People in the Valley are more polite

Having moved to Ohio for the first time in 2001, and being primarily an East Coast gal, I can tell you there are distinct dissimilarities between the area where I once lived and this one, where I am delighted to be.

My background differed from most of the people I knew growing up. My father was blond and blue eyed, from Iowa, and my mother, dark and zaftig, with a heavy accent, from Colombia.

When we first moved to New Canaan, Conn., from Chicago, in the early 1960s, my parents and the five of us, all under 10, were the only dark-skinned kids in a very white, middle upper class town.

My father built us a swimming pool in the back yard so we could enjoy ourselves and make new friends. We got so tan hanging around the pool all day that a neighbor actually told my mother, ”You better make sure your kids don’t get so dark. They might put them in the back of the bus in September.”

It was a bad joke to tell my mother, who was herself struggling to feel secure in her new home, but partly true as that world was full of high standards and expectations, many of them tinged with prejudice.

My father’s WASP-y looks and background automatically opened doors for us, but after that, it was up to us to fit in, abide by the rules.

By the time we settled in New Canaan, I had been to eight different schools, and had seen several countries, along with my siblings. We spoke two languages and already knew more than most of our friends did about the world.

Although our lives have, thankfully, changed radically since the ’60s, I remain keenly aware, wherever I go, of differences in place and culture, particularly how locales seem to shape how we think and behave.

The differences between the tri-state area – New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, all of which I have inhabited at one point or other in my adulthood – and this one are glaring. The most obvious is traffic.

On the East Coast, everyone is in a rush and no one gives a second thought to honking, even when a penalty is attached – especially in Jersey.

Long before you cross the line into Ohio along I-80, there is a decrease in the number of vehicles on the highway. No one is tailgating you!

On main roads off the highway you notice how respectful people are behind the wheel, even those in small trucks and SUVs – even at lights. Just in case you fail to hit ”the pedal to the metal” the moment a light turns green, chances are the person in the vehicle behind you won’t give a hoot – literally.

Out here, there is less traffic, there are fewer people and they are more respectful. The pace of life is slower – much slower – and this lends itself to a greater sense of community.

Out east, there is little time to hang out with friends over a cup of coffee at a Starbucks – unless you are making a business deal, on your day off, or unemployed.

Everyone is in a rush – constantly. On the East Coast, no one goes anywhere without a smartphone or laptop, and everyone counts on social network media to keep up with news and friends.

Here, neighbors check in with one another. Strangers chat with one another in lines in stores and friends keep up with one another in real time. Some still don’t even know what it means to ”go online.”

Admittedly, we haven’t quite entered the technological age here, but we are better for it. Folks still eat meals together, know what their children are doing, help them with homework, and give them advice and chores to do after school. There isn’t a person I know who isn’t a volunteer for at least one cause.

We still embrace a culture of civility in this part of the country and that’s one of the reasons I live here. This matters as you go through your day.

Everywhere you go, men and boys hold doors open for you – almost without fail. That’s a rarity on the East Coast, unless you are with a husband or male friend that you have trained to be a gentleman.

Politeness rules across the board. There is no better customer service than the service you find here among waitresses in restaurants and salespersons in shops. The pay rate may be low, but people work hard and with heart – this is always apparent, at least to me. The Ohioans I have met are a welcoming lot that hold people at the forefront of their considerations.

That’s the way it should be.

Jenkins is a McDonald resident. Email her at