You can’t teach it. Actually, I’ll likely struggle to explain it in a way you can understand. But I can tell you after only a few conversations if someone grew up in a small town or not.
Farming community of approximately 8,000 people. And we lived eight miles outside of town. When it came time for me to marry, I found me a small town guy to say “I do” to. And when we started thinking about having a family of our own, we headed out of the suburbs and right back to Small Town USA.
A few years out of college, I started my marketing career in St. Louis. And I had to learn how to appear polished and professional. I only knew how to be my casual self.
I had a meeting once with a career coach. We discussed some networking opportunities. He wasn’t coaching me. However, he seemed to have a hard time separating himself from his work.
After a while, he asked me about my hometown. I told him it was small.
But he already knew that. Said he could tell. And he told me there were qualities in a small town person that can lead to great success. He assured me I would be successful if I was true to myself.
So, I offer you five qualities that tip you off to identifying a small town person. And next time you meet one of us; shake your hand, tip your hat and say hi. We’re sure to return the gesture.
We are a simple people.
Quoting Jake from Sweet Home Alabama, “Just because [we] talk slow don’t mean [we’re] stupid.” Our simplicity is not necessarily related to our success. I’ve known some very simple, very wealthy small town people. And I’ve also known folks who lived in housing that should have been condemned who ate only when someone bought them a meal.
I read this blog all about simple living. The writer gives her community tips on how to simplify their lives. I stopped counting how many times I would read her suggestions and realize I’d seen small town friends and family doing these tasks all the time as a child.
We live under the unwritten code of “small town friendly.”
We know our mamas would have our hide if we saw you working on something and didn’t step in to help. Without being asked. If we have a snow blower, you’re likely to get your driveway cleared too. If there are extra vegetables from our garden or that we picked up from the farmer’s market, we’ll drop some off at your front door.
Our small talk goes deep.
The older I get, the more introverted I become. However, sometimes I wonder if that’s not just a comfort level thing. I live three states away from my hometown. My life has been all about meeting new people for years. It is hard for me to have casual surface conversations. And that is what you typically do when meeting new people. All the time. But tell me something personal about you, make me feel like I know you and we have some things in common. And watch our small talk go deep.
Miranda Lambert had a popular song a while back, “Everybody Dies Famous in a Small Town.” I get it.
We naturally make eye contact, knowing you’re likely our neighbor or a relative.
They say there are six degrees of separation between every person. If you call a small town your hometown, go ahead and cut that number in half. Friendly gestures such as a handshake, a grin, direct eye contact, come naturally to us. Because all our life, we’ve known one another.
We can spot a city slicker a mile away.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Just true. I live close to the shoreline of Lake Michigan. We have many nearby beach towns we visit. These towns are quaint and thrive on summer tourism. Go to any of these towns in the “off season” and you’re practically in a ghost town.
One night, we went to one of our favorite restaurants near the lakeshore. It was May so the Chicago crowd (mega big city) was starting to arrive at their lake houses. And for the first time in a few months, there was a wait at the restaurant.
After about 45 minutes, a host took us to our table. And we asked him if he thought we were Chicago or local. At first, he maintained his professional demeanor. Then, he cracked a smile and laughed.
Aww, we know you guys are local.
We asked how he knew.
Your shoes, was the reply.
I work a basketball tournament every March. I have volunteer interns who shadow us during the games. A great way to learn first hand what working a tournament of that magnitude entails.
For nine games, the interns sit at the scorer’s table right by me. And we chat about the game, their college careers, their hometowns, my career experiences, family. Over four days time, a lot of small talk.
Jordan helped out this year. A very nice young man. And, yup, from a small town. He had traces of every one of the above criteria. He sent me a text message (yes, small towners love their technology too) and thanked me for the opportunity to work the tournament.
I texted him back,
Jordan, you were a pleasure to work with. Such a gentleman. You are what I call "small town friendly." Stay true to that and you’ll have much success.
It takes one to know one.