An Iowa Moment
Oct 8, 2009
By Shoshana Hebshi
Photo © 2009 Stan Brewer
By Shoshana Hebshi
Last Friday a co-worker and I were on the Drake University campus plastering flyers for an event we hosted this week. It was nearing 5 o’clock, and the campus was almost deserted. The weather was foreboding—gray skies casting a cold drizzle upon us. Not knowing the layout of the campus and wanting to get a flyer up in the English department, we asked the first person we saw where that department was located. She was leaving the law school building and appeared to be heading home for the weekend, her coat wrapped tight around her as she braved the chilly fall wind.
She stopped, smiled and said she was not sure. And then, a funny thing happened. She offered to take us back into the building with her so she could return to her office to look up the location of the English department.
My coworker, who is from Pittsburgh, and me, from California, looked at each other in disbelief. We had both expected this total stranger to point us in the right direction, brush us off or simply say they didn’t know and walk on. Our jaws still hanging agape, we smiled and followed her back into the law building. She promptly asked the first people she saw if they knew where the English department was (they didn’t), and then she asked the next person for us. He did. Turns out we had already been there and didn’t know it. But he stopped to talk to us and was gracious—not annoyed—with our late-Friday afternoon inquiry.
My coworker and I have often found common ground in marveling at the cultural differences we find in Iowans compared with our hometown compatriots. In California, for instance, someone probably would have stopped, looked around if they didn’t know where the building was, shrugged their shoulders and walked on. In Pittsburgh, I imagine one may have gotten even less of a response.
This Iowa moment she and I experienced was a cultural phenomenon. Think about it. It’s late on a Friday afternoon. Almost five o’clock. You’re heading to your car, digging for your keys. Perhaps you are thinking about what you’ll have for dinner, or if you’ll be late for that happy hour with old friends. And then total strangers asking for directions approach you. You don’t know the answer. What would you do?
Your answer will likely reveal if you are an Iowan.
People talk about midwestern hospitality, how everyone here is just so nice. People sit and chat. They care about what’s going on in your life. They offer you things.
When we moved into our house three years ago, straight from Oakland, Calif., I truly was expecting a neighbor to bring over a freshly baked pie. That didn’t happen, but our realtor did bring us a nice basket of Iowa made novelties.
Our neighbors, upon seeing we had beaten our moving van to the new house by a few days (actually a week and a half), offered us air mattresses, towels, sheets, folding chairs and literally anything else we needed to make our transition more comfortable. Who does that?
Apparently Iowans do.
It’s such a breath of fresh air. It really reminds one about the true nature of humanity. I leave you with a quote from a friend of mine from Facebook who recently visited the Midwest: “decided the midwest is underrated... the second you leave california and notice that there actually are nice people in the world...they all moved to the midwest!”
Shoshana Hebshi is not quite a Midwesterner, since her DNA resembles more of a sun-lubber or desert nomad, but she tries at http://shebshi.wordpress.com