There is a tendency for people to migrate towards the countryside, where they can enjoy a quieter, more peaceful lifestyle. The fast-paced life we lead is bound to become burdensome. Moreover, the pandemic that had us cooped up in our homes expectedly incentivized people to seek refuge in less densely populated areas, where they can easily practice social distancing while safely spending more time outside. It appears that people in the cities experienced more isolation, which led to a feeling of loneliness that no Skype calls could mend. And even without the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, people seem more alone and detached in places where hundreds of thousands of strangers surround them than in rural areas where there are fewer people, but everyone knows everyone. But is life friendlier in the countryside? This is an assumption worth challenging.
People have a cognitive limit to how many people they can maintain stable social relationships with
In the 1990s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposed that humans are limited regarding how many people they can form stable social relationships with. These are types of relationships where an individual knows who each of the people they know is and how they relate to all the other people. He established that the number of people a person can know is around 150. That is called Dunbar’s number.
Population density impacts interactions
In the countryside, people typically cannot meet that cognitive limit. That is what people mean when they say that in small towns, everyone knows everyone. In big cities, it is not possible. Thus, it can be maintained that city dwellers need to be more reserved and even standoffish. It is their coping mechanism that protects them from becoming cognitively overburdened.
People in cities face many random faces every day, and they meet people they have never met before and will never see again. They must reserve close friendships and connections with people who matter to them and who they see regularly. The remainder has to remain the faceless strangers they are. Otherwise, they would become overwhelmed. So, they do it for their own protection, out of necessity. It would be too superficial to assume that big-city residents are inherently ruder.
At the same time, it may be difficult for people from a rural setting to navigate the urban social norms. Their friendliness may be perceived as over the top and even as an invasion of privacy. Also, the fact that most city dwellers won’t even make eye contact, let alone say hello to anyone who passes by, can be unnerving for a person from the country, and it may seem impolite.
So, is life friendlier in the countryside? It would appear so because population density impacts social interactions. The social dynamics are insanely different.
The pace of life also affects interactions
Shorter commutes, less cognitive input, and a smaller population, among other things, make life in the countryside slower-paced. This allows you to chat with a person you meet in the street without disrupting their day. You are not in a hurry and have the luxury of time. These are some advantages of living in the country and why many people decide to move there. Although this is not an easy decision, it will be a welcome change for many. This warm and welcoming sensibility and the possibility to stop and smell the roses are what many need.
In a big metropolis, where people typically rush, stopping to chat would be disruptive, intrusive, and inconsiderate. The fast pace of life in the city deems exchanging pleasantries a waste of valuable time. It is not that people don’t enjoy friendliness or don’t want to respond warmly. They simply have no time.
Population diversity is also a factor
Diversity is an advantage. There is no question about that. Still, to talk about why life is friendlier in the countryside, we must touch upon fundamental human nature.
Less-populous areas often have a more homogenous population. Whoever you encounter will be similar to you in more ways than one. This is not the case in a metropolis where you can bump into people from all walks of life and various backgrounds. Again, such diversity is highly advantageous and helps people grow as individuals. However, being more similar to people you meet gives you a chance and even encourages you to make assumptions about them.
Suppose you did that in a city where the chances of running into someone whose lifestyle, background, culture, and social experiences are opposite from yours, you would come across as rude. And that is not all; you may even come across as disrespectful to your differences and ignorant about lifestyles that are not the same as yours.
There is a sense of community that makes life friendlier in the countryside
When you have friendly neighbors, you can quickly pop into their homes for coffee. You don’t need weeks of planning to invite them over and have dinner. Also, rural communities often organize events and neighborhood parties. You can join gardening and other clubs or attend antique fairs and similar events.
In addition, you can feast on gastronomical delicacies prepared with locally-grown produce immersed in the country charm at family-owned pubs. These pubs are excellent places for newcomers to meet new people and connect with them. Social media groups are a good starting point, but nothing beats in-person interactions.
Furthermore, living in the country will give you more opportunities to appreciate and spend time outdoors. That also fosters a strong sense of community as kids in rural areas play out more, meeting other local children. Moreover, parents don’t have to worry about heavy traffic and can let their kids play outside. Such freedom makes connecting to new kids and forming friendships much easier. And the same goes for adults. Those who love spending time outdoors will easily find local groups with similar interests.
Are people in the countryside friendlier than people in the city?
Is life friendlier in the countryside? Are people in big metropolises ruder? Maybe. Or perhaps, big-city dwellers have more opportunities to be less pleasant. But are they inherently rude? No. Such assumptions are an expression bias. Rudeness is a personal characteristic and should not be attributed to entire communities. We should all strive to be respectful, but how people live in different surroundings will dictate what amount of friendliness is the norm. And that norm will vary from community to community.