I'm a city boy, born and bred. I've lived in Los Angeles and Cambridge, Mass. Even though my parents are native Midwesterners (Chicago), the closest I've ever come to country living is vacationing in Wisconsin. So when I was invited by the people at Supertalk 930 WKY in Oklahoma City to guest host on one of their afternoon radio programs, I was very excited.
Many coastal city dwellers like to look down on religious red staters. It's no surprise that Hollywood paints inhabitants of the Midwest and the South as backward, often inbred, straight out of "Deliverance." Anyone with a twang is labeled a hick by those on the coasts. Looking down on country dwellers gives lots of city folk a sense of superiority, secure in their knowledge that they are more tolerant, broad minded and intelligent than the yokels in the boonies. After all, out in Los Angeles and Cambridge there are strong gun laws, high taxes and atheistic churches. What could be more enlightened?
Well, after spending a few days in Oklahoma City, it's even clearer to me that the coastal elitists have everything upside down. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from folks who live in the heartland:
Looking people in the eye isn't a crime. It's amazing, but when you've lived in big cities all your life, you are conditioned not to look strangers in the eye. You're taught to be afraid of strangers. If you walk down the aisle in a supermarket, and you happen to catch someone's eye, God forbid, you're supposed to look away to prevent awkwardness. If you don't, they might think you're rude, simple or perverted. Saying hello is never permitted, but if you do say hello, make sure to be subdued about it. After all, it's not like these people are your friends . The basic assumption underlying the city attitude is this: People are natural enemies. Strangers are scary. Don't interact.
In Oklahoma City, the opposite is true. You look people in the eye, you smile, you say hello. Maybe you even ask how they're doing. Looking away is considered rude and furtive. People aren't natural enemies, in the country view. In the city, such friendly effrontery is considered bold beyond belief.