We all think about cultural differences when writing a book that takes place in a foreign country. What we fail to realize, especially if we live in one general location for much of our life, is that even in America there are huge cultural differences that you may not even realize between the midwest and the east coast.
As a result, I shall share some of them with you, and probably post more as I think about it. (I can probably post a whole post about farming, as a note, so I will probably leave most of that out of this one.)
To make this easier, I will say that I have lived in three small towns in the midwest, one in Minnesota, one in South Dakota, and one in Illinois. MN town size was about 2500 in the southwest corner, SD town size about 14,000, and IL town size about 100 in central IL. I will probably refer to these towns in my examples. (HOwever, as a note, the town in SD is in the top 10 largest towns.) By MN, I do not mean the twin city area.
– First of all, there might not be a local walmart in town. In MN and IL, we had to drive an hour to go to Walmart. There might be a Pamida, a cheapo walmart without food, about 10 miles away, depending on the location of the town and the nearby towns, but just as well might not.
– There are no malls in small towns. None. General rule of thumb, if the town is on a radar map, it has a mall. If not, no mall. Even the town in SD,
– Also, there are no real bookstores, like Barns and Noble or Borders. If you want a book, you can either buy it used from a second hand store, such as goodwill or salvation army or even a locally owned one. Sometimes, the library sells book as well.
– In SD, (At least in Mitchell), they charge a dollar for interlibrary loans. However, in MN, you can get a book from anywhere in state, so long as the library will send it to you.
– When buying a (used) car, one can borrow the car from the place for a day, after they copy your license. With that, you can test drive it and see what everyone else things. (This was at least true in MN and I’m pretty sure SD.)
– Everyone goes to church pretty much. This is getting a little less common with younger people but everyone does pretty much go to church on Sunday. It’s not a case of whether or not your a Christian. It’s a family thing.
– In MN, they knew who we were, knew who our dog was, but we hardly knew them. (They called once to tell us to catch our dog or they’ll call the police.)
– The police in MN caught dogs and would bring them to the vet in the next town for holding.
– People in SD do not use outhouses. We have indoor plumbing just like everyone else.
– (applies to SD and MN) Snow isn’t that bad, in all honestly. We will leave the house and do things when there is snow, even if they are saying six inches. The snow plows just go out and start working. However, the problem comes when the wind picks up, or there is ice. Blowing snow makes driving difficult and ice, although not that common as part of a storm, makes a normal snow storm bad.
– There is nothing but fields between towns. Fields and maybe a few houses but generally just fields.
– There are no streetlights on the interstate. It’s all dark. And there isn’t always cars either that you can see, so it might just be you and only you in both directions.
– People in small towns are not as friendly as it always looks. It takes about three years for them to accept that you are going to stay I’ve heard. However, that doesn’t mean people don’t know; it just means that it’s not like people in the movies where everyone knows, and talks to, everyone.
– Towns usually have their own fireworks display somewhere near town. (IL did not, but a larger town (about 12,000 I think) did.
– Fall doesn’t really happen up north in SD and MN. There’s about two weeks where all the trees change colors (boring colors at that) and that is all.)
– The wind can be a real killer, especially in winter but sometimes in summer. We do get 30 some mph normal winds. This can be difficult to ride a bike into, or even walk. MOreover, one time a bad wind came and we had a layer of dust on the table we normal ate at. However, a 15 to 20 mph wind isn’t that bad. 20 to 25 is when we start to worry. (We also almost never have no wind, either in SD or in MN.)
More shall come later, as I think about them, including a special one on farming as I know it. (Oh, and just so that you realize I can say this, I’ve lived in southern CAlifornia for some time, Knoxville, TN, and visit my grandmother often in northern New Jersey.)
Always good to think about setting and making sure you understand the place where you set your story. As a fantasy writer I’m going to stick to just creating my own settings rather than trying to describe real ones, I’m sure I would get the details horribly wrong.
Thanks for sharing this advice.