17 October 2005

on being nice

each place we've lived we've weighed the various versions of "nice people" we've encountered. this started, i think, in Minnesota, where it is widely known and said that the people there are "nice." this is true, but they aren't usually truly, deeply nice—it's more of an obligatory nice that's on the surface, the kind of nice that takes 4 years to crack past into an invite to a "little lunch." the kind of nice that leads people to stop—and I mean fully stop—in the middle of the major freeway in order to let someone on the on-ramp in. it's very nice to live in Minnesota as a result, but you never quite know how deep the "nice" goes.

in Virginia, people on our block were nice in a more southern way: open, chattin' across two porches, "I made sure your wife was safe while you were away" nice. chivalrous, in a good way. again, tough as a (clearly, unmistakably) northern Yankee to crack the surface. people in the service industries were plain rude. having done retail work I get it, but it was psychologically damaging to enter into a retail environment in Fredericksburg, unless you went to one of the quaint antiquey shops downtown, which, let's face it, you can't buy basics like tortillas or soy milk in.

in California, people were nice, but distant. Californians don't seem to have problems with folks from elsewhere, it's just that they tend to like their space, and so we missed a bit of the porch thing. retail-wise, we were back to nice, and we were convinced that it wasn't so much genuine as that there was a drug in the water that everyone was taking in order to make them that happy. particularly at Trader Joe's and Starbucks, it seems they spike the water with Prozac.

so in Wales, people are nice. and it seems on first glance that they are truly nice. they remember us from day to day (we're the only americans on the block, so it's easy) they ask us how we liked the lamb burgers we bought last time, whether we're interested in the history of the miners of the area, would we like to try some Welsh cheese along with the Gtost we've just bought, if we know how complicated translating US prescriptions to UK ones is, and isn't it funny.

so when my bus was stuck in traffic for over an hour this morning on the way to my interview at Open University in Cardiff (went well, I think!) the bus driver kept telling us what was going on, and apologized individually to each of us as we got off the bus, even though it was completely not his fault that there were two major accidents on the M4. and when I called the OU to tell them that despite my anal-retentive planning to get there over an hour before my interview, I was still going to be late, they said: why not just come by when you get here, no worries. and then, when I apologized once I showed up, and mentioned that I should have taken the train, the woman interviewing me said: oh, yes, but then there would have been leaves on the track or some such. why are they so nice?!? I'm sure we'll have a more elaborate metric for nice-measurement in Wales in a few months. but now I continue to be surprised, happily, that the norm is: not to worry, it's fine, can I do something for you? bizarre and strange. perhaps I should be testing the water here too.


Sam said...

Notice how Rebecca just left Pennsylvania out of the equation completely. And I bet it wasn't on purpose. The entire place just didn't even register. I understand.

Number Three said...

Tortillas and soy milk are basics?

ed rendell said...

sam, you're wrong. people in pennsylvania are nice. in fact, "you've got a friend in pennsylvania."