Rant: On the popular interpretation of rural areas

Hello there.

Three times in the last two days (and trust me, I’ve had time to look) I’ve seen nothing less than wrong-headed interpretations of rural culture and attitudes.

These include:

A) People in rural areas don’t value education.

B) People in rural areas don’t value self-sufficiency.

C) People in rural areas aren’t cosmopolitan (i.e. they are unsophisicated in the larger world).

D) Peopple in rural areas are less tolerant of others differences.

Guess where I live? I knew you could figure it out.


I’m normally a peacable man. I hope people realize that. I hope this means more when I say:

Blow me.

In my experience (both rural Virginia, semi-rural Iowa, rural Louisiana, Chicago (the city), Miami (the city), Boston (the city), suburban Maryland, rural Maryland, and Suburban Los Angeles)(Note: Kids, don’t have a hippy mother. They wander.) I have found the folks in the three rural areas I’ve lived in to be the more tolerant group.

In cities (as mentioned: Miami, Chicago, Boston) in which I’ve lived I can agree that there tend to be a greater variety of people. But in my experience most of those people tend to do most of their socialized and experiencing (is that a word?) with others of the same sort. What the value (other than a self-congratulatory “Look how diverse I am. The guy next to me is from Sbu-Saharan Africa.”) of living in a diverse community if most don’t take advantage of it?

Where I live (currently rural Virginia…Purcellville, VA…population 3500) there are few enough people that any sort of isolationist groupings really aren’t feasible. Latino’s, asians (running both dry-cleaners stereotypically enough), blacks and whites all live together. The game ‘Go’ recently swept through town. We have salsa dances (that people from all walks of life attend), the most popular restaurant in town is run by a couple who came here from Naples (Italy you literal-minded folks…not Florida!), and we even have that pinnacle of 21st century American sophistication: A coffee shop and art gallery. It’s called “The Blue Ridge Cafe”.

Ahem. Sorry about that.

Again, my point: just because one is rural doesn’t mean that one is unschooled, unclean, intolerant or just plain mean.

Thank you and goodnight.

One can run into unsophisticated, ignorant boobs convinced that their way of life is superior to anyone else’s and in no way interested in broadening their horizons in small towns and rural areas. And also in large cities.

And one can encounter the complete opposite in either.

During my youth, a close friend was the son of a 70-year-old dairy farmer who looked like he should have been cast for the male lead in Grant Wood’s painting “American Gothic.” But that man was a retired Army sergeant with a degree in American history (and perhaps the most technically competent local historian I’ve ever met) and in addition a near-concert-skilled classical clarinetist.

I’ve found a far greater degree of tolerance and understanding of other cultures in Pilot, NC (pop. 110) than in Watertown, NY (pop. about 29,000), and my IRL encounters (as opposed to the fine people here) with people from NYC would lead me to conclude that the city’s public schools teach that the ideas of modern electricity, plumbing, and transportation technology, to say nothing of cultural affairs and the scientific method, end at the Hudson and the Putnam County line.

Where is Purcellville, Jonathan? I too live in rural Virginia, the Southwest corner. I agree with much of what you say, but I also believe that many of the peope who live here, especially the ones who have had family here for many generations, are “uncosmopolitan” and/or racist and/or rednecks. The majority of them are not highly educated themselves and making sure their children get a good education is not a high priority. (Example: My daughter attends a brand-new Title I Pre-K class at the same elementary school I attended. Fourteen kids are required to keep the program going next year with no income guidelines or other requirements. Because everyone values the “Head Start” program so highly, the program may be cut next year because we can’t round up enough kids - the parents are just not interested. So far we have 12. We are having trouble convincing parents that an academic program is preferable to what I consider government-susidized daycare.) A walk through our local mall with a member of the opposite sex of a different race will get you stared at, laughed at, and maybe threatened. As for valuing self-sufficiency, I know a lot of people on both ends of the spectrum. There are many, especially the older generations, who would consider it an affront to their dignity for someone to offer assistance, even if they clearly qualified and/or needed it. There are others, like the guy I attended high school with who now works with my mom. He makes over $14.00/hr. plus benefits and shift differential, and he and his wife have had three kids in five years of their on-again, off-again relationship. He brags at work about “wearing out the WIC program” and when he and his wife separate, she takes the kids to government housing and collects more food stamps than I spend in cash on groceries per month. I realize he’s only one example, but I know many like him.

Just up the road from us is a very artsy little town with a great theater and art gallery, wonderful restaurants and a four-star inn. I know there are lots of great people around. Sometimes it’s hard to see them with all the rebel flags flying in your face, though. My husband, who is from Ft. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach, made the comment the other day after being screwed over AGAIN by a friend he met here that he’d had “real friends in Florida. If you’re not related here, you’re fucked.” And I agree in many cases. I wish it wasn’t true, but unfortunately it seems to be so here.

Purcellville is North of so-called “Northern Virginia”. We’re in the Blue Ridge just short of the West Virginia Border.

Not WV, but you can see it from my back yard. No kidding.

And I certainly agree that you can have ignorant folks in rural areas. Just like you can have them in cities and suburbs. It’s the raw generalization that we’re all ignorant hicks with straw in our toes that pisses me off.

Nice to meet a fellow Virginian, though. A pleasure!

Huh. Y’all are just some ignorant hicks is what you are.

I lived in Stanardsville. Now there as booming metropolis, by gosh.

I think part of the reason for this phenomenon, to the extent that it exists, is the fact that in a city the vast majority of the people you run across are complete strangers. If one lives among complete strangers, as we city-dwellers do, one will likely tend to seek out others with some common interests to interact with. Being one of the other 3499 people in Purcellville is already getting there, while being one of the other 489,000 people in Boston isn’t even close.

The diversity that can be found in cities is more the diversity of opportunities. If one is so inclined, one can find any manner of interesting experiences in a city. On the other hand, one can also find any manner of slight variations on the same theme. In a small town, one must by necessity choose some sort of middle ground between the two. Of course, some people who like city life may conclude that just because there is a wider variety of opportunities in a city it must follow that everyone in the city is taking advantage of them.

Myself, I can’t imagine living without the sorts of opportunities a large city offers (for one thing, I doubt that I could find gainful employment as a bike messenger in Purcellville). But I don’t see that as anything more than a personal preference. Life is what you make of it, not where you do so.

I’ve lived in a number of smaller metro areas in the Southeast along the way (including the one jane_says hails from), within a stone’s throw of just plain rural.

I must admit that I’ve never heard (b). That’s usually attributed to big-city types, with a great deal of accuracy.

I’ll start with (D). You get the “Homosexuality is an abomination because it says so in Leviticus” letters to the editor in the Florence SCs and Bristol TN/VAs of the world. One of my closest friends got the hell out of Marinette, WI when she was 20 because she would’ve been an old maid if she’d stayed - yeah, a woman old enough to drink, but not married or about to get married, was too ‘different’ for them. So she blew town.

Maybe the stereotype doesn’t apply to every small town, but it wasn’t made up out of whole cloth.

A/C) I’ll second jane’s observations. There’s a lot of people in rural areas who - perhaps due to their lack of cosmopolitanness, if that’s a word - can’t see what good an education will do their kids. It doesn’t have much use in the jobs they’re familiar with - farming, working in small factories, and the like - so they don’t support better schools and higher ed. Oh yeah, and the conservative pols and commentators always bash the professoriat (all them pointy-headed intellectuals), and decade upon decade of this sort of bashing by these types has planted the notion of universities as vaguely suspicious places in many small-town minds.

Again, it isn’t always true, but the stereotype didn’t invent itself.

I’d question how typical a small town Purcellville is. The strip of northern Virginia between the built-up DC suburbs and the WV panhandle (and some of that panhandle too) is increasingly populated by people who commute to the big-city jobs (not thinking of anyone in particular here :)), or used to have them before they decided to move out past the 'burbs for retirement or a change of pace. Most small towns don’t have that sort of push towards becoming cosmopolitan.