Iowa nice in the rest of the country


Most Iowans pride themselves on what is often referred to as “Iowa Nice.”

Since the precise meaning of this phrase is difficult to express, I will refer to Wikipedia which claims “Iowa nice is a cultural label used to describe the stereotypical attitudes and behaviors of residents within the… state of Iowa, particularly in terms of the friendly agreeableness and emotional trust shown by individuals who are otherwise strangers… It can be analogized to the similar notions of Minnesota nice and Southern hospitality.”

Frankly, I have run into nice people everywhere I have traveled which includes Washington, DC, and 35 states beyond Iowa. Better-traveled friends tell tales of the same in foreign countries.

My first encounter with non-Iowa “niceness” was 55 years ago at a filling station just south of Minnesota’s Twin Cities. I was 18 years old and heading home after taking a test for an FCC license when my ’55 Chevy began running roughly. I limped into a small town just off I-35 and chugged into a filling station. The attendant checked things over, blew out the fuel line and made a few adjustments to the carburetor. The car ran much better. Since I’m essentially mechanically illiterate, he could have sold me several unneeded gizmos at inflated prices. Instead, he wished me a safe journey and refused to accept any payment.

At a week-long church seminar in Wisconsin my wife and I had an opportunity to meet folks from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. We particularly enjoyed meeting a retired Canadian couple that sat at our dinner table the first night of the event. During the next several days they won the hearts of nearly everyone there. (Except for one couple from Ohio who thought that the Canadian gentleman’s habit of greeting women with a fatherly hug was out of place at a church meeting.)

As a young department manager I participated in a week-long newspaper management seminar in Rochester, New York. I was the only participant from west of the Mississippi River; the others were primarily from Canada, New England and the Atlantic states.

Walking into a social event prior to the scheduled meetings I looked around and didn’t recognize anyone. It was obvious, however, that many of the delegates were acquainted and were engaged in conversation. I felt so alone.

Then, out of the blue, a gentleman walked up and introduced himself, having identified me from my name tag. He was from a newspaper in New Jersey that was owned by the same company I worked for. We had talked on the phone a few times but had never met in person. He introduced me to a few of his acquaintances from the Northeast and my feelings of being a complete stranger quickly vanished.

A short time later two gentlemen from Ontario introduced themselves and we visited several times during the week that followed.

Throughout the seminar I continued to meet folks who erased my bigoted opinion of Iowa’s grip on the “nice” title.

On a trip to the East Coast my wife and I arrived at Newark International Airport in New Jersey about 12 hours ahead of our luggage. The volunteer driver who transported us and three other couples to the site of our church denomination’s meeting in New Brunswick, N.J., offered to take us shopping for a few essentials so we could attend a meeting that night. He not only took us to a shopping center, he and his wife gave us an enjoyable tour of New Brunswick. There went my stereotype of New Jerseyans.

At a conference in San Diego I met a gentleman from Montreal. We were two of the older delegates at the meeting and had a great time talking about our work, families and home communities. He was a nice guy.

The bottom line is that there is little difference in people around the world. We may differ because of our circumstances — economic, geographical, political, climatological — but, except for a few scoundrels, we can find nice people wherever we’re willing to look for them.

Maybe “nice” is like a mirror; when we’re nice we find nice coming back at us.


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