There is so much rudeness and meanness in the world that I sometimes wonder, “Where have all of the nice people gone?” I do not know where all of them have gone, but based on 6 days of first hand observation I have reached the conclusion that a great many of them are in Tennessee. I have experienced so much kindness, goodness and politeness this week on vacation that I may go into withdrawals when I get home to California.
We have been in the Smoky Mountains this week (which, unbeknownst to most of my California friends, is a huge national park and tourist area) watching the leaves turn orange, red and yellow, listening to Southern Gospel Music at Dollywood, and eating unhealthy amounts of fried food. Wherever we found ourselves, it seemed every waiter or waitress, cashier or attendant took an interest in where we were from and in making us feel welcome. The people reminded me of the dog from the movie “Up”, it was if they all felt that they had just met me and they loved me.
Today we went for dinner at a place called “Elvira’s” a café about a mile from the cabin where we have been staying. We received the typical warm and friendly greeting but this time with a twist. It was given in a distinct Russian accent! The owner of the place, a woman in her 30’s, had emigrated from Siberia a little over 15 years ago. In typical Tennessee fashion, she took the time to share her story with us as we finished our dinner.
She was a linguistics major in Russia specializing in British English. She traveled to America to work on her language skills (She said that at the time her conversational English primarily consisted of, “Pardon me, but can you repeat that?”) She knew very little about our country and her knowledge of US geography was limited to New York, Los Angeles and Texas. She did know that she wanted to see American rollercoasters and therefore eventually ended up in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee at Dollywood. She fell in love with the Smoky Mountains and never wanted to leave.
She moved here, became fluent in the language (She can pull off a perfect southern accent), and eventually became a citizen. Seven years ago she opened her own restaurant. She told us her family marveled that all she had to pay for the government permit was the $20 business license fee at city hall. Her Uncle Sasha couldn’t believe it and kept asking her who else she had to pay off! She spoke with joy at her good fortune in being able to live in America and be an American. Freedom is a gift she clearly appreciates and values.
This appreciation of America was something we saw displayed several times this week. One of the gospel groups we heard sang a version of “I’m Proud to be an American” during their show. The entire audience rose to their feet and sang along. We went to a family dinner show another evening that closed with a medley of “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America”. The entire audience, similarly unprompted, also stood and joined in, and applauded loudly. They love their country.
Things in Tennessee were much simpler, slower, and more genuine than they are in California. The area is nowhere near as affluent as Orange County, but the folks here seemed happy, content and grateful. It was a good week. Hopefully I will be able to bring some of the nice home with me.