When you live in a small town you have no anonymity. Everyone knows who you are, who you're with, and they know your history. This creates a completely different culture from the suburbs and the big city. For example, you can't hide from the consequences of your actions. You can't flip off someone who pisses you off on the road since they'll recognize you and your car. You can't run off at the mouth bitching about someone because it's likely you'll find out later that the listener is somehow related to the object of your ire. In other words, it in your best interest to be civilized.
That's not to imply that civility doesn't come naturally, or that people aren't inclined to be nice anyway. It just means that you have extra incentive to think through the consequences of acting out your anger or frustration at someone. Because you're going to see that person again; there's no avoiding it. The flip side of that is if you are confronted by someone, especially an "outsider," you have allies automatically. People will defend you against unjust attacks, even if only in the telling of it later.
Reputation is everything in this environment. People have long memories here. If you were ever caught doing something illegal it will always follow you. Not that people will discriminate against you, but it will be your tagline forever. If you've had something unusual happen to you, that too could be your tagline. "That's Marge Doherty, she got busted for growing her own pot years ago." "That's Stan Smith, he once got hit by a car at a street dance." "That's Doug Showalter, his wife left him for the bread man." "That Patty Cunningham, she's a nut."
Growing up in this environment is tough. Hillary Clinton would love it here. It takes a village, right? Well, everyone knows your kid and that he or she belongs to you. It's hard for kids to get away with much. Here people are willing to try to help your kid along the right path if they know you give a damn. But if it's obvious that you don't care what your kid does, or what happens to them, people will generally back off because it rarely does any good to intervene. Soon enough it becomes a matter for social services, anyway. Reputation building begins at birth around here. Forty years from now people will remember if you took extra care to make nice even lines when you mowed their lawn for them. If you grow up and do well for yourself the whole county will be proud of you.
All that I've outlined so far assumes you care what people think about you. There are definitely those around here who don't give a damn. They'll do what they please because they're looking out for number one (and it ain't you!). These are the people you would hate to have as neighbors. Honestly, you don't even want to see them coming your way. They may not care what their reputation is, but they sure enough have one.
M and I, our strategy is to be as boring as possible. That way people don't have anything to talk about when the topic of "you" comes up. But you have to be careful with that, because it doesn't keep people from making things up. Back before M was dating me the rumor went around that he was diddling his best friends wife. The evidence? Her car was parked at M's house at odd hours. The explanation...uh...his best friend was driving his wife's car. Duh.
Small communities can be the best. They shine the most when they can lift someone up. Suppose someone finds out they have cancer and now have to travel over the mountains for regular treatment. Ride pools will be formed to help with the driving. If you're not insured or don't have the means to pay the bills, a free will donation dinner might be put together in your honor to help raise money for you. Friends and neighbors will bring you meals so you don't have to cook. Just last week a newlywed couple lost their home to a house fire. The very next day a donation point was established to collect money and household items for them. A spaghetti supper is already being planned.
In a small town everyone knows your name, which is cool. But they also know your business...or they think they do. M's take on it all is that things around here are pretty transparent. People don't spend a lot of energy putting on appearances. That energy is better spent actually accomplishing things.
Labels: where I live