Living in smalltown America, one of the biggest changes a Brit' has to get used to is everyone being so open, friendly and trusting. For many years us Brit's have openly mocked and scorned the 24/7 American courtesy of saying to someone "have a nice day" as they leave you.
This is not at all the normal attitude in the UK, where we tend to live up to our national reputation of being a little stand off'ish with strangers. If I was on public transport in the UK, I would have been more than a little wary if a stranger had said "hello" to me, if they tried conversation I'd ignore them and I would not be alone. It's interesting to note when travelling on 'the Tube' (London's underground trains), how people will actively avoid any eye contact, even when packed together cheek by jowl.
So moving here was a total culture shock in this particular respect. Here in Okieland, well at least in smalltown Okieland, it would be more worrying if nobody ever said "hello" in passing. It is very noticeable as a Brit', that pretty much anyone who gets into close proximity with me, will cheerily say "hi/hello" and make eye contact. I am regularly engaged in brief but friendly conversations with total strangers, whilst out and about shopping etc!
When I first got here and even now occasionally, I find myself asking the hubster "who was that?" only to be told "I don't know them"!! Now that is a strange concept to most Brit's.
People really are refreshingly open and friendly to complete strangers and I find it actually makes me feel a little more secure. In the UK there have been many reported incidents of people who are obviously being attacked, abused or are even injured in a public place, not being offered help by passing strangers!
Now let me hasten to add this does not apply to all Brit's, I could never have turned a blind eye to helping someone in danger. My ex-husband once jumped right into the middle of an attempted robbery to assist a shopkeeper, but then he is Turkish and they are friendly people as a nation.
But sadly it seems many Brit's will now turn a blind eye, rather than end up involved themselves. I could just never imagine that happening here, I already know everyone in the vicinity would jump in to offer assistance to a stranger in peril. And yet the risks are far greater here, when you consider anyone could be carrying a gun legally!
Where I live now I rarely see acts of public aggression or rudeness. People are considerate of each other and generally courteous.
If you ever find yourself on the receiving end of a fit of road rage in NW Okieland, take a look at the tag and don't be surprised if you see a British flag! I'm ashamed to say old habits die hard for an M25 hardened British driver! The hubster has been embarrassed a few times since I arrived, at my horn hitting and gesticulating if another driver unwittingly annoys me, or god forbid slows me down.
I was also surprised from my very first visit at the way most people held doors open for others, or offered to give up a place in a queue if you arrived at the same moment. That last example in particular is a total no-no to most Brit's, who hate queuing for anything. Again I often irritate the hubster as I mutter furiously in his ear, if he should dare to waste time joining a queue, or heaven forbid let someone in ahead of us!
They are so polite here, that if you get within a couple of feet of most people in a public place, they will automatically say "excuse me" or "pardon me". It's quite bizarre, almost like they are all programmed at birth to say this when a stranger gets near. But I now find myself doing it in exactly the same way; although if someone says "pardon me", I often supress the desire to say to them "why, what have you done?".
But what really amazes me here is the level of trust.
Many of my friends and neighbours are highly entertained by my need to lock everything I own. I could probably walk up to at least 60% of homes here and walk straight in, at anytime of day or night. I know one couple who leave their very nice home unlocked 24/7. You walk in and there's a beautiful front room with a 60" TV and all their possessions totally unsecured! It blows my mind! When I queried how wise this was, my friend just laughed and said it's never locked, even when they go on holiday for 2 weeks!!
I lock my front door at all times, even when I am in the house, in fact I also lock my porch door just to be really safe. I often see the look of amusement in a friends eyes, as I unlock all my doors to let them in during daylight hours. I am only now just starting to knock and then enter my friends homes, without them actually coming to the door to open it for me. I have finally realised this is acceptable behaviour amongst friends here, but I still hesitate once in and call out to them before proceeding further.
Every single day of the week I see empty vehicles left unlocked and running in public. It's just the norm' around here. So much so, that I was recently given a free gift of a snap release key-ring by my cellphone operator. When I asked what it was, the nice lady explained I could attach my vehicle ignition key to one end and the rest of my keys to the other. Then she said "so when you go to the Post Office or Bank, you can just leave your ignition key in your car and take your mailbox or bank box key in with you". So in other words I can leave my car unlocked and running whilst I conduct my business and hope it's still there when I get back. Needless to say I was none too impressed with my free gift!!
But if your hear on the news of a smalltown in Okieland having a spate of car thefts and then a local cellphone operator being sued, you won't be surprised and I will be vindicated!
I once asked someone I worked with for her car key, she told me it was in her car. I asked where and she said somewhat surprised "the ignition"! She was very amused by my total horror at her doing such a reckless thing daily. She did however admit she had once had her car stolen in another town, her trust in her fellow man was undented and god bless her for it!
Whilst writing this I have found myself realising, that after 3 years living amongst such open, friendly and trusting people, I am now a little less reserved, friendlier to strangers, but still as untrusting as I ever was back home.
I guess it takes awhile to undo 40 years of British reserve, impatience and an ingrained lack of trust - but I am working on it. I am however considering buying my own gun, but that's a whole other post for another day ;-)
You should know though, your chances of EVER walking straight into my home, or seeing my car unoccupied and running, are exactly ZERO!