society and statistically these kinds of coincidences are likely (see eg the Birthday Paradox for how wrong our intuitions are on the probability of sharing things in common).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:55 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]

I have lived 90 miles from Hometown since 1990, and I have encountered, at most, three strangers from there.

Both have metro areas of about 100K, with universities, large hospital systems, etc. I am not counting people who are "from" Hometown in the sense they attended its major public university or were residents at its teaching hospital.

Part of this is Hometown is seen as a desirable place to live, and New Hometown is decidedly not. So, few people move here from there. I'm here because this is where I attended college and have worked ever since. Another: like my family, many move on to other college/university towns, so there is a high degree of baked-in mobility among its population.
posted by Caxton1476 at 10:56 AM on January 23

I'm from Asheville, NC. "Metro area" population is about a half million. I live in Brooklyn, a few million deep. I run into people from the Asheville area all the time.

Me too. I still live in NC (though 220 odd miles east of Asheville), so here doesn't really count, but I will mention that I seem to run into people from Asheville randomly when I'm traveling abroad pretty regularly).
posted by thivaia at 11:01 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a small town in central Indiana, moved away for college in 1988 and didn't move back. September of 2022, on a flight to Chicago from Dublin, Ireland, was seated next to a man who lives in the small town now. First time I've ever met someone I didn't know from there. And since neither of us live in Chicago, I found it extra weird (he was flying back to his in-laws place, I was flying back with my adult children who live there).
posted by cooker girl at 11:06 AM on January 23

I don't understand the mechanism but it definitely happens to some people more than others - one friend of mine has an uncanny ability to run into people she knows everywhere she goes. Like, she once ran into an elementary school friend (from outside Chicago) in a back street in Venice at 3AM. Likewise my mother's partner runs into people from his hometown wherever he goes. I never ever do.

I suspect it has as a lot to do with what you pay attention to and what you're interested in.
posted by mskyle at 11:20 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]

I think there's whats called the frequency illusion happening here as well - you notice if you realize someone you come across is from your home town because you have a connection to that place, but chances are you do not recall how many times you've run across folks from ThisOneSpecificRandomTown, USA. It's the same reason that once you buy a new car you seem to notice a bunch of the same model on the road all of a sudden. It's not that the cars just started showing up, instead you're just noticing them now!
posted by cgg at 11:20 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]

This happens to me a lot. I grew up in Denver, moved to Seattle in ‘87. It seems like the PNW and Denver/Boulder regularly trade out parts of populations. I thinks it’s two things: 1. There are a lot of tech jobs in both areas, and 2. Both locations are attractive to people who enjoy the outdoors.
What I don’t find is very many people who are from my neighborhood in Denver (Park Hill).
posted by dbmcd at 11:20 AM on January 23

I'm from North Jersey and run into folks from North Jersey fairly frequently, which makes sense, because there's a lot of people from North Jersey. But: my "If I had a nickel for every time X happened, I'd have 15 cents, which isn't, but it's weird that it's happened 3 times" is that three former campmates from two separate camps ended up in my relatively small academic field (~ 250 PhDs a year); neither camp was particularly large or focused on anything related to the field we're in. Weird things happen!
posted by damayanti at 11:30 AM on January 23

literally never. I grew up on an island in the caribbean and now there is an entire ocean and thousands of kilometers both east and north between me and anyone that I might casually run into. it would be the weirdest thing.
posted by alchemist at 11:41 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

Obviously this is extremely dependent on where you’re from, but from a philosophical standpoint: 1. you’re from there and are now wherever you are, so why wouldn’t they be? and 2. you probably overhear and disregard dozens of conversations a day/week about places you have no connection to, these ones just stick out more.

It happens to me a fair amount, but I’m from a midsized city with a lot of colleges (Greensboro NC) and I live in NYC, which obviously attracts a ton of transplants.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:54 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

My hometown (pop. 10k)? Not that often, but the general metro area (pop. ~1 million) I grew up in? All the time. I live more than 500 miles from my hometown but someone I work with grew up less than 10 miles away from me, and someone else I work with is married to someone from my hometown. I was trading phone numbers with another mom at the playground recently and we both had the same hometown area code. And I see a lot of people wearing gear for my home area's NFL team.

I suspect this is a reflection of internal migration patterns and says more about where I grew up and where I currently live than anything else. I grew up outside of Buffalo, NY (a city known for "brain drain" and declining population) and now I live in central NC (one of the fastest growing areas of the country).
posted by radiomayonnaise at 12:00 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Strange this just happened this past holiday travelling. In a wait for the plane to board in the Tucson, AZ to return to Denver, CO, I came across someone from my same small hometown back in South Jersey. The odds of that have to be pretty small, but he lived less than 2 miles from my house. 20 plus years from being back so it does happen, but not very often. Same high school but 10 years apart so it was never an overlap of timing.
posted by brent at 12:14 PM on January 23

I’m from a very populous place (Orange County, Calif.) and spent decades in NYC and rarely met people who grew up near me or lived there now. They’re pretty different places and rather far apart, so maybe there’s not a ton of overlap? Or I just avoid my county-people? Hard to say.
posted by dame at 12:14 PM on January 23

Similar to radiomayonnaise above, and a fellow Rust Belter. I'm from the greater Pittsburgh area and this happens to me all the time. I can scarcely meet a new person while traveling that doesn't have some tie to the area—if they're not from here themselves, then their spouse, co-worker, etc. is. This happened to me a lot in California, and I've met fellow native Pittsburghers in Europe. To be fair, it's rarely my exact hometown, pop. ~2,000, but the city and its surrounds, oh yes.
posted by gold bridges at 12:21 PM on January 23

Response by poster: From that experience I learned that people from my part of the country seek each other out

I suspect this is a reflection of internal migration patterns ... a city known for "brain drain" and declining population

a fellow Rust Belter

This was my working hypothesis. I grew up in a Rust Belt town with a declining population, but a lot of generational things like sports fandom. As a result, there's a large diaspora that retains an emotional attachment. There's also the midwestern inferiority complex ("oh you've heard of it?"), which probably plays some part.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:33 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]

I've only met one other person from the place where I was born and he was my next door neighbor of a house I moved into when I was 39!
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:18 PM on January 23

I've never met anyone from my particular suburb, but once you expand to a 10-mile radius, of course there are lots of people from the greater Los Angeles area wandering the earth.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:31 PM on January 23

I grew up in rural Indiana and I live in Rhode Island. On occasion (maybe once a year when I'm being reasonably social?) I meet people from Indiana but never closer than 50 or 60 miles from where I grew up. Probably because the region where I'm from is pretty sparsely populated and there's (I would guess) a lower-than-average rate of movement out.
posted by geegollygosh at 3:06 PM on January 23

This doesn't really happen to me any more unless you count the people who are like "Pasadena? Small world I'm from Glendale" or whatever-- some part of LA that's the equivalent of one town over from there. I think it's just a numbers game-- there are a lot of people in LA, they all have to be some place. I read somewhere that 1 in 8 Americans alive is either from or lives in California so that is probably skewing the results.

I will say it happened to me way more in SF, northern CA, and NYC than it ever does in Anchorage. I think the weather scares them away so they don't move here.

And I think there's an industry component-- if you're in a particular industry you're going where jobs are. Not every region has every industry. I used to meet a lot of people I knew or who were from the LA area in SF because they were there for the tech jobs, for example.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:02 PM on January 23

Ironically, my HS graduating class in Orange County, CA was over 700, with about 3000 people at my high school when I graduated. I still live in the exact same area 20+ years later and I have NEVER run into someone I went to high school with. Ever.
posted by sleeping bear at 4:15 PM on January 23

My cousin calls my hometown “ the biggest small town in the world”. I (not just me either, most people have stories like this) run into people from home all the time, all over the place including other countries. And because my hometown is less than 10k people, many times it’s someone I know personally or who knows my family. Seeing an old neighbor in an airport, a classmate in puerto Vallarta, having a kid from home sit in the booth next to us in Boston. It’s crazy. And that doesn’t even count the times we meet someone in another city and find out they are friends with someone from there.

The strangest one though didn’t happen to me but a man a couple years behind me in school. He ran into someone from an even smaller town 20 miles from home on a mountain in Nepal.
posted by domino at 7:12 PM on January 23

So much is dependent on the hometown.

I grew up in a rapidly growing, fairly wealthy suburb and I run into people from there all the time in . So many of us who grew up there had weak ties to the area and left for or after college, following our parents in being white collar career migrants.

Once I showed up to an orchestra rehearsal 2000 miles away from my hometown and sat down next to someone 5 years younger than me from a rival high school's orchestra. At work, I met someone that I must have competed against in high school math competitions. Another time at work, I stayed late, heard a voice that sounded familiar, and it was a woman I knew from high school who was a guest of a coworker. I got on the train on the way home from work and ran into a guy I knew in middle school. And so on...
posted by A Blue Moon at 8:26 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

I grew up in a college town so won't count the various college grads from there since tbh it's not the same as growing up there. I basically never meet anyone from there, and it's not even that far away. Oregon has had a huge influx of out of state people so finding native Oregonians anywhere is pretty rare. Even 10 years ago it was a 50/50 chance, and it's even worse now.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:40 PM on January 23

Southern Colorado here - since leaving I’ve literally never met anyone from my hometown or the town I was born in or the small town in Wyoming where my family lives. I’ve spent my adult life in the Bay Area and then DC. It’s a numbers game.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:13 PM on January 23

Never. I grew up in the US and live in Australia, so this is not surprising to me. I have met other US expats, but not from anywhere near where I lived.

It does amuse me that many Aussies will tell me about their aunt/cousin/friend/whoever that lives in the US with an air of expectation, as if I am going to say, why yes I know that one person in a country of several million. Maybe it's because people here in Melbourne tend not to move around as much as USians and do seem to wind up knowing each other a lot.
posted by Athanassiel at 1:26 AM on January 24

I am from Northern California. I live in NYC. I have met people from my hometown (of ~500k people) only twice that I know of. I have met people from nearby towns a couple more times. I know several people from my high school who now live in NYC, but they don't count: I have never randomly run into them. I think the issue is that most people who leave my hometown go to SF or LA, rather than going to the East Coast. I imagine I would run into people more frequently if I were less far away both physically and culturally.
posted by branca at 9:09 AM on January 24

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