Very briefly. I wrote recently about Arkansas the “Natural State” and, in my haste, forgot to mention the people of Arkansas, the Arkansans.
The USA is world famous as the land of service. The Americans make it an art form, and much more often than not, excel at it. However, all too often, the “have a nice day” culture has a slight ring of insincerity. And it can become a bit disconcerting when, on entering a large store, a disembodied voice wafts over the ether saying “welcome to Macy’s/Walmart/Trader Joe’s/…..”. Identifying the source of the welcome can be be a major task. For us polite Brits who like to respond, it’s a problem having to say “thank you” back across the ether to no one in particular. So instead of feeling at ease, there is a nagging feeling of discomfort, the exact opposite of their intention.
In Arkansas all is different. The service is, much more often than not, friendly and personal. Whether it’s at the car rental desk, the checkout in the supermarket or in the fast-food restaurant, you are spoken to as a human being. There is no feeling of “reading off the script” rather a feeling that they really mean what they say.
However, I said I would be brief. So here’s a little anecdote that, for me, epitomises in a small but meaningful way the kindness of Arkansas and the Arkansans.
Towards the end of our recent sojourn in the State, we had decided to visit the State Museum in Downtown Little Rock. The museum is house in the old State Capitol building on a major thoroughfare in the city centre. Although public transport does exist in Little Rock, as in so many American Cities apart from the very largest, not to put to fine a point on it, it is “reserved” for students and the poor. We would look very out-of-place on a bus, so we travelled into town by car.
The closest parking is at meters just out side the Old State Capitol. Very convenient. However, on parking and getting out of the car and onto the sidewalk, we realised that neither of us had any change and the meter only took coins. Apart from the museum, all the nearby building were office blocks or hotels. There was nowhere obvious to get change. And then a very smartly dressed businessman stopped and asked if he could help. No doubt we looked like strangers – even foreigners. I thanked him and asked if he could change a $1 bill. He delved into his pocket, brought out some coins, dropped them in my hand and waved farewell. “Have this one on me” he said with a smile as he walked off. Such a typical Arkansan gesture.
I’m starting a campaign to change the self-declared nickname of State of Arkansas from “The Natural State” to the “The Kindest State”. Maybe I should write to their most famous son, Bill Clinton, and make the proposal.