If you ask me where I’d like to live for the next 5-10 years, a small town is not really at the top of my list. I’ve grown up in rural areas and small towns, and by now I’m ready for a change, and the chance to live a little closer to civilization. Sometimes going to school in a town of 8000 feels like living in a metropolis. In spite of my reservations, I have to say small town people get some things right.
The biggest thing is the wave. If you drive by some long time resident on the street, even if you don’t live there and they have no idea who you are, they still wave at you.
If you pull up at a stop sign, the other drivers make eye contact and attempt to see if they recognize you.
Those who are used to living in the city may call this attention creepy, but I call it friendly. It’s what I like the most about these people, that these small town residents recognize every person as an individual worthy of attention. In contrast to the city, where one little person easily gets lost among the thousands of people, in a small town, no one forgets that every person has a story and may be worth meeting. In the city, those around us are habitually ignored as we bury ourselves in books, phones and iPods. It’s a protection mechanism so we don’t give people the respect and interest they deserve.
The lesson to be learned from all this small town friendliness, is that in spite of what I thought while growing up, most of the people around us are insecure and question the way they do things. Taking the first step, initiating contact and introducing yourself to a stranger is hard. But once the conversation is started, it’s pretty hard to end up regretting the time it takes to get to know them.
Even in an office setting, I think it’s hugely important to step out and greet everyone. Becoming familiar with everyone around you can be beneficial. I’m in favor of learning names as soon as possible, because it’s so much nicer to be able to say “hi ______” when you’re walking down the hall than just awkwardly nodding to someone you have seen a hundred times but have not met.
If you’re the new person on the block, introduce yourself to everyone. And when you find others newer than yourself, be sure to still introduce yourself, and welcome them. Be the initiator who makes friends by showing people you care enough to put some time into getting to know them.
And don’t forget to wave.