Porch culture

ImageThis post is dedicated to J, L and Z, our first and best guides through American culture, whose fine porch swing is pictured above. 

There was a porch on the house where I grew up, in the north of England, so I suppose I must have always considered them an essential part of a home. But whereas the function of our porch was to house the bin, the milk bottles and the occasional parcel, and to keep the rain off your head while you searched for your keys, the American porch is something a bit more fun.

American porches seem to be occasional gathering places for random junk too, but first and foremost they are places to sit – and on our trip to Arkansas we finally experienced the full joy of porch swing sitting. It seems to me to encompass three main pleasures (apart from the drinking of sweet tea, which strictly speaking I guess is a separate thing). First, swinging, which should certainly not be restricted to the under-10s as a daily therapeutic activity.


Second, a kind of modest wooden architecture that is everywhere in American suburbia and small towns, but which I barely knew existed before spending time over here.  The house just up from ours has been having the porch replaced over the last few weeks, and watching the wood being sawn up and hammered in has been very pleasing. OK, so American porches are not modest in ground space, in British terms, but this is one of the times when bigger really does mean better: see the wrap-around porch below (though I do think they should put some actual stuff on it).


The third thing they’re good for is enabling you to snoop on and socialise with your neighbours. This was what I noticed at Hallowe’en: that people were hanging out on their porches waiting for trick or treaters to drop by, transforming the whole thing from an extortion racket to a party. It seems to me that if you were to sit on your porch often enough, not only could you embrace your natural nosiness for the comings and goings of everyone on your street, but also you’d be bound to get to know them better. And the way the children up our road run in and out of each other’s houses and gardens while their parents sit half-supervising on the porch looks little short of idyllic.

Of course, there is a downside to all this. The national enjoyment of extraneous decoration finds its natural outlet on the porch, and we might be spared the plagues of illuminated snowmen, ghosts and Easter bunnies if they did not exist. 

On the other hand, as J pointed out to me, there is a whole genre of country songs about the pleasures of porches. (Here is just one example.) And that can only be marvellous.



About scepticalexpat

British 30something wannabe academic, moving to Chicago for three years in August 2010.
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3 Responses to Porch culture

  1. Michael Garcia says:

    Speaking of extraneous decoration on porches, don’t forget the flags:
    From Julie's Wedding

  2. Michael Garcia says:

    Hm. I was trying to embed an image, and it appears that it did not work. Here’s the link to the image:

    • Oh yes, the flags! I have almost stopped noticing all the flags everywhere, and wondering about exactly what motivates Americans to fly them. It used to be quite a weekly recreation for me. What’s your take on it, Michael?

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