Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Midwest, I Kinda Miss You

(After a needed respite, the Better Chatter team is back to bring you the better-est discussion, commentary, and nonsensical hoopla you could ever ask for. We hope you got your fill of figgy pudding, received all the presents you wanted, and made your ambitious new resolutions. Happy 2008, Year of the Rat.)

Oh, Christmas flying can surely be a chore. Glorious NYC is the third official home I've had. First was Michigan, Midwest to the bone. Second came Atlanta, the birthplace of condescending politeness. Now it's New York, where everything must be bigger and better to survive. Flying out of LaGuardia and headed for Michigan (appropriately shaped like a mitten you pin to your winter coat), I landed at Chicago's O'Hare and found my flight was delayed. Then again. And again. Initially I had rushed and rushed to make my connecting flight on time, fidgeting and demanding to know where the hell gate F2 was like a stereotypical New Yorker. As I pushed and huffed my way to the nearest airport worker, a quiet, plain looking Midwestern family sat and waited patiently in line for standby. Guilt and my own Midwestern roots made me thank the airport worker profusely, and then I gave the family an "I'm-not-usually-like-that" smile. I finally calmed down, took a few deep breaths, and decided to observe my fellow Hoosiers, Huskers, and Michiganders as they too waited to fly home for Christmas.

Once I made it to gate F2, I sat and listened to a mother in a sweatshirt and turtleneck talk to her son and husband in a tone that reassured them she'd be home on time. I missed the natural friendliness Midwesterners possess, especially when they're in public. They don't want to make a ruckus. They want to take advantage of the delay, maybe talk to their kids. They'd rather enjoy every second of the holidays than make a scene trying to find their flight's gate. In NYC, riding a packed subway car to work every day can lead to scuffles and spats simply because a foot was stepped on. But when I freaked out about my flight, that plain looking Midwestern family didn't get upset and seemed too kind to judge. I'm one of many who have left the Midwest for bigger cities, but those who stay there seem content in keeping things the way they are. And in that, I feel the majority of them take pride in keeping a level head and rarely getting worked up about trivial problems.

There's definitely a reason I live in New York, don't get me wrong. The city is full of life so vibrant and constant it's tough to escape its clutches once you're inside. And it’s definitely a friendly area too, but I never really had an appreciation for the simple things that make the Midwest such a hospitable place until I left it. NYC's friendliness is a result of everyone working together because they're all in the same boat; it becomes a way of keeping your sanity. The Midwest's on the other hand seems to be passed down through the generations, almost part of a collective unconscious. Its people aren’t friendly out of necessity, it’s a lifestyle.

Maybe my sudden affection for the Midwest is just holiday sentimentality. I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way about the places they grew up in, be it out west, up north, or down south. It’s tough for me to be objective, though. Midwesterners are just too nice. Hospitality isn't enough to bring me back, but it definitely makes me want to spread some of that friendliness everywhere I go.


Josh said...

Nice post, Bryan. I think I would agree with you on almost all of that. I will say, though, that Michigan has it's own fair share of condescending politeness, which will always annoy me more than flat-out rudeness ever could.

For the record, I think that New York's reputation for rudeness is generally exaggerated (not that I think you're personally saying that). Most people are extremely polite in New York, but what they often aren't is friendly. I think that lack of surface friendliness throws a lot of transplanted New Yorkers off until they get used to it. Certainly, it did for me.

Bryan said...

Yeah, there are certainly condescending and judgmental people anywhere you go, which is part of why north Atlanta absolutely killed me.

And if you click the link, I do give a few examples of how friendly ol' NYC can be.

Todd said...

I don't know, Bryan, I'm a corn-bred Midwesterner and I'm about as mean as they come.

a/ok said...

To quote my dear friend, Mr. Waits, "...I never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long..."

Nice post, BY. I miss Michiganders.

Anonymous said...

a late post but i must say these skinny westerners are very polite in california. I was surprised. however, they miss that good ole midwestern unneeded checkun. they often end conversations well before i have found out more about them then i needed to. I miss that