Eric Bergeson of the Crookston Daily Times (a small town Minnesota newspaper) recently wrote an opinion column lamenting that talented young people leave small towns. Because of a recent personal experience, I was left thinking, "There may not be many opportunities in small towns, but the people are so nice. Why leave?" I have no scientific proof to substantiate this claim but it seems that small-town folk are more genuine than city folk. After living in New York City now for a couple years-where people simply don't have time to be nice-I have been trying figure out why it seems that people seem to be more personable in small-town America.
For example, in my recent travels I was having breakfast at the Three Squares Restaurant in Waupaca, Wisc. (population 5,887) when I noticed that patrons not only said "hello" as they walked by my table but they also asked, "How are you?" At first glance, this may sound like no big deal, but there was something different about the way people asked me that I've only experienced in small towns. I could be wrong but I felt like people really wanted to know. It was as if I had permission to ask one of them to pull up a chair so I could tell the details of how I was doing that day. It seemed so genuine. I say this having grown up in the South (Atlanta) where people would say, "Hey, how are you," give you a hug, and 20 minutes later will slander you at church to your friends. The Waupaca "how are you?" made my pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and home fries taste even better.
When I pulled my rental car into the parking lot of Burgertown Dairy Freeze in Bigfork, Mont., (population 1,658) I was rendered speechless by a guy who parked just as I did and nearly walked over to me to say, "Hey there, how are you?" I stuttered back in a confused tone, "I'm fine, how are you?" As I sat down to eat the one of the best hamburgers I've ever had in my life, with a fantastic huckleberry milkshake, a family of three approached my table with their 5-year-old son waving enthusiastically and saying, "Hi, hi." I felt like I was in a movie or something. Where I'm from kids do not say "Hi" to strangers even when they are with their parents.
I've been trying to put my finger on why I was engaged so genuinely is these towns. I'm not sure if I could live in a small town, but they are certainly now my preferred destination when I need a break from the city. Is there anything better than down-to-earth, genuine people and good food? Three cheers for small towns!