I’m down in DE for a night late in December to check on the house and do some winter chores. It’s been a whirlwind (but relaxing) Christmas week at home, but it’s really nice to be able to pop down here for a quick change of scenery. Maureen and the kids stayed at home (thank you!) which also means I’m taking advantage of every moment I have while I’m here.
Which means I have the chance to tell a story I’ve been meaning to get to for awhile. Here it is:
During my 20s, I got very involved in a form of amateur car racing with my Dad. We travelled to the midwest - first Topeka, Kansas then later Lincoln, Nebraska - several times together to participate in the national championships.
Every time we went together, I observed an interesting change between me and my Dad. My Dad grew up in St. Louis, MO and went to college in a small town in Nebraska. Meanwhile, I’m a quintessential East Coast kid. I was born just outside of Baltimore and live just outside of Washington DC. So as we travelled westward, the average experience of the people we encountered at rest stops and gas stations changed. They went from being quiet, shifty and perhaps somewhat rude near the big cities of the East Coast to being more outspoken, outgoing and familiar as we neared the Midwest.
And my Dad got more and more comfortable, while I got more and more uncomfortable.
To a classic Eastcoaster like me, it’s the height of manners to ignore and be ignored. I’m in my head all the time, why are you going to intrude on that? But in the midwest, manners means saying “Good morning, how y’all doing?” and answering with a “Fine thank you, how are you?”
As we went west, my Dad dropped his acquired East Coast habits and began smiling and striking up conversations with strangers. I, meanwhile, looked at him like a weirdo and wondered what he was doing.
A part of me recognizes that both of these standards of behavior are perfectly acceptable. But I also now think one is better than the other. And I’ve been wrong about it my whole life.
I’m a nicer person in Delaware. When I’m here, I smile more at strangers and I say hello. I take more time and I let others take more time. It’s not like it is in Nebraska - thank God, it’s still the East Coast and if I’m thinking a thought I don’t feel rude by carrying on - but the standard is to say hello.
I like that a lot.