New Neighbors
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2007. All rights reserved.

Moving to the country? You're going to love it... maybe.

If you are anything like the thousands of folks fleeing the "rat race" of city life each year by taking up residence in some small town or rural county, then you probably have some romantic notions of country life.

You expect to find less crime, less traffic and more friendly faces. That's possible. But don't come out here looking for Green Acres or Northern Exposure. There are no Martha Stewarts on these farms. You won't find espresso bars or vegetarian bistros in most small towns.

All across the country, in rural places from Maine to Mendocino, there are terrible conflicts raging between folks who have lived in these places all their lives and newcomers who want to change them to better meet their expectations.
Some novice ruralites want to look at cows grazing in a pasture without having to smell them. Others expect farms to operate without machinery and harvesting to occur on bankers' hours. And a few even want to recreate our small town business districts with boutiques and tourist attractions.

These are three of the "Top 10 Ways to Irritate a Rural Community and Make Yourself Unwelcome." The other seven include:
  1.  Honk If You're Angry. Hereabouts, when someone honks a horn it's either because they know you and are honking to say 'Hello!" or because there's some impending disaster.
  2. Know It All. Until you've been around for a few years carefully avoid speaking like a local authority or tour guide.
  3. Ignore the Obvious. Local customs are not that hard to figure out if you'll just take the time to watch and listen.
  4. Overpay. Rural economics are different from those in the city. Pay more for than the going rate for a house or tip a waitress too heavily and you disrupt the local economy.
  5. Complain. "If you don't like it, why did you move here?"
  6. Give History Lessons. Any sentence with the phrases  "Where I come from..." or "Back when I was..." is likely to be received poorly.
  7. Phone Your Lawyer. Nuisance lawsuits involving pre-existing farming operations or other businesses are rarely successful, are always expensive, and are certain to make you unpopular.
As for those of us who already live here in the country, we need to talk to these newcomers, get to know them and let them get to know us.

"Good communication builds trust and allows people to discuss problems in a peaceful and respectful way," says Dr. Timothy Kelsey, assistant professor of agricultural economics at Penn State University.  "It helps neighbors learn that you are approachable and interested in their concerns.  If a neighbor has a complaint about your farm, it is better that they feel comfortable enough to approach you directly instead of your hearing of it second-hand."

Newcomers are frightening. Who knows where they came from? Who knows what they are capable of?

The best way to deal with these anxieties is to remember the story of Big Jake. It begins with a cowhand in a small town of the Old West walking into a saloon to quench his thirst. He orders a beer and while he's standing at the bar waiting for it the saloon doors swing open and a cowboy comes in yelling, 'Big Jake's coming!"

Within seconds everyone in the bar clears out, leaving the cowhand standing at the bar waiting for his beer. And sure enough, a huge seven-and-a-half-foot 500-pound cowboy comes swaggering in, tearing out the front door frame with his broad shoulders.

The cowboy looks around the saloon, marches over to the cowhand, grabs him by the scruff of the neck and tosses him over the bar. "Gimme a drink!" he bellows.

The cowhand obeys, pouring a shot of whiskey and placing the bottle down next to the glass on the bar. The cowboy tosses back the shot and then bites off the neck of the bottle and drinks its contents.

The cowhand, shaking in his boots, asks, "Sir, would you care for another?"

"Nope, I gotta go," the cowboy declares. "Big Jake's comin'!"

Your new neighbors may look strange and do things differently. They might even be critical and hard to get along with. But at least they're not Big Jake.

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