In the last twelve months, I’ve been in more than twenty-five states. From the big cities of our country to tiny little burgs that hardly have a name, I’ve had the opportunity to observe and interact with all kinds of people from all walks of life. It’s important, by the way, to understand that observations are not judgments. That’s the subject for another blog, but understand that observations are insights offered as information. Judgments come when you use the same method to draw conclusions about the value of someone or something. Two completely different things.
People are interesting.
In the small towns of the Midwest, we’re all about respecting everyone’s space. We do it physically, for instance, by excusing ourselves if we get too close. If we reach across someone to retrieve something in the store, if we interrupt someone to ask a question, if we are working through our way through a crowded space, we say, “excuse me” in a way that is more of an apology. We apologize because we’re the invader.
In the Northeast, we kind of create our own space. I was in New York City for the last few days, and people there use the same phrase, but in a much different way. Reach across someone to retrieve something? You hear, “Excuse me”, but with a tone that says, “I forgive you for being the absolute idiot who is in my way.” At dinner you hear, “Excuse me” directed at the server, but in a tone that says, “Why in the heck aren’t you here at my elbow in case I need something?”
Isn’t that interesting?
On the other hand, in New York City, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with people. In the space of a half hour, you might meet people from ten different countries, and hear a wealth of great stories about culture and geography. In some parts of the city you could do that and never move more than ten feet.
In the small towns of the Midwest, it’s not that people aren’t friendly. They’re just more reserved. Stop for lunch in a small town diner and you may well be greeted with a blend of suspicion and interrogation. If you’re wearing a suit it might be even worse. “New in town?” comes with a tone that says, “What the heck are you doing here?” “So…what do you do?” comes with a tone that implies, “You’re not staying, right?”
Isn’t that interesting?
You know what else? During this time between Thanksgiving and Christmas people really are nicer. They seem a bit more patient, a bit more tolerant of others, and more giving in general. This is my favorite time of the year because of that very thing.
In the next month I’ll be in major cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Phoenix, and I’ll be in small towns like Ottertail, Mt. Carmel, and Wadena, and in each of those places I’ll meet wonderful, gracious, caring people. That’s the most important observation of all.