Are People Kinder in Small Towns or in Big Cities?

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.

19 thoughts on “Are People Kinder in Small Towns or in Big Cities?”

  1. Well…in small towns, if you’re part of the community, you’re often granted a very special level of kindness and protection. If you’re not part of the community, you have to be there long enough to earn their trust. In large towns, people are more open to strangers, since they’re pretty much all strangers.

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  2. hmm having never lived anywhere but seriously major metro areas, I don’t even know how to answer this. I do know that friends who have moved to smaller communities have found it quite hard to break into the insular inner circles, although people are unfailingly polite. Of course, I can’t say that I’d ever stop to give a stranger a ride either (major metro area = paranoia about crazy people) so what do I know 🙂

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  3. I think the reason people would seem friendlier in smaller towns is because of the familiarity all around them. Even if they encounter someone they dont know they are aware of the security of all the people they do know. This I believe makes them more comfortable and more likely to be friendly. Walking in a big city where you probably know little or no people makes most of us very uneasy and less likely to give a warm smile.

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  4. It’s unfortunate your experience of small town folks has been so negative.

    My encounters have been much more positive. I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that small town folks are nicer than big city folks. I also wouldn’t say the reverse, but it’s at least a fair contest.

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  5. People in small towns never do anything together, stay inside their homes, and have zero sociability(Clarissa)

    You obviously havnt drank with some Newfies. 😉

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      1. Yes Newfies are Newfoundlanders. They are a very gregarious, loving people. A friend of mine moved to Ottawa from Newfoundland and thought he was a little crazy in his first few weeks here. I said, “Why”. He said, “I keep saying hello and asking people how they are when walking down the street in the city and they look at me like Im crazy”. I said, “Nah, youre not crazy, youre just nuts to think people want strangers talking to them.” 😉

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  6. In the 1960s my family moved from the San Francisco Bay area to a town of 8,000 in Virginia. My brother, Tom, was 6 years old then. When Tom was 15 we moved back to the Bay Area. When Tom was 21 he moved back to the town in Virginia where he grew up. He said that in urban California everybody was your friend and buddy immediately, but he found it very shallow. In small city Virginia, it took him several years to develop friendships, but when he moved back, it was like he had never left. The friends he developed there were friends for life.

    I have lived in western Colorado for the past 15 years. One of the first things I noticed was that people stop their pickups in the middle of the road to visit with neighbors they haven’t seen in a week or two. People wave at each other when they pass on the roads. One summer I was having difficulty getting a transmission back in my truck after rebuilding it. I had been struggling with it for a couple days when one of my neighbors stopped his tractor and asked it I was having difficulty. He said he had problems with the same model truck, but had found a solution. In about an hour, with some help from a big handful of grease from off the piston on his baler, we had it back in.

    I am just not an urban person. I tell people that when traveling east from here I get nervous when I get to Glenwood Springs, about 130 miles west of Denver. It’s just to close to the big city. When I travel internationally I try to get away from the big cities as soon as possible, travel by bus, train or motor scooter and stay in small towns and villages. My favorite place in southern Mexico is a village of 250 with 20 km of dirt roads to get there from the nearest bus station. In Costa Rica my favorite town has a population of about 2,000 and I can fly in on a single engine plane. Then we walk everywhere we want to go.

    However, I find most rural areas lacking in intellectual stimulation because with a low population density, there aren’t many people who are interested in similar things to me. For that, I come to Clarissa’s blog!

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    1. Thank you for the story and the compliment to the blog!

      I keep wondering what it is that people do in this area. Streets are completely deserted at all times in any weather. Restaurants and stores are empty except during some times on weekends. I go to St. Louis, and once again, it’s completely empty. The streets are literally deserted. This must mean that people from the suburbs don’t spend their free time in the city.

      Then what do they do? Stay home and watch TV? Last summer, people were at least barbecuing outside all the time. This year, I don’t even see any barbecuers. The only times I see my neighbors is when they rush out the doors and into the cars and back.

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  7. Have you ever traveled to the southern region in the U.S.? I’m curious to hear your opinion of it.

    Louisville is an interesting city. It’s called the gateway to the South. To rural Kentuckians, this means it’s the gateway to the North. (and so they’re suspicious of us city-goers, heh.) A friend of mine, from rural Kentucky hates Louisville, no matter how I try to convince him otherwise (by getting him to visit and taking him out, that is.) His judgment is based on our drivers–we’re really quite aggressive. But the difference in areas of town regarding friendliness is quite marked. Older neighborhoods are much friendlier than newer ones. I live in a new subdivision now, and we don’t really know any of our neighbors.

    In the neighborhood I grew up in, it was the exact opposite. Us kids were always playing outside, running around the neighborhood, we’d make food or share stuff from gardens. Kids would help elderly neighbors with yardwork and the like. Yardsales. The festivities surrounding the Kentucky Derby. The neighborhood itself was gorgeous, too–tons of trees, maples and oaks that were dozens and even hundreds of years old. The houses were all very old–they had character. This neighborhood is nothing like that. It’s ugly–no trees, the houses all look the same, and everything is all bunched up together. Blech.

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    1. No, this is the southernmost area I’ve been to. 🙂 There are beautiful, big, shaded houses with porches and beautiful backyards right where I live. But you don’t see children playing there, or very rarely. And I know there are children because a school bus picks them up on every corner every day. I’m still baffled by why the kids don’t play outside. This is an extremely safe area, too.

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      1. Every now and then I’ll see some kids playing basketball in the street, and on the weekends I sometimes see a couple teenagers walking around at night when I’m coming home from a night out. *snicker* I actually feel bad for them–nothing to do, and no way to get out from under the eye of parents. I suppose they stay inside and watch television or play video games.

        I wish I had a nice from porch and a decent sized backyard. Our backyard is pathetically small, and we have a huge graveyard behind our subdivision.

        Really? If you ever do, be sure to write about it–not that there’d be any shortage of things to write about down here. 🙂 I haven’t traveled much north. Only Indiana, some bits of Ohio, and Chicago. Mostly west and south, as far as the U.S. goes.

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      2. They do play outside in poorer neighborhoods (not slums – that would be dangerous because of the gunfire – just poorer neighborhoods). But people with any $ at all now have their kids totally scheduled to official activities — lessons, clubs, play dates, etc. Also a lot of them are at day care until late because both parents work and there isn’t a neighbor / grandma or someone like that to watch out for them.

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  8. Sweeping generalizations based on a few anecdotes in a limited geographical area are seldom useful for anything other than pissing people off.

    If you have an attitude that people in small towns are uneducated, naive, and unfriendly, and you approach people with that attitude in mind, don’t be surprised if people treat you poorly. Believe it or not, people in small towns are very aware of the negative stereotypes that people from urban areas have about them.

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    1. Can you read at all, JC? Where exactly did I write about anybody treating me poorly?

      It’s also kind of strange that you would come to my blog to dispute my right to share stories from my life with my readers. If somebody is such an irredeemable jerk that they are pissed off by people discussing their experiences on their own blogs, then who cares about such a jerk anyways?

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