Wyoming manners? Forget about it!

 

Wyoming may be the rudest state in America.

I grew up in upstate New York, where it was rude not to introduce strangers to each other. If you neglected to do this, you found yourself apologizing to the accidentally slighted person.

Nothing in the preceding paragraph applies to daily life in Wyoming. Even New York City, for all its perceived urban boorishness, is probably light years ahead of the Cowboy State in terms of manners.

Maybe Wyoming's determined rudeness is rooted in a taciturnity born of hardship, of trying to make a go of life in an unforgiving place, thanks to the vagaries of isolation, boom-bust economics, harsh weather and few people. It may be a case of no opportunity for manners, as compared to deliberate bad manners.

Unlike in some large cities, this incivility shows itself not as an in-your-face or threatening demeanor, but as a quiet and easygoing one. It's one that says: I don't know you, and I'm going to ignore you.

I cannot count the times I've had to introduce myself to people because our host didn't bother to do it, or the people I introduced myself to failed to notice the overture. The latter situation many times leads to the 'one-sided' introduction, where you approach a person, introduce yourself, and then wait for them to tell you who they are. They don't. In the meantime, there might be chatty conversation with this person, yet you will never learn their name.

I was hitchhiking locally once, and an old rancher picked me up. He drove an ancient rattling blue pickup truck that was a mess inside. As I sat surrounded by a clutter of beer cans, fast-food wrappers and empty plastic motor-oil bottles, an affectionate little border collie licked my face. I immediately introduced myself to break the ice. The old-timer just turned to me, nodded and smiled, but did not tell me who he was. In the course of a few miles of small talk I tried once more, stating my name and where I lived. Again, I got the same nod and smile. But that was it. The paradox is that most Wyoming folks never hesitate to pick up hitchhikers in the first place, and they'll assist motorists stranded out on a lonely stretch of highway in a blizzard. But, when it comes to social interaction, they're just rude, that's all. At least the dog was friendly.

Many Wyomingites also seem surprisingly unfamiliar with the word 'please.' When I first moved to Cody in 1994, I was a waiter at the legendary Irma Hotel, built by Buffalo Bill Cody in 1902, and named for one of his daughters. Today, it's the town's most prominent landmark. As locals perused the menu, I heard a lot of 'I'm wantin'' and 'Get me,' as in: 'I'm wantin' a steak,' and 'Get me a prime rib. OK?' they would ask-say as they handed back the menu. 'OK,' I would dutifully repeat. No please-and-thank-you from these old cowboys. 'I'm wantin'….Get me….OK?' And they were chintzy tippers. In fact, there was a group of Chamber of Commerce types that I secretly labeled 'The 8 percent Club,' but that's another story.

The curious thing is that Wyoming folks are notorious for falling all over themselves to be nice to tourists. These temporary visitors, particularly in Cody, are fawned over and left with the impression that the Wyoming populace is exceedingly hospitable and polite. The tourists have to actually move here -- many do, of course -- to discover the truth.

Much of our homespun rudeness is a function of an endlessly fascinating class system common to the rural West. The 'buckaroo aristocracy' -- a neat phrase coined by the late Bernard DeVoto, once dean of Western historians -- has always treated its inferiors with kind of a jovial contempt: 'You are lucky to live here; therefore, know your place. Play the social and economic game our way, or go down the road, cowboy.' These fourth-and fifth-generation scions of legendary ranchers and lawyers and lawmen may now sell insurance or cars or real estate, though in extreme cases they have been known to serve in the U.S. Congress.

There is a popular bumper sticker seen around here, courtesy of folks who'd like the Endangered Species Act and its federal agents to disappear. It reads: 'Thanks for visiting Wyoming. Now take a wolf home.' As usual, they left out 'please.'

Bill Croke is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He is a writer and curmudgeon in Cody, Wyoming.
kmgsage
kmgsage
Aug 05, 2007 09:44 AM

In 1972 I  spent 3 days in the Sweetwater County jail (Green River) for the offense of hitchhiking. Of course, in those days longhairs passing through the state were indeed aliens in Nixon country. After the magistrate dismissed my case the day jailer refused to release me. I was only freed by a kind night jailer who investigated my continued presence. Years later the day jailer was arrested for sexually abusing female inmates.

Several years later I read an article that made the national newswires. A hitchhiker froze to death in a blizzard trying to thumb a ride outside of Rock Spings. No one would pick him up. I think you underestimate the hostility and unfriendliness of the denizens of this state.

Anonymous
Aug 06, 2007 06:23 PM

 Ah yes, 1972 and 1973, I remember them well in Wyoming. A longhair was drug around the square when I worked at the R Lazy S Ranch the summer of 1973. Not exactly a friendly gesture.

And I witnessed an indivdual come in to a bar in Story and shoot his estranged wife. I recall he got off cause "she was cheatin' on him".

And who can forget the young man killed in Laramie for being gay. Yup, Wyoming is a redneck and rude place for sure.

I live in Idaho and I'll take the crowd here, conservative as they are, who helps strangers, and say's please and thank you like properly taught citizens.

spudboater

girlpilot
girlpilot
Aug 07, 2007 12:48 AM

Maybe that explains Dick Cheney.
Crista Worthy

jcouch
jcouch
Aug 07, 2007 10:27 AM

Well, maybe we Wyomingites forget the Emily Post niceties once in awhile, but at least we aren't gunning each other down in the street on a daily basis like they do in NYC!

- Julianne

Anonymous
Aug 07, 2007 02:10 PM

As a fourth generation Codyite, I feel that I have to respond to Bills essay.  True, Wyoming folks might be coarse around the edges, and he's right, Wyoming is an inhospitable place to live, both geographically and socially. Maybe this does contribute to our less than chatty demeanor.  Also, Wyoming is a place that  attracts people who might be trying to escape a part of their past, which inevitably catches up to them in Wyoming and brings with it more issues.  I would argue however,  that I could not have more accommodating neighbors, who would come over at 2 AM to help you unfreeze pipes, or make sure you get your share of ditch water.  They just don't augment these gestures with an excess of incessant chatter.  You know what's rude Bill?  Asking a question and then interrupting to ask a second one, the trademark of a Manhattan resident.  I can see where this comes from though, there's so damn many people there, you have get your licks in while you can.  The bottom line is that you can't pigeonhole an entire state for your limited experience as a waiter at the Irma.  For as rude as we are, there must be some endearing quality that has managed to keep you here, Bill, but keep in mind, if you're not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. If you can't abide by this,then I would like to politely invite you to "please" return to New York and a world of civility.  

P.S. you have not deterred me, I'm still a staunch advocate for the betterment of my community and the preservation of the west.

Most Genuinely, Andy Quick 

Anonymous
Aug 07, 2007 06:58 PM

What an ingrate.  Someone picks him up, gives him a free ride and he's complaining that the guy wouldn't talk to him.  Oh please...  Trust me, in Arizona (even 110 degrees) people would rather run over someone than pick them up.  If Wyoming is such a bad place, why does the writer even live there?  What a waste of my reading time!

Anonymous
Aug 08, 2007 11:50 AM

After living in Wyoming for the past 19 years and now living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I find this opinion article absolutely untrue. Nothing could be further from the truth; New Yorkers rudeness can be seen every minute on the streets of Manhattan, Cars double parked, cabs jumping from lane to lane to beat the other cabs, pedestrians who jaywalk at any spare moment, horns blasting and the subway! Oh how many times this summer I have witnessed people get in a fighting match due to the inept amount of personal space!


Wyomingites aren't rude, just respectful of those around them. Do you really think you are that important that you need to be introduced? Come on!
Lisajones
Lisajones
Aug 09, 2007 11:18 AM

I travel to Wyoming a lot and feel so welcome there that I usually do a bunch of extra errands -- get my car's oil changed, buy gardening implements, duplicate keys -- before I drive home to my cosmopolitan and well-educated but not overly friendly city on Colorado's Front Range. I love Wyoming! I could sit in the Open Door Cafe in Lander all day, watching all the working people and climbers and whoever just be about as nice as they could be. My mother once drove up to meet me and got lost twice -- once near Casper, where she was pointed in the right direction by a very nice rancher who pulled over to see what was the matter, and once by some Northern Arapahoe women in Ethete, who personally escorted her the several last miles of her journey. I recently moved from a tiny town to Boulder, and it has taken me more than a year to realize that the people here are simply busy, not cold hearted robots who would sooner run you over with their $3,000 bike than offer you a sip of water. But still, when I go to Wyoming I relax.
Anonymous
Aug 09, 2007 11:30 AM

I've learned to postpone introductions until the end of a conversation, after we've gotten to know each other well enough to have a chance of remembering each other's name.  And it did take some adjusting to, but I prefer it that way.  We don't really care how you did it back home.

But Mr. Croke's right.  By east coast standards, Wyomingites are, on the whole, rude.  Then again, by Wyoming standards, easterners are arrogant blowhards.  As an ivy-educated eastern transplant who's spent the last twenty years being 'rude' in Wyoming, I am so relieved to be away from the pomposity.  Mr. Croke seems to miss it.  How sad.

George Huntington, Laramie

Anonymous
Aug 16, 2007 05:29 PM

To Bill Croke: It is my experience that the "Wyoming" mentioned your ramblings is not rude, but rather reserve.  The quietness and lack of introductions comes from the invasion of too many opinionated know-it-alls exercising free speech.  How can an outsider move to Wyoming, then begin to judge its people and assume he knows the remedy needed to cure his assumption?  Perhaps the cold demeanor is due to arrogant blowhard’s like yourself attempting to illicit change upon otherwise content people.T he old rancher who gave you the ride, I assume you know everything about him except his name.  Was he up all night calving?  Has he just reviewed his estate and death taxes, or realized that his sons and daughters cannot afford to take over the ranch?  Is he tired of outsiders wanting his land for access and development?  Have the pressures of east coast politicians enacting laws which impact western landowners finally got to him?  You don’t know these answers, and you are obviously not smart enough to understand the reason why. Finally, a wise man once said to "never miss a good opportunity to keep your mouth shut."  I encourage you to reflect upon this wisdom. Matt in Cheyenne.


 



 



 


Anonymous
Aug 20, 2007 11:22 AM

After traveling all over the nation, I must disagree with you Mr. Croke!  People in Wyoming are very kind and not nearly as rude as you make them sound.  I would only add to Matt's comments that you PLEASE return to New York and leave Wyoming untouched!!!!!

Leanne in Cheyenne.

Anonymous
Aug 20, 2007 11:49 AM

I read Bill Croke's article and the numerous replies. On the whole both points of view are correct to a fair extent, pro and con. Having spent 20 tears in Wyoming, (my home state), and 25 more in other western states including Texas, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, I must say that each has their own style - some good and some bad in each. And styles of behavior can be considered polite or rude depending solely what the individual making the judgement is used to. Wyomingites do help eachother, neighbors and strangers, in a manner that is oustanding. This could be a lesson for everyone. If they do it without any introductions and then go on their way that's fine with me. It may be the Wyoming in me, but I prefer the actions taken to assist a stranded motorist over the protocol to know that person's name.

Ray Forrister

Anonymous
Aug 20, 2007 11:59 AM


I was a bartender for years in Laramie and let me tell you the locals would be pleased to read your article and pass it around to all they meet.  It is just fine that you think everyone is so rude.  We so often heard about the ugly drive between Rock Springs and Laramie (never bothering to mention just 1 hours drive off the interstate would put you on the beautiful Snowy Range!)  Oh and the god-awful wind!  It is just fine that you think it is awful and rude, visit if you want but we didn't invite you to STAY here!



Missing my Wyoming.


a reader
michael riggans
michael riggans
Jan 15, 2009 05:39 PM
I don't know about Wyoming. I have never been there ,but Missouri comes pretty close. A surprise sinse I'm from CA.