By Lauren Kassien
One month ago, I moved from Iowa to New York City. I’ll admit: It’s taken me a while to adjust to life in the Big Apple. Fortunately, I arrived armed with 22 years’ worth of tools, tips and teachings that can only come from living in the heartland. These life lessons have served me well so far, and I know they will for any Midwesterner who plans on relocating, too.
1. Play up your Midwest kindness.
I’m not talking pushover niceness, like letting passengers shove past you to get on the subway first. Or the creepy kind, where you smile and nod at everyone on the street. (That’ll earn you dirty looks and a nasty case of whiplash here — trust me.) I mean real kindness, like saying hello to workers when you enter a store or offering a polite smile when you awkwardly make eye contact with a stranger at the bus stop. “Please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me,” are rare here. And they’re appreciated. So when you’re on the super-crowded L train one evening, and you accidentally whack a stern-looking businessman with your overstuffed Trader Joe’s tote, say a genuine, “I’m sorry.” He’ll remember that when your bag rips two stops later and will offer to help you pick up your groceries off the car’s floor.
2. Dress like you would back home — ready for every weather situation.
They say East Coast weather changes around the corner — and they couldn’t be more accurate. It may be raining on one avenue, but the skies are clear on the next street. And don’t get New York commuters started on different boroughs. It’ll be 65 degrees when I board the train in Brooklyn and 40 degrees with wind when I get off half an hour later in Manhattan. My family in Kansas City will tell you this forecast closely mirrors the weather on a Kansas spring day. They aren’t too far off. Fortunately, all those years of rocking boots, vests, scarves, sweaters and t-shirts — at the same time, of course — should have taught you to create a variety of stylish-and-comfy looks with layers that can be donned or shed at a corner’s turn.
3. Know when you’re scoring a good deal.
Last week at a lunch meeting, I watched one of my co-workers fork over $11 for an “artisanal” salad (read: plain iceberg lettuce in an eco-friendly takeout container). She’s not alone. East Coasters are notorious for dropping serious dough on anything remotely trendy. I, on the other hand, am from the land of Thursday night specials at the local dive bar, where my roommate and I could score a couple pints of craft beer and order Des Moines’ best nachos for $18 — the same price as one martini in Midtown. While it’s impossible to avoid hiked-up East Coast price tags, when in doubt, think of how much you paid for Midwest happy hours and two-for-one dinner deals. For example: $4 for a single scoop of ice cream in SoHo? Pass. $4 for a heaping bowl of strawberry-hazelnut gelato from Little Italy? Sign me up.
4. Don’t buy produce at grocery stores.
Weekend farmers’ markets were, hands-down, my favorite part of Midwest summers. Two weeks into my first June spent in Des Moines, I was on a first-name basis with most of the Downtown Farmers’ Market vendors. I could tell newbies where to find the cheapest zucchini and on which street they could snag a generous sample of fresh-baked focaccia. I’m proud to say that after a month in NYC, I can do the same thing. Skipping the Saturday morning Whole Foods rush to peruse your local farmers’ market will save you time, energy and a whole lot of cash. Plus, it’s hard to miss the difference between the taste of a fresh-picked New England apple and one that’s been boxed and then shipped from halfway around the world.
5. Know that hard work and a little GRIT will get you far.
In one of the best interviews I’ve ever had, a college admissions counselor in Kansas explained to me the concept of GRIT or Growth, Resilience, Integrity and Tenacity. Very simply, GRIT is a measure of people’s perseverance. The counselor told me that of all the students who arrived at his school, he found Midwesterners adapted the best and the fastest to college life. I’ve had corporate execs here tell me they can spot a Midwest employee right away because of their impressive work ethic. Maybe this perception comes from the idea of us toiling in the cornfields all day. Maybe it stems from some truth. Or maybe I agree because I’m biased toward my people. After all, I’ve only been gone seven weeks, but I still believe — and always will — that Midwest is indeed best. And I promise that once you make the move, you will, too.