It’s all a myth that people in small towns and little villages are more sociable and kind to each other than the residents of supposedly alienating big towns. Folks who have never left their tiny little burgh are less worldly, less educated, less kind, and less open to their fellow human beings.
Just to give you a couple of examples.
Recently, my parents were visiting my aunt in a small village in Nova Scotia. We are all great walkers in the family, so they set out on one of their ten-mile-long walks. Suddenly, a very fierce rain started pouring. This was completely unexpected, so these three people in their 50ies began to walk back in the rain along the highway. They were sopping wet and shivering. As they walked, several cars passed by. Since the area is so sparsely populated, all of the owners of passing cars were people who knew my aunt very well. It didn’t, however, even occur to them to stop and offer a lift to their middle-aged neighbor and her relatives. My aunt waved at the passing cars until her arm hurt, but nobody paid any attention.
This story reminded me of the day when I got stranded in Detroit during a snowstorm. I was travelling by a Greyhound bus, and when the storm started, all the bus passengers were simply dumped at the bus station for over 30 hours. Eventually, I got so starved and bored at the bus station that I ventured into the city. It is a very strange feeling to walk around downtown Detroit when it is completely empty and there is no traffic. It was so quiet, I could actually hear the snow fall.
Walking in the knee-deep snow was hard. I immediately got lost, and my clothes got wet. And then a car driven by a young woman stopped next to me. “Get in,” she said. “I’ll take you where you need to go.” This woman was one of the people who set out to drive on the icy roads of Detroit to rescue stranded pedestrians and take them where they wanted to be. This kind woman took me to an open convenience store where I got hot coffee and hot food. On my way back, I was also rescued by a nice snow-shoveller who called a truck to come and pick me up.
You’d think that one’s better off getting stranded in an area where everybody knows each other than in downtown Detroit. However, people who don’t get a chance to socialize much with other human beings lose their social skills completely. In big cities, you meet many people as a matter of course when you go about your day. In small towns, the streets are always deserted, the buses are empty, and people just sit at home watching the TV or, at best, hang out at the mall in areas where there is one.
I always know which of my students are from Chicago or St.Louis and which ones are from neighboring towns. The former are polite, sociable, and fun to be around. The latter always hunch their shoulders, stare at the ground, pretend you don’t exist, and never greet you in the hallways.