“You should come over. They’re having game night!”

My wife and I looked at each other uneasily.  We were not really accustomed to talking to our neighbors let alone joining them for “game night” at a strangers house.  We declined the invitation at the time, but would take up other invitations in the future.  We were just settling in.

When you move to NWA from a metro area one of the major adjustments will be the level of friendliness and intimacy of not only the natives, but that adopted hospitality of most every transplant who moved here.

People are just generally nice and welcoming.  It can be unnerving moving from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or other metros where you generally mind your own business. Living in these metros, if others are being nice for no reason they have some kind of angle to try and take advantage of you.

I remember my mother visiting us in Los Angeles from a rural ‘burg in the middle of Pennsylvania. I love my Mom, but I remember my embarrassment as she struck up a conversation with whomever she was around; random people in the grocery store, waitresses at the restaurant, the barista at the coffee shop.  I forgot that’s how normal human beings are suppose to behave.

It’s like that here.  All the time. For the first few months my on-going inner dialog when in public was “what does this person want from me?” and “why are they talking to me?” It was actually really uncomfortable. Eyes front, mind you’re own business was my mantra.  It took me sometime to trust that the idle chatter and friendliness was not always some kind of scam in progress….it was people being friendly.  People being…human.

It’s easy to get in the spirit.  Almost contagious.  You easily slip into a habit of holding open the door for others, letting people in front of you in the grocery store, and letting other cars merge in front of you.  For the uninitiated it is down right bizarre.  In Los Angeles the turn signal was a sign of weakness.  Here people readily wave in front of them with eye contact and smile.

There is a surprising paucity of  rude behavior, and when it does happen, the full wrath of Arkansan social norms collapses on you like a vice. Being a jerk is simply not tolerated. Although you will never hear a car horn here.  I think there may be a local ordinance requiring car horn castration.

Random acts of kindness are common place and part of the social fabric of the Bville bubble.  A few months after moving here I purchased a outdoor grill at Home Depot.  Forgetting I had driven a friend’s car (a subcompact), I was left in the parking lot figuring out how to fit my new toy into the vehicle.  I was struggling contorting the grill into the itty bitty Honda.

Up pulls a F-150 truck and a guy jumps out.

“Y’all need some help with that?” friendly guy says.

“What?” I said, suspiciously.

“You need some help getting that home? Do you live near by, I can get it home for you… no problem.” the Samaritan said.

“Ummm no I’m good”

I had my full anti-grift antennae up and waved him on. This was very suspicious behavior to me.  I would come to learn this is just what you come to expect in NWA.  People, in general, help others in need.

A friend of mind related a story about a car accident on Walton Boulevard in Bentonville.  One car had collided with another; nothing severe but more than a fender bender.  In one of the cars were two young children.  Immediately  three other uninvolved cars  stopped in the middle of the road and their drivers raced out of their vehicles to check on those affected in the accident. The kids were fine.  This kind of social responsibility simply doesn’t happen elsewhere.

It works in reverse as well.  You must reacclimatize when leaving the Bville Bubble.  I remember flying back to Los Angeles, making my way through LAX and getting on the rental car bus after a long day of travel.

“Hey, you bumped into me with your backpack” a fellow passenger said to me.

He was clearly irritated with me, but i missed the social cue.  I momentarily forget my social context and said “Oh. My. God! Are you going to be okay?” and smiled broadly.  I thought he was joking. He was not.  I think he took my joking as some sort of a threat rather than playful banter it was intended to be and sat down in an huff glaring at me.

It was at that point I looked forward to getting back to  what I finally regarded as ‘home’. Funny that turning point in your life when the definition of ‘home’ changes.

So decompress. It’s cool. As Leo Babauta recommends… Breath.  Relax.  People here are for the most part WSIWG.

And if you are invited to game night: go.

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