Life in the Mid-West (part II)
So now that everyone has had a chance to practice their new driving skills, I thought it would be a good time to move on to the next lesson : How to behave in public.
This may be slightly more difficult than changing your driving habits, but I am confident that you can master these new skills! As a general rule of thumb, when moving here from the north-east, take almost everything you have learned about public behavior and reverse it. The few exceptions being bathroom, table and clothing "behaviors", as those are universal (I should hope).
As a north-eastern resident, you have undoubtedly learned the following about acceptable public behavior.
1) NEVER make eye contact with anyone while using public transportation. You MUST keep your eyes on your e-reader/ipad/book/newspaper..what ever you brought with you to do while on the bus or train. Making eye contact with a fellow passenger is like making eye contact with a strange dog....it is viewed as a direct challenge.
2) DO NOT try to start a conversation with the clerk/shop keeper/cashier/ gas station attendant who is assisting you with your purchase. This is viewed as a waste of time and possible territorial challenge
2a) don't expect any help from store employees or any of your product questions to be answered...you should know what you want and how to get it before you get to the store.
3) When calling a government agency's office (dog catcher, secretary of state, governor, etc) be prepared for a long wait time and many menus to work through before you may or may not get to speak to a live human being. If you do get to a live human being, do not expect them to be able to answer your question. Do expect them to put you on hold, or send you back to the phone menu maze.
4) When visiting a government agency's office (DMV/ county tax office, etc.) DO expect to spend an inordinate amount of time standing in line only to discover one or more of the following:
a) you have the wrong forms
b) you have the wrong support documents
c) you have the wrong form of payment
d) you have the wrong office
e) you have the wrong line
But now that you are in the mid-west you can reverse a large portion of your behavior when interacting with others in public. Here you are free to do the following:
1) Talk with other people, in public, while looking at them, without electronic devices or reading materials in your possession. In fact, you will be considered rude if you don't speak to people while out and about.
As an advanced exercise for you over-achievers you can even try smiling while talking to others.
2) Feel free to respond to the store employees as they initiate conversations with you. Again...you will be considered rude if you don't interact with them. They really make it easy for you to ask questions and have a pleasant exchange of words. They even know how to help you find something, and can do so with a cheerful expression on their face. Almost as if they were hired to be helpful to the customers!
3) If you need to call a government office, be sure to have your questions ready, since it is very likely that you will quickly be speaking to a real, live, human! Sometimes you even get the person in charge of the whole department. Not their secretary, not their voicemail, but the actual person. This one threw me for a loop the first time I tried it and I wound up stammering my way through a conversation with the State Secretary of Education. Mumbling Idiot was not the impression I wanted to leave with her, but I really was flustered when she answered her own phone.
4) When visiting an actual government office, phone first (see #3) to get your questions answered. Since you speak to a real person, not a phone system, you may find yourself doing the following:
a) getting to the right office
b) getting into the correct line
c) having the correct forms, documents and payment options.
d) NOT wasting an entire day lost in the system.
I will leave you to practice this lesson for a bit before moving on.
Lesson 3: Specific Customs and Traditions to follow soon.
Because you don't want to miss the class on that!