The town mouse and the country mouse

On Friday I participated in a program with several other central Ohio workers who have international aspects to their careers.  I’m not really all that international, but I’ve hosted some foreign delegations passing through our lab, and I’ve been overseas enough to pockmark a passport and accumulate a few stories of life ‘over there’.  And I suspect the organizers were getting a bit desperate to fill their panel.

During a break in the proceedings one of the organizers came up to me to ask a question.  She was connected with a high school in the big city and had heard me talk about international aspects of agricultural science.  She thought it was cool because most of the people in the audience wouldn’t think of agriculture as an international industry.  In my experience, fewer and fewer folks today think of agriculture in ANY capacity.  As we got to talking about language and experiences in international situations it occurred to me there are plenty of language (read: communication) situations right here at home.  Once this idea came up she had anecdotes to share of taking a group of city high school students on a field trip to the country and vice versa.  Culture shock ensued.  But why?  With all the media available showing life in the big city one might expect country folk could have some concept of what to expect when visiting an urban center.  Maybe the reality of being immersed in a cityscape is more than the imagination can prepare for a rural person.  The smell, the completely surrounding noise, the cacophony of lights, screaming signage, people pressing in on all sides, the dearth of plants or natural elements, concrete and steel in your face at every turn.  I can relate to this feeling.

The opposite side of this exchange escapes me.  I’ve heard of city people bored to death with the ordinariness of the countryside.  And the expanse – “It’s so BIG.  We drove for hours and didn’t see a thing”… oh there was plenty to see, and if you know what you’re looking at the country is anything but ordinary.  Even the smell is different.  Wait a minute… “if you know what you’re looking at”.  Maybe that’s the key.  If you can’t tell a cow from a horse, or a wheat field from a hayfield you won’t be as engaged.  It might just get boring.  You might just get homesick for concrete and steel in your face.

We decided there really is a growing gulf between the city and the country.  It’s almost as though we’ll soon need a passport to move between urban and rural.  Many of us already need a translator when we venture from one side to the other.  More is the pity.

I will offer that I met more than a couple young folks who asked insightful questions and seemed genuinely interested in what panelists had to say.  A few were well spoken and serious about their future.  I found it refreshing. They actually had the interest to put down their phones and look an old guy in the eye.  So there might be a fine future… now if we can just learn to speak the same language.

 

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3 comments

  1. A kid who helped out on the farm, raised in the country, underwent a similar evolution in enlightenment. After helping me build fence, of course, it opened his eyes to the skill needed. On a trip to the co-op one day he started pointing out the fences well-built and those, ah, not so. Before building fences he had no frame of reference for an informed observation.

    A good post, one of your best.

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  2. Thanks! A good comment, one of your… oh shucks. But I’m glad you mention the ‘frame of reference’. This is an important part of the greater issue. An aspect of international relationships that goes beyond mere barriers of language are the frames through which we view the same scenery.

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  3. […] In putting this post together I did a search for “wheat crown” in order to get an image to share.  Much to my surprise more than a dozen images of wheat being woven into a headdress popped up before the plant drawing used above.  More evidence that our society cares less for the nature of agriculture and more for concerns of personal adornment.  Reminds me of thoughts shared earlier on a rural vs. urban societal divide. […]

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