Saturday, September 13, 2014

Breaking the Ice with Country Folk

We moved out to Eaton Rapids about twenty years ago.  The neighbors warmed up to us slowly.  I asked one of the guys I worked with for advice.  This guy will be known as "Balmer".

Balmer told me that there are three types of people living in the country.
  • Natives
  • Long driveway people
  • Short driveway people



Balmer told me that the natives are the toughest bunch to cozy up to.  You likely displaced somebody they knew if you moved into a house that was already built.  Or you are one of "those city folks destroying the countryside" if you move into a newly built house.

Further, the native take it personally if you catch him on your property hunting or looking for mushrooms.  He will justify himself by saying Uncle Jack said I could hunt here any time I wanted to.  Most of them grudgingly accept the logic that Uncle Jack is no longer paying the taxes so he can no longer grant that privilege.  However, you would be willing to let them hunt all the mushrooms they wanted, provided they pay your spring tax bill and they can hunt on your property if they pay the fall tax bill.  So far, I have had no takers on the offer.

Another thing about the natives is that the past and the present seamlessly coexist.  They could be talking about last Saturday's football game or one that happened 15 or 50 years ago.  Most likely, it is a blend of the three.

Long Driveway people:

Balmer was a long driveway person.  He said, "I did not move out to the country so I could live in a trailer park."

By trailer park he meant a place where everybody is climbing into everybody else's business and offering unsolicited advice.  A long driveway person can start a project and not have to lock up all of his tools every time he has to answer the telephone or grab a beverage out of the fridge.  That was a biggy for Balmer because he was a machinist by trade and had a shop in his garage.

Short Driveway people:

Balmer's assessment of short driveway people is that they are displaced city people.  They moved out to the sticks because they like the lower tax rate and the perception that it is safer.  Of course they immediately start demanding all of the services that raise taxes and they bring their little hooligans with them and the crime-rate starts trending up.

These are the transient element.  They move in.  They stay a little while.  They move out.  Most natives and long driveway people don't waste the psychic energy it takes to get to know them because they won't be here very long anyway.

Ways to break the ice:

  • Attend kid sporting events.  Generally, the younger the kids the more time there is for gabbing with other parents and grandparents. This works best if you have a kid playing, otherwise you might start sending that creepy "Lonely Stranger in the Black Sedan" vibe.
  • Coach.  You do not have to be a "jock" to coach the younger kids.  There are many resources on the internet to assist people just like us.  You will also be a popular person if you are willing to be an assistant coach for older kids.  It takes a lot of cowboys to herd cats (and hormonal teenagers).
  • Get involved in Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts.  Families in the country are just as discombobulated as families elsewhere.  Moms who care are trying to find good, male role models for their sons.  This is a great gig if you are a single guy.  Many of these moms are young, single and beautiful.
  • Go to a local church.  Yeah, it is easier if you are a "believer".  But think of it as a free weekly music concert or a free lecture series on human weaknesses.  Stay for the coffee and donuts afterward.  As a general rule, the stricter the codes of behavior the better the pies and desserts.  It is a compensation of vices.  Less tolerance for booze and smokes is compensated for by a greater tolerance of sugar, spice and saturated fats.
  • Adopt an old lady.  Mow her grass.  Prune her bushes.  Drive her to the store.  If that takes too much time then twist your kid's arm so he will do it.  Folks lump families together.  If you have a good kid they they will extend that judgement to you.  It also works in reverse.
  • Walk your dog.  Most of us are suckers for animals.  Walking your dog will make you visible.  The short driveway people can see you from their house.  The other two will see you as they drive by.
  • Have two garage sales a year.  We are as nosy as everybody else.  We are dying to see what you did to Uncle Jack's man-cave and Aunt Flo's rose garden.
  • Make a point of being exceptionally kind to your rural bus driver, your rural mail delivery person and the Fedex/UPS man.  Become a person to them.  These people may not be highly visible but they are powerful arbiters of rural opinion.  A kind word, a thank-you or a Christmas card goes a long way toward differentiating you from every other "city" person.
  • Put up a shingle advertising some kind of goods or service.  Sell a few eggs or open a sharpening service or a  paintless dent repair service or an auto detailing service.  I knew a person who managed a new cemetery.  Sales of burial lots exploded after they added statues to the property.  My friend interviewed several of the purchasers.  The key point was to have a spatial frame of reference:  The buyers wanted their decendents to be able to find their grave and had confidence that "Just north of the St Francis of Assisi statue" would suffice.  It is the same out here.  All of you new folks look the same.  And so do your houses. A "shingle" sets you (and your property) apart as a useful person to know. Just be sure you can do a good job sharpening and can get it done in a timely way.
As always, comments are much appreciated.  I am sure I missed several obvious ice breakers.

1 comment:

  1. Another good icebreaker (at least in the South), is where the local gun range/place to shoot is... And the local coffee shop early in the morning :-)