“We are pilgrims in an unholy land.”
The above quote is from one of my favorite movies, “Indiana Jones.” In it, Harrison Ford is referring to his presence in Nazi Germany during WWII. While I’ve never been in a situation that extreme, I think of this quote when I find myself outside of the Midwest region I know so well. I think the quote says something about people’s mentality; we like to think we are the normal ones, and the rest of the world is crazy, or backwards, or weird.
As a kid I was under the belief that people were people, no matter where you went. When I traveled through Europe in high school I learned how wrong I was. People are very different. Looking back, it’s childish to think that everyone is like you simply because that’s all you know. Cultures create personalities, so with different cultures come different types of people.
I remember my first night in Italy when we were eating at a café and I asked the waiter for refill on my soda. He looked at me like I had pasta coming out of my ears. Apparently in some parts of Europe there are no refills – you drink what you get, then you’re done. As a child raised in a soda-decadent culture, that baffled me. That was my first experience in crossing cultures.
It’s important to note when I say people are different, I don’t mean inherently or morally, merely superficially. Just because the waiter didn’t like refills didn’t make him a bad person, or me one for loving refills. I’m simply talking about those tiny differences that are the result of cultural upbringing; the ones we all take for granted as being universally apparent. Just wanted to make that point.
The older I got, the easier it became to see cultural differences. The more I traveled the U.S., and the more stories I heard from friends and family, the more I learned about the differences within regions.
I remember my dad telling me about his first time in Boston. He stood in line for 10 minutes at a coffee shop before realizing he wasn’t moving. People were merely walking right in front of him, slowly pushing their way to the counter to be served. To a Midwesterner like my dad, it seemed chaotic, but he was assured by a Bostonian that there was a method to the madness. Apparently something as simple as waiting in line is up for cultural interpretation. They don’t even call it waiting in line there – it’s waiting on line!
I asked a few of my friends about their experiences since moving from the Midwest to other regions. When they tell people they were from Kansas they got one of two responses; either a “Wizard of Oz” reference, or an apology: “You’re from Kansas? I bet that sucked.”
The third most common response seemed to be, “Where is Kansas?”
My friend Sarah said, “I’ve found that many Seattleites don’t really know where Kansas is. It’s mostly just “over there” somewhere. Also, telling them I had to drive 30 miles to go to a mall or a movie theater is mind boggling.”
Mainly what I’ve heard from my friends is that people outside of the Midwest are much ruder than we are. We have all heard this stereotype before, but I was surprised at how often it popped up in people’s comments.
My friend Larry talked about his first few days in D.C.: “I remember my first time in Georgetown, walking from the metro stop I noticed that even if you said “hello” right to someone’s face, they would completely ignore you. That was a first for me. I counted 30 people on that walk. Not one of them seemed to notice I was there.”