Small-town etiquette pays off

It pays to be on your best behaviour at all times when you live in the provinces. The guy you cut off at the intersection could one day teach your children, cut your hair or, even worse, be your dentist.

And if I have learnt one thing in life, it's be nice to your dentist. Actually, also be nice to your mechanic, plumber, hair-dresser and plastic surgeon. They all have the capacity to drain your bank account and ruin your life in a couple of easy appointments.

I know about good behaviour because for my sins I live in New Plymouth. It has a marginal night life, average shopping options and lunch bars. Lunch bars have chips in pottles, sausages with potato stuffed in them and fudge slices the size of small window-less buildings. Lunch bars aren't great if you want your heart to keep beating far past your 60th birthday.

But what New Plymouth has over bigger, more sophisticated places is good manners. When you pass someone on the street, generally you smile or say hello. You do this because there are about nine people who live in Taranaki. If you don't know them, you will know someone who does.

I haven't always adhered to this be-nice-in-a-small-town policy. You see, when I play football I have a habit of getting angry and yelling at the referee. I'm not proud of my shouting, arm-flailing displays, especially now I have children watching from the sidelines.

A little while ago I was questioning a referee's sanity and of course it turns out his wife works with my wife. We played a school team, and I had words with a younger faster boy and he is, of course, my landlord's son.

I have recently changed my ways on the football pitch and it's making my life far easier.

Sometimes it's hard to be nice. I was exceedingly pleasant to a parking warden the other day. I didn't get off my ticket but she sure looked surprised when I smiled, thanked her and discussed the inclement weather. You see, having manners in small towns is a good strategy. There can't be more than three parking wardens in New Plymouth. I'm sure we'll meet again; maybe she'll let me off next time.

I've always thought that the bigger the city, the lower the level of humanity. This opinion is mostly derived from eight years' living in Auckland. In Auckland the roads are a free-for-all, the police helicopter keeps you up half the night and I was in constant fear of being attacked by a youth gang. I wasn't sure if it was the Bloods or the Cripps who were going to get me first.

In Auckland if you smile and say hi, people are instantly suspicious. Retailers are rude because you are just another customer, whereas in New Plymouth shopkeepers are friendly, helpful and welcoming. They are grateful for your custom.

If you are reading this over a special coffee in a cosy cafe in Wellington don't despair at your big city life.

I've lived in Wellington and found it to be the friendliest small town of all. It has the best of both worlds, friendly people and decent caffeine. It may just be the perfect place to live, except of course for a lack of lunch bars.

The Dominion Post