I grew up in a little slice of Midwest heaven: Iowa. Not on a farm, but definitely within arms reach of corn fields, cows, and churches on every street corner.
People were nice. Everywhere you went someone held the door, asked how you were, and tossed a polite smile your way.
In fact, they’re so nice the term “Iowa Nice” is actually a thing. As in, people in Iowa are known strictly for their kind demeanors and warm personalities.
(Sorry Minnesota, we win.)
After 24 years galavanting through fields and devouring copious amounts of peaches and cream sweet corn, I moved across the country to the hottest, driest, dustiest place of all: Arizona.
Before moving here I was warned multiple times that, “It’s not Iowa. People aren’t Iowa nice there so be careful.”
Unsure what that meant exactly, I walked into my new life with a bit of a wall up–prepared to face bullies and cry a lot because apparently Arizonians are “Arizona Mean”?
Turns out, that isn’t the case at all.
Since moving here I’ve realized that what “Iowa Nice” sometimes means is: Iowa passive.
Hear me out: I love Iowa. If I could go back and do it all again, I’d still grow up there. And maybe one day I’d even consider moving back. But people there are absolutely terrified of stepping on toes, saying the wrong thing, being judged, or facing conflict.
So instead, we plaster on a smile, do a little wave, and say a lot of “ope.” Then go back to our circles and say what we probably should’ve said directly to the person who’s conflict we were avoiding.
Ya’ll, that’s not nice at all. That’s passive. Passive aggressive even.
And the reason we think we’re nicer than everyone else is because other states don’t have the same passive culture. They aren’t fake nice to people they have problems with–they either avoid them or confront them. They don’t go out of their way to make sure everyone else is happy while they themselves are not–they take care of themselves first.
And if you’re not used to this, it can feel really…mean.
The best part of all? They go beyond a smile and a wave. They dig deep right away. I can’t name the number of times someone’s asked a below surface-level question within 10 minutes of meeting me. Something you rarely find in Iowa.
And holy heck was this all quite an adjustment. Not necessarily better, just different.
The Uber drivers don’t force you into awkward conversations: they just drive. Your waitress won’t pretend to be your best friend: they just do their job. That girl you have a problem with? Yeah, she’s probably going to confront you soon.
And if you’re from Iowa, buckle up because you’re about to be thrown for a loop.
Don’t worry: doors are still held, people still exude kindness, and if you look hard enough you can still find sweet corn (albeit not from the back of a beat up pickup truck). But you’ll need to learn a few things and make a couple changes if you want to be happy:
- No more passive aggressive behavior. Say what you need to say to the person who needs to hear it.
- Be prepared for people to ask you about more than your high school football career. *gasp*
- With more diversity comes less judgement–leave your high-horse at home thank you very much.
- If someone doesn’t like you, you’re going to know. And that’s OK. Believe it or not, we’re not made to make everyone happy.
- You can still say “ope.”
So yeah, “Iowa Nice” is a thing–but so is “Arizona Nice” and “Boston Nice” and probably “Washington Nice” but I can’t confirm because I’ve never been.
What I’m trying to say is this: The slice of land you call home doesn’t dictate the level of kindness you’ll find there–the people do. And kindness might look a little different depending on where you’re at, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less kind.
To Iowa: Thank you for teaching me how to be warm, soft, and welcoming.
To Arizona: Thank you for teaching me how to dig deeper, reach out, and put myself first.
You’re both pretty nice.