Dear Big City:
We heard it through the grapevine that you are relocating to our area. Welcome! We have a tradition here of welcoming our neighbors, but since you may not yet be ready for us to knock on your door with home-baked goods, we thought it would be nice of us to extend this guide to make your transition a little easier.
In full disclosure, this article is not in any way politically correct (or even grammatically correct.) In fact, it will probably contain many terms that you don’t understand, but you will hear them quite a bit upon arrival, so it is important to mention them here and use them in the right context. We can almost guarantee that you may strongly disagree with many of these statements. That’s okay, because we will disagree with most of yours as well. However, if we are going to be neighbors, we will have to work this out. So in good faith, we want to let you in on these 10 things you should know when moving to a small town.
1. Many of you probably decided to move here because you visited on vacation and it was “the cutest little town you have ever seen.”
You also probably made the statement to your friends and family about how everyone was just “so nice and friendly.” Now that you are returning as a resident, don’t expect that to be the case – at least not in the beginning. See, you have to understand, a majority of us have lived here for most of our lives and our families have been here for generations. You are coming into a world that works very differently from the one you are leaving. A world in which everyone knows everyone else, neighbors talk almost every day in the driveway or while the kids play together in the backyard – a world in which we say please and thank you, sometimes ad nauseum. We understand that it will make you uncomfortable at first, but we mean no harm.
2. Slow down and enjoy the town.
Moving here means that you realize just how special of a place this is. It means that you welcome the lack of traffic and stress that is often found in the big city. It tells us that you like our quaint downtowns, enjoy interacting with our friendly residents, and appreciate that life gets slowed down here (including our speech and walking pace). So please don’t try and change it! We understand that there will be an adjustment period; you or your kids, if you have them, may feel bored or cut off from society. You may not get why we don’t share your sense of urgency when doing basically everything – driving, checking out at the grocery store, walking, or getting gas. “We will get there when we get there.” You will hear this phrase frequently, so we want to go ahead and get you familiar with the concept. Slow down and enjoy not getting honked at for not gunning it the millisecond the light turned green. Relish in the fact that the line to get coffee in the morning is only one or two people, on a busy day. Understand that when something is four miles down the road it will only take you four minutes to get there, not 30. Trust us, it’s a pretty great feeling.
3. When finding your way around town, don’t ask us for directions.
To be clear, we would be more than happy to give you directions, you just wouldn’t understand them and they wouldn’t help you a bit. You see we use PLAC to direct each other, which stands for “People, Landmarks And Churches.” We don’t know how many miles it is, but we will tell you how many minutes it takes to get there. Until you learn the PLAC system, we strongly advise you to use your GPS, but beware some of our streets may not show up.
4. Dear Heavens, STOP TALKING SO FAST!
We are trying to have a conversation with you, but you are talking so fast about so many different things that we have absolutely no idea how to respond. Instead, we smile and nod and may throw in a “bless your heart” if it seems that you are distressed in some way. We understand that maybe we talk too slowly for you and that you may not understand some of the things we say either, but if you slow down, we can at least listen and get to know each other.
5. Don’t automatically try to fix things that you think are wrong.
We aren’t saying that things can’t be improved, but the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is strongly applicable here. If we are being completely honest, it’s almost a mantra. It’s not that we are so closed-minded that we can’t see the possibilities of what something could be; we just don’t see what’s wrong with the way it is. Seek first to understand why it’s that way in the first place – do we have a good reason? Is it to honor the past or protect the future? Is it necessarily something that needs to be changed or just something you don’t like? Take the time to understand and learn our town’s community and culture first, and when you do, then you can speak to the issue better. That way, you are more likely to get us to listen and buy into your ideas. We have a lot that we can learn from each other, but it takes mutual respect and time to build that relationship.
Our beliefs and values, our policies and processes, and our closed-on-Sundays (and possibly Mondays) mindset are important to us. We will do our best to respect that yours are different from ours and ask that you do the same.
6. “You ain’t from around here, are you?”
You will hear this question almost immediately upon arrival. Don’t take offense – it is not an insult. We are solely making an observation based on either an accent, the way you are dressed, or the fact that you are impatiently tapping your finger on the counter. Plus, if you are asking for directions, we need to determine if we can give you the PLAC version or refer you to one of those map things sold at the counter for visitors.
7. Our food is better than yours.
If you are moving to a small town in the south, you should know that we eat country ham –not city ham– for breakfast. There is a BIG difference. It just tastes better. It isn’t good for you, but we don’t care. Secondly, livermush is a valid breakfast food and we will tell you that “you have to try it.” You may not like it, but at the very least, you must take your “no-thank-you bite.”
No matter what region your new small town home is located, there’s just something about our food, cooked with a little bit of homegrown goodness and delivered with a smile, that makes it the best food around.
8. It is NOT acceptable to cut grass on Sundays.
No explanation needed. Just trust us on this one.
9. “That’s not how we do things ‘round here.”
This means that you are going about something in a way that is disrespectful to us or to our heritage, and it has offended us. It also means there is no way that whatever you are trying to accomplish is going to happen until you learn how we do it. After that, we can make some progress.
10. Small towns are about building relationships, not anonymity.
It may take some time for us to get to know you and for you to get to know us, but once that relationship is established, you become a part of this community. Being a part of our small town means you will always have someone you can call on for help. It means that we will bring you food and send cards when you are sick. It means that we will always be just a hop, skip, and a jump away.
Our advice? Watch and learn; get to know us. Just as you had to acclimate yourself to the big city to learn when the bus runs and what time to leave to miss rush hour traffic, you will need to learn that Debbie delivers your mail every day at 2:00, and if you are home, you should say hi and thank you. You will need to learn that the town mayor takes his morning walk at 8:30 through downtown, and he will stop and introduce himself and see “How’s life treating you?” Give an honest answer, and embrace our small town living. Just as he is here for you, we all are, too.
With the best intentions,
Small Town Soul