I moved from the Midwest to New York City 10 years ago. When I visit home, I realize how much city life has hardened me.
- I grew up in Wisconsin and moved to New York City a decade ago.
- When I first moved to the city, I had to curtail my Midwestern friendliness.
- When I visit home, where people greet strangers, it makes me realize how I’m always on guard.
In my small Wisconsin hometown, greeting everyone you pass on the street is common courtesy. In New York City, I found that such affability was viewed with suspicion. Even making eye contact with someone you don’t know was a breach of city etiquette.
After a decade living in New York, my Midwestern accent has faded, as has some of my Midwestern friendliness. Like many New Yorkers navigating the crowds and noise of city life, I exercise a healthy amount of skepticism in my surroundings and just want to get where I’m going without anyone bothering me.
When I go back to Wisconsin to visit my family and friends, I realize just how much I’ve changed. When strangers smile my way or make small talk the way I used to, I find myself initially feeling defensive and wary. It takes some time to readjust to the warmer way people tend to interact in the Midwest.
During my most recent trip, I went out for coffee with my mom and couldn’t believe she left her laptop unattended on a table while she ordered an Americano. At a small local coffee shop in the Midwest where the owner knows your name, that’s something you can get away with. In New York, with anonymous customers constantly coming in and out of most cafes, I’d worry about my laptop getting stolen.
The necessary vigilance I’ve developed during my years living in one of America’s largest cities feels out of place in a town with a population that couldn’t sell out Madison Square Garden . I often don’t realize how on-guard I am all the time until I’m back home and experience the culture shock.
I’m grateful for the street smarts and assertiveness that New York has instilled in me, but I also hope that the Midwestern congeniality I grew up with is never fully erased.
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