American Culture

Midwestern chivalry is not dead

When I moved to Denver, Colorado from Western New York five years ago, several differences became immediately apparent between both regions. Denver has significantly nicer weather, simpler road structures and younger history than most places in New York. When I moved from Denver to Chicago, Illinois three years later, I witnessed more cultural differences. In addition to the faster pace and more expensive cost of living, locals’ demeanors in Chicago became my most noteworthy observation of all. Even after two years of living amidst the city’s hustle and bustle, I have found Midwesterners overall to be among the most approachable and down-to-earth group of people I’ve ever encountered.

Many have heard the expression “Midwestern charm,” and it does not take much time exploring the north-central United States to realize where this phrase originated. Within my first weeks of living in Chicago, I found myself lost on several occasions, most often with a puzzled look on my face. Almost without fail, passing locals would notice my disorientation and immediately extend an offer to help. But, this is a major city, I thought. What do these people want from me? As it turns out, those without empty cups or clipboards usually don’t want much at all. They’re simply forwarding on their local charm.

The most surprising, yet admirable mannerisms I’ve witnessed while living in the Midwest are those of the men. Call me old fashioned, but holding doors is a gentlemanly tradition I find highly attractive, but unfortunately fading in our country. In fact, it’s fading so substantially that I became astounded at the act’s consistency around the Midwest. Even in a city like Chicago where locals battle large crowds daily, many men will stand aside while motioning women onto trains and elevators first. Oftentimes, men will insist on carrying a woman’s luggage to the top steps of train platforms, and many attentively reach to both pick up and return a woman’s dropped belongings. I’ve seen these acts from men and boys alike. Keep it up, gentlemen. These manners alone could help score you a wife someday, especially when she comes from elbow-throwing New York, like me.

Besides the door holding and willingness to help strangers, Midwesterners are an overall friendly group. Normalcy to many involves wishing someone a great day when leaving an elevator or smiling hello to unfamiliar faces on empty sidewalks. These habits add charisma to any place, and maintaining this magnetism in the third largest city in America speaks volumes for the region’s strength of character. The good-natured acts are contagious, too. Though battling the crowds in Chicago undoubtedly leads to stress and exhaustion, one friendly conductor can create laughter in a train full of the most unpleasant locals. I have seen this on several occasions, and each time I’ve fallen victim to the pleasantry.

Midwesterns display a certain level of pleasantry that’s hard to find in many major US cities. Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, one of the founders of modern cultural history, may have described this attractive presence best in his 1919 book, The Waning of the Middle Ages. In it, he argued that “the source of the chivalrous idea is pride aspiring to beauty, and formalized pride gives rise to a conception of honour, which is the pole of noble life.” Perhaps these words could also be used to describe our modern-day “Midwestern charm.” After all, this charm weaves beauty through the region and creates a land of pride, virtue and true goodness in the Midwest. Chivalry is alive here, and the area’s kind hearts help this chivalry live on.

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Sara Maurer lives too nomadic a life to put much about her location or career in writing. Since graduating St. Bonaventure University in 2006, her priorities have included travel, meeting new people and learning the ways of the world firsthand. Raised in Western New York, she has lived in Italy, Orlando, Denver, Chicago and New Orleans.

She spends most of her days wondering why people are a certain way and pondering the meaning of life’s seemingly random occurrences. She has a deep passion for helping those less fortunate and believes in the power of paying it forward. She sees communication as fundamental to life as chocolate and guacamole and combines social media with her louder-than-necessary voice to bring people and ideas together.

Sara is on track to receive her Masters in International Social Work from Tulane University. Mildly obsessed with culture, diversity, relationships and finding her role in creating world peace, she finds the most insightful conversations are often struck up with strangers in airports, public buses and bars. Most of her writing aims to reach the fellow lost souls of Generation Y and includes, but is not limited to, reflections of world issues, travel, relationships and maintaining sanity while growing up.

She does not eat animals, never leaves home without a camera and loves Nutella (really, she centered an entire blog post around the Italian staple). In 2007, she went skydiving over the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, Colorado and her parachute did not open, subsequently requiring the use of a “back-up” parachute. This circumstance sums up the story of her life, as she often thinks of a back up plan for the initial plan that never goes as planned while she’s already spiraling into the abyss.

3 replies »

  1. I have been raised to always hold doors for ladies car doors included.
    and am also well known for giving up my coat if the situation warrants.
    I live in southern Indiana and have a southern accent.
    always a gentleman.