Culture Shock In Dickinson, North Dakota

I am originally from a small town in a southern state.  One of the elements of culture where I am from is hospitality.  I believe that two reasons why hospitality was important and apparent in the south, was due to the protestant religions such as Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian, and due to readily available resources.  I will try to explain this.

The protestant religions teach foremost the belief in Jesus, God, and doing what Jesus and God have instructed.  Jesus taught about giving and kindness to others.  As a brief example, Jesus was with his apostles and they witnessed church goers as they made offerings,  one man gave a substantial amount, one woman gave only a penny or two.  Jesus asked the apostles who gave the most, they answered that a particular man had given a substantial amount.  Jesus said, no, the woman who gave the few pennies gave the most, because she gave all that she had.  As another example, Jesus was invited to the home of a wealthy man, and upon everyone being seated, the household was embarrassed when a harlot showed up, and began to wash Jesus’ feet, and I believe I remember she dried his feet with her hair.  The house guests thought that this woman was trash and that Jesus should not have had anything to do with her, however Jesus pointed out that no one else had offered him the courtesy of washing his feet when he had entered this home, the woman was showing him reverence and kindness.  So, in the South, where they believe in the Bible, they try to incorporate what the Bible says into their day to day lives.  I will give an example.

I had a friend named Joseph who was from Georgia.  Joseph was 35 years old, he had a wife and a daughter.  He was a self employed tree trimmer, and he was poor.  In the winter of 2009 when the economy started to go bad, he had to go to the food bank, because he did not have enough money to buy food.  In the spring and summer, he got by O.K., but just barely.  I stopped by his house at about 5 p.m. one evening when he had just gotten home from doing a tree job, he had stopped at Dominoes Pizza and bought a large pizza.  He asked me if I would like some pizza,  I said no, thank you, I had already eaten, but the real reason was that I knew that that pizza was just enough for him, his wife, and daughter.  Just then, two young Mormon missionaries stopped at his house, Joseph and I both knew them, and talked to them from time to time.  Joseph said, “Hey you guys are just in time for some pizza, would you like some pizza?”  They said, “Oh yeah, great, thanks.” and they ate half his pizza.  There was just enough left for his wife and daughter after the missionaries left.  The rented house that Joseph lived in was very small and bare.  I had already passed through the kitchen and saw that there was not any food in the house, just maybe an almost empty bag of old bread, maybe a can of beans.  I said to Joseph, “Well, it looks like they ate all your pizza.”  Joseph said, “Oh, it don’t matter, I’ll find something else to eat.”

The second reason why people in the South have hospitality, is that they have been accustomed to having resources available.  In the South, trees are plentiful, so it is not difficult to get wood for furniture, firewood, or housing.  Domestic animals like chickens, cattle, pigs, and goats are not difficult to keep.  Wild animals like rabbits, possums, squirrels, turkeys, alligators, and fish are not that difficult to come by.  So, it was not that difficult to survive, you could afford to be hospitable, even if you were poor, it was not like you were going to die.

In North Dakota, things were different.  I have been to North Dakota pioneer museums, and have read and seen the exhibits.  I have talked to older North Dakotans about how things were growing up around Dickinson.  The pioneers that came to North Dakota in the late 1800s and early 1900s lived in small grass sod houses, the walls were constructed entirely of grass sod.  The houses were small partly because there was not a lot of things to burn to heat them, dried animal dung was collected to burn for heating and cooking.  I have been inside some of these houses on old farms outside of Dickinson, they were very small, very primitive, maybe a 10’x12′ room adjoined to another 10’x12′ room, and whole families lived in them.  I have talked to people who said that even growing up in Dickinson in the 1950s, that many people still had out houses.  It was common for the mom to keep the roll of toilet paper, that children were not given toilet paper, if you wanted toilet paper, you had to go and ask, and that you might be given three sheets.  Apparently life was brutally hard in North Dakota until recently, there had been a scarcity of basic necessities.  If you talk to people about it, you will begin to understand that hospitality was something that was not done, it was so hard for a family to survive, there wasn’t hospitality.

In the eight months that I lived in Dickinson in 2011, and the sixteen months that I have been living in Dickinson currently, it was not until I understood how hard life had been in North Dakota, that I realized this is one of the reasons why the residents in North Dakota are not hospitable and friendly, and why they don’t even know that they are not hospitable and friendly.

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