I have lived in rural America for many years and can say that there are some big differences between a big city and a small town. Not just the size, but also the interactions you will have with the locals. If you are from a foreign country this can be even more pronounced.
On Driving Through The Countryside Or Rural AreasAmerica is big, huge in fact. And most foreigner's have no idea that there are vast areas of wilderness and rural farm areas where it will be 50 miles before you see another living person. When driving across the country this can be a shock. And etiquette in rural areas is much different than in big cities where people make an effort to ignore you.
1. You will be waved at when driving down the road in rural areas.
This is due to the fact that most rural people help each other out. Often if you break down or have an emergency the authorities are sometimes over an hour away. People in the country have always been ready to help a neighbor or stranger out because they know that if they get into trouble they would hope a friendly stranger would help them. So don't get freaked out if every car you pass, or people working in their fields or yards waves at you, they aren't stalkers or insane! Just wave back.
2. If you have pulled over for any reason people will stop and ask if your all right, and if your broken down will offer to help.
This happens to me all the time. If I have stopped my car or am on the side of a road anyone who comes along will stop and politely ask if I need help. Again for the above reasons. Help is just too far away in many cases and it may literally be hours before another car passes.
3. Get gas frequently, and don't expect rest stops every 10 miles.
Rest stops and Gas stations can be very far apart so plan to keep your tank filled. If you need to use the toilet pull over and find a bush or tree to hide behind. I always carry toilet paper in my vehicle in case I'm caught far away from a toilet and nature calls insistently. Also having water and some food with you is important.
4. Do not rely on GPS or MapQuest! YOU WILL DIE! Get a good map and keep it with you.
Many places in very wild or rural areas of America are not mapped well and you could literally die by following your GPS. Every year people get hopelessly lost in wilderness areas and either die or have to be rescued.
5. Services are Limited
These are very unpopulated regions so gas stations may be closed on Sunday or after dark and there may be no services in tiny towns that only have 100 people. However ask for help if you find yourself lost or stranded and the locals will bend over backwards to help you.
6. Be careful driving at dawn, dusk, and at night.
America has huge populations deer, elk (a really really big deer like creature) and other animals. They seem hell bent on assassinating as many humans as possible by jumping in front of their vehicles when driving down the road and are out most at the above mentioned times. In fact, in rural areas most car accidents are caused by deer, and they kill more people than drunk driving. Forget about gangs, its the deer that are really out to get you!
As medical help can be far away many people die before it arrives. It is a highly unpleasant experience hitting a deer. I've done it and never want to again. In fact I try not to drive at night at all in our area.
Small Town America
Small towns have a distinctive culture of there own in America. They are usually agriculturally based with farming and ranching as their main industries. In fact America is nothing like the movies you see. Most people in America are very conservative (except in really large cities such as Los Angeles) and even religious which seems to surprise foreigners who think life is what is depicted in the movies.
1. People will smile at you.
Americans are generally happy people, but also there is a cultural thing about the friendliness and smiles. In America we are taught that it is very rude to treat someone else badly if you are having a bad day or have problems in your life. After all it's not their fault! This is not fake friendliness but more an act of service to others. To show kindness when we don't feel so great ourselves. So when you are being served by a waitress or checker they will smile at you and ask if they can help you or if you found what you needed.
2. People will smile at you, greet you with "Good Morning" or "Good Evening" Or "Hello" when you are walking down a street.
This is just plain politeness. Respond in kind and keep walking.
3. Locals will be very interested in you if your from a foreign country.
Remember that these are very small towns that often don't see foreign visitors often if ever. So people will be interested in why you chose to visit and what your home country is like. In some cases this will be the first time they have met someone from your country and had a chance to talk to them. Try not to be scared or offended.
4. Crime is low
This is true of most small towns. The streets will be deserted at night, people often leave windows open. The exception to this is any towns down by the Mexican boarder where there is much crime due to the drug cartels coming illegally over the boarder.
5. Things close early
With fewer people there is less business so most shops close early and towns pretty much shut down at 7:00 pm.
6. People have guns in the back windows of their trucks.
Do not freak out, these people are not murderers and are not going to shoot you. This is totally normal and safe. They are farmers who have to deal with all sorts of predators and pests so they keep a gun in their farm truck in case they need to "Take Care" of something. I myself have a loaded 22. rifle because we have coyotes (a type of small wolf like creature), skunks, and raccoons that come on our property to try and kill our chickens and wild rabbits that love to eat my garden. Wildlife is prolific in America so you will be surprised to see animals often. People may even have a sidearm on their hip, this is allowable by law if they have a permit and I can tell you that most people who carry a sidearm are law abiding citizens who are great people.
7. People are religious and might invite you to their church
Many foreigners are surprised that America is a very religious place, mainly due to what they see in movies. It is much more pronounced in small towns. Yes people really do believe in God here and even go to church regularly. In fact in small towns church is a big part of peoples lives and there are all sorts of activities that go on every week. Such as potlucks (a small party where everyone brings food), youth groups, bible studies, and camp outs. If you get into a long enough conversation with a local they may invite you to one of these activities or to church on Sunday. They are not trying to convert you, they are just being nice and offering you a chance to have some fun. Small towns will have many churches of different denominations of the Christian faith. However there are usually very few non Christian religions in these towns. There just isn't any population of those religious groups.
8. Most locals are extremely friendly
Americans are friendly, helpful, generous, and outgoing. Get used to it we aren't changing any time soon.
9. Services in small towns are limited
Small towns in America are often separated from each other by big distances by foreigner standards. With such small populations you will not find things like taxi's, subways, and sometimes no public transportation at all. This is simple economics. It just isn't cost effective to have these services for so few people. Also dining and shopping may be limited all though you can find some great little treasures if you look. Most people own cars due to the long distances to get to the next town. I have to say really great restaurants can be hard to find. Commonly found restaurants are usually country diners that cater to hard working farm people. So the food is hearty and high in calories. Most people do their own cooking at home and American country cooking can be delicious!
10. People are Patriotic
We Americans feel very blessed to live in a free country with so much bounty. Patriotism is not looked down on, except by the liberals in the media and Hollywood. Its not that we think other countries are bad, we just love the country we live in. 4th of July is a big deal, and many people display the American flag at their home. If you visit on 4th of July make sure to go to the parade and fairs.
11. Locals are generally Conservative
Most rural communities are conservative. Meaning they are religious, believe in marriage and family, and think street drugs are bad.
12. Cultural or Artistic Opportunities are limited
Now this is true and not true and depends on the size of the town. Our town has 10,000 people and has many opportunities to listen to wonderful jazz and live bands, an art gallery, and many fairs and events throughout the year. You just have to know where to go because advertising is limited. Asking locals or contacting the local Chamber of Commerce will fill you in on all the things going on.
13. Hunting, Fishing, and Outdoor Activities are big
Hunting is still something people in America do to fill their freezers for the year. Most people I know hunt and we hunt ourselves to provide meat for our family. Most people own guns and yet I have lived in this town for 3 years and there has never been a shooting. This is true of other small towns I have lived in. Fishing, camping, berry picking, river rafting, and backpacking are big pastimes for rural people. America is full of natural beauty and amazing wilderness. That being said most people who travel up to the mountains or wilderness are armed with guns. We still have cougars (mountain lions), bears, bobcats, coyotes, and even wolves in America. None of these creatures are fun to meet in camp or on a hike. Most of the time they will run away, but sometimes they decide to stick around and see if your edible, this can be especially true with grizzly bears which are an extremely large bear found in some parts of the U.S. If you are traveling in bear country be aware that many experts recommend having a way to defend yourself and that you have to follow certain safety guidelines to avoid attracting them.
14. Few People will Speak any Foreign Language
This is something foreign tourists complain about, as if Americans are too stupid or lazy to learn their language. However they do not take into account some important facts.
America is not close to other countries like you have in Europe. There is very little interaction with people of different languages except for Mexico, and all American school children are expected to take Spanish in highschool.
People in America may meet someone from say Germany or some other country twice in their life. To learn a whole foreign language for those two times is not really realistic.
Traveling in rural America can be a culture shock for big city folks and Foreigners. Just have an open mind, accept the kindness and friendliness you meet, and if you run into a jerk, well there are jerks in every country.