People often describe Midwesterners as being “nice.” And while I do know many not-so-nice people from this region, I would say that, in general, we are. Nebraska is the nicest. The people of the Cornhusker state are friendly, smiling and helpful.
Many of my friends at Creighton from other places–let’s call them “the outsiders” in an homage to S.E. Hinton–make small remarks which makes me believe that Nebraskans are some of the most courteous individuals in the whole country. (Yes, I realize that I am definitely not an impartial judge.) One individual, from the Windy City, frequently comments that in the downtown business sector, pedestrians usually wait for the walk signal to change before crossing the street. I can’t imagine where she is from; it sounds like a lawless land of businesspeople darting in front of taxis, waving their briefcases to fend off oncoming traffic.
And to those “outsider” friends, let me tell you this: when I first moved to Omaha, I thought the residents here were actually kind of rude. Well, not necessarily rude, but snobbish. “Well, that woman just moved her grocery cart out of my way in the aisle and she didn’t even ask what my name was and if I was related to the other Brandts, the rich ones, and she didn’t even try to give me her secret to making the perfect enchiladas! Who does she think she is?” Or, the classic “Why, why, why won’t that gentleman in the blue Prius let me over? I need to merge! Let me merge! Can’t you see my 9-County license plate? My blinker is on! I’m clearly not from here.” And then, the heartbreaking realization that drivers don’t wave to each other. I mean, I’m not looking for a pageant spectacle, just a finger-flutter over the steering wheel. Yes, I actually thought those things. And yes, I understand why random strangers wouldn’t normally start chatting in the middle of Baker’s.
Let me state for the record that I am fully aware that I am not the pinnacle of niceness. I have a stubborn streak, a mean side and grumpy days. Also, many Nebraskans aren’t super friendly, either. Look at Bo Pelini. Ernie Chambers can be ferocious when defending his mountain lions. And it’s common knowledge that J. Sterling Morton, the beloved founder of Arbor Day, was a pro-slavery activist, something his Wikipedia page fails to mention. But I did decide to compile a list of ways to be “Nebraska nice.”
• When driving, let people over. Allow them to merge. Give them a wide berth. It’s polite, it’s safe, it’s the right thing to do. Also, look at their license plate. If they are from out of town, cut them a break. They probably don’t know where they are going. (This does not apply to Iowa drivers. Iowa drivers are always wrong.)
• When being a passenger in a vehicle, don’t call shotgun the second you see the car. Let the tallest (or most motion-sick) person ride up front.
• Make small talk. This is a great way to pass time when waiting in line or walking somewhere. You might realize you have a connection with them. (And let’s face it; you probably do.) Also, they could share an idea or thought that could really affect you. Just don’t be too chatty. Nobody likes to talk with a blabbermouth, and your reputation is everything. Spend some time listening as well.
• Smile at strangers. Don’t avert your eyes and look at your feet or pretend like you are typing a very important email. When you walk, hold you head up and make eye contact. Smile like the Huskers (or Bluejays!) just won.
• Don’t be stingy. I mean, don’t be extravagant, but be generous. Offer to pick up the tab. Share your french fries and ice cream sundae. Bring cookies or extra zucchini to a party or get-together, even with your closest friends. Put a dollar in the collection plate, whether at church or a fundraiser.
• Be pleasant. Nobody is always cheery or happy, but that doesn’t mean be unpleasant. My personal tip for when I’m having a bad day: I admit it to people I interact with. If I say it a couple of times, it helps me to force a smile and turn my day around.
•Appreciate beauty and such. Moon look magical tonight? Say so! Like your friend’s new haircut? Compliment them! Realize how much you value a relationship? Point it out! Was your cheese Runza and medium Fring divine? Wave to the cook!
• Send notes. Thank you notes, notes scribbled on post-its, notes of appreciation to point out why someone is special, even a thoughtful email or text message. This is a habit I hope I never break.
What do you think? Are these Nebraskan traits, or just habits of being a good person? Is there anything I missed?