For those moving from a larger city to a little rink-a-dink North Dakota town (and by rink-a-dink, I don’t mean 5,000. I’m talking a couple hundred… maybe reaching 500…), the change can be very daunting. You’re used to stores being open 24 hours, shopping malls, movie theatres, people. And now, things are only open from 8 to 5 if you’re lucky. Everything is closed on Sundays, major, minor and made-up holidays, and funerals. And you can go days without seeing a person.
But never fear! There is a way to adjust to and survive (mostly happily) life in a small town.
1. Get a hobby! Or a few of them. This is crucial. And, be sure you have hobbies for every season. Some common hobbies of those in small towns include drinking, gardening, and gardening while drinking. Of course, gardening in the middle of a North Dakota winter would be rather fruitless (get it? Fruitless?) which is why hobbies for the different seasons are important. Drinking, however, is a wonderful year round hobby.
2. Turn your hobby into a business. Or just start a business. Home-based businesses in small town ND are quite common. Make and sell jewelry, or homemade yummy stuff. Other ideas include mowing lawns, fortune telling (note – this could get you burned at the stake), or stripping at the local bar (although, this also fits under hobbies).
3. Have children. Lots of children. Have a few… and when they’re too old to provide adequate entertainment, have a few more. Have enough to keep the area school in business. Have enough to start your own baseball team. Just have them! In addition to keeping you busy and entertained, they also give you something to talk about with your neighbors. Granted, most of these conversations will be along the lines of “your child put a baseball through my window again!” but, at least you’ll have conversation topics.
4. Get to know the area cats and dogs – you’ll see them much more often than your neighbors or any creature that walks on two legs. Note: if you feed any of these creatures even once (whether those with 4 legs, or those with 2), they will keep coming back for more. So, do so at your own risk.
5. Get involved in the school, church, and/or the bar. These are pretty much the only way to get accepted into the community, although, not particularly in that order. Let me also take this time to point out – while there is most likely only one school, you will have your choice of church (in a town of 250-500 people, you’re looking at 4-7 churches), and your choice of bar (again, in a town of 250-500 people, you’re looking at 2-4 bars).
***Edit contributed by a good friend (Thanks Troy!!!): "Get involved in the school, church, and/or the bar. Depending on the town, these may all be in the same place."
6. Never, ever say you don’t like basketball! Basketball is sacred in small towns. It is of crucial importance that you understand the reverence in which small towns hold this sport and the players. Of course, for some towns (mainly those closer to MN), hockey is the revered sport. Best to just say you love all sports. And go to the games. Tons of fun. Basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball – whatever sports your town offers… go, support, visit and have fun. And eat! Most small towns know how to serve some yummy concessions during games!
7. Find out what’s expected of you. Very few will directly tell you. You have to listen for gossip. But in particular, if you’re the spouse of a prominent figure: the mayor, school principle, school superintendent, or one of the many pastors/preachers/bar owners in the town… you have expectations placed on you that you must be able to mind-read to figure out. Alternatively, figure out who else is an “outsider” in the town and ask him/her. They know the gossip and gossipers, but don’t hold it back from the gossippees.
8. Learn to enjoy quiet walks along abandoned city streets! Walks give you something to do. And, if you walk enough, you learn the roads so well you can make it home even when you can’t remember your own name. Don’t be afraid to ask complete strangers you find during your walk to join you. Most likely, they’re just bored enough that they’d enjoy the opportunity to wander aimlessly with someone new.
9. Learn the names of homes… not the addresses. “Oh, you’re living in Jimmy Johnson’s old house?” is a common thing in small towns… and said by people so familiar with the place that they seem to think even new people from 3 states away know who Jimmy Johnson was and where he lived. A correct response to such a question would not be “I don’t know… its 303 West 5th” because no one in town knows where that is, except maybe the mail carrier. Instead, try “if you mean the red house a block west from the Baptist church… yes.” Or a simple, “yeah, that place.”
10. Always remember –most small towns are only 30-60 miles from a larger city. This may seem like a long distance, but it really doesn’t take any more time to get there than it did for you to get from your home in the big city to the nearest mall on the other side of the city in rush hour traffic. And the lovely scenery of flat land with very few trees/cars/sites has its own special quiet beauty.
And there you have it - 10 ways to adjust to and survive life in a small ND town. Good luck!