* Author note: Photographs for 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 were borrowed for illustrative purposes. All other photos on this post and blog are my own.
When people return to their home culture after living or traveling abroad, it’s common for them to critically view many aspects of their home culture. This is normal.
But it’s also helpful to intentionally notice the benefits and strong points of your home culture and landscape. My five-month stint in Kansas before returning to live and work in England has given me good opportunities to observe and appreciate the great things about living in the American Midwest.
1). The smiles.
Even random people smile at you. People on the sidewalk. Your barista at Starbucks. Yes. I’m happy to see you too.
2) Wide open spaces.
Some people say the broad expanse of landscape you’ll find in the American Midwest makes them feel nervous and exposed. But for me, it just means I’ve got room to breathe. Broad streets, spacious homes, and long stretches of open highway to hit with the radio blaring.
The joke runs that in America everything is bigger, and that’s especially true in the Midwest. All we have is space, and plenty of it. Don’t let it scare you. Take a deep breath of freedom!
3) Free refills.
Say all you want about Americans and their obsession with anything large and sugary, this is a great idea I wish would take off all over the world.
Unlimited Coke fountain drink for 99 cents? Yes, please.
Nothin’ like a plate of ribs or beef brisket dripping with honey barbecue sauce. Kansas City is famous for its traditional smoked meats, and not without reason. One of the benefits of raising a substantial percentage of the world’s beef is cheap meat and lots of it. You could substitute “steak” for “barbecue.” That applies too.
5) Pick-up trucks.
Been harboring a secret longing to wear a cowboy hat and drive a sweet Ford or Chevy pick-up? Nothing says sexy man like a truck, and here’s your chance to drive one without everyone judging you for ruining the ice caps. Only in Kansas can your grandma drive a huge black pick-up bigger than your apartment in Japan. I rest my case.
6) The honor system.
For years we helped ourselves to milk from the dairy farm holding tank and left a few dollars in the jar. A car dealership down the road from where I live boasts, “where a handshake is still a deal.” There are crooks everywhere, but honesty and straight-forward business is still the norm in this part of the country.
7) The neighbors.
In a part of the world where the elements routinely destroy a person’s house, belongings and income, Midwesterners stick together. If my tire goes out, within minutes someone will stop and offer help. After big snows, our neighbor puts a snow plow on his tractor and digs us out. When my mom’s dad, a farmer, died unexpectedly, their neighbors all pitched in to help with the many needs of running a farm. They did it for my mom’s family years ago and they still do it today.
8) The weather.
Only in Kansas can you be sitting in the pool enjoying 70+ temperatures in the morning and have it snow on you by suppertime. It can make it above 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and below -20 with windchill in the winter.
These extreme differences in temperature produce the immensely powerful storms popularized by movies like “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s no joking matter – tornadoes have destroyed entire towns, including my dad’s hometown of Greensburg.
But it does make for an awe-inspiring wind and light show.
9. Small-town charm.
While villages all over the world bring their fair share of charm, small-town Kansas adds a unique flavor to the mix. Locals gather for pizza or Sunday noon dinner at family-run businesses, while farmers congregate for their morning coffee at the COOP and talk about the wheat harvest prospects. Everybody knows everybody, and strangers are quickly identified and welcomed in.
Only in Elroy’s Pizza in Stafford, Kan., does a rancher walk in, hang his cowboy hat on the sign by the door, and commence greetings with half-a-dozen friends before making it to the counter. Don’t forget to stop by the old-fashioned soda fountain at the mercantile down the street.
10. The sunsets.
I’ve traveled all over the world and I had to go to Novosibirsk, Siberia (Russia) before I found a sunset to rival those we see every day in Kansas. Each one is different, and they are truly spectacular.
Maybe it’s the unique weather combination. Maybe it’s simply a benefit of wide open spaces and little competition on the horizon.
Whatever the cause, I think you’ll agree the results are truly breathtaking.