I've always known it but each time I take a trip to a real city, it's confirmed: I could never live in a large city. Not that I exactly live in the country (although I would love to) but after visiting any large city, I am aware of just how country-townish our home town is. And that's the way I like it.
Friday was a beautiful day in the Capital. Sunny, no wind (a very rare occurrence). We arrived early for my appointment at the Australian High Commission and sat and ate lunch in a small park - along with a crowd of others who were obviously on their lunch break. It took me back to my school days where we'd gather in small groups on the quadrangle or field. This girl is used to having a lot more space around her when she picnics in the park. It was like living in a fishbowl! I felt self-conscious eating hummus and crackers from packets and whenever I had anything to say to DH, I whispered. Others were obviously less self-conscious given they freely sunbathed, exposed their lunch whether takeaway or brought from home, chatted loudly with friends, checked cellphones, or did exercises in full view of everyone else in the park.
It was only a short walk to my appointment where in just fifteen minutes the application for my passport was successfully lodged. (Is there some significance that can be attached to the fact that I applied for a renewal of my Australian passport on Australia Day?). We visited with family for a few hours and then, on their recommendation, left at a certain time to miss the traffic. Perhaps we stood talking at the car just a few minutes too long, because we certainly didn't miss the traffic. I even managed to pull out some knitting that required my concentration at one stage since we were barely moving.
As we neared home and the view was of open paddocks and twilight skies and the traffic had dwindled to the occasional car in either direction I knew the truth: I'm a country girl at heart.
Certainly there are many advantages to living in a city: airports with flights to any destination in the world almost (we have a choice of one from our local airport), public transport (although I heard complaints about changes to buses while there), concerts and plays (I could hear Messiah every year if I chose to), more options when shopping (although online shopping has changed that for many items that can be shipped), cheaper prices, more options when it comes to study and work, and not having to make a special trip every ten years to renew my passport.
But there are disadvantages, too, that we don't have in a smaller town.
Traffic jams. Yes, I know there are people that complain about having to sit through two sets of traffic lights at knock-off time, but, honestly, we don't have any concept of traffic where we live. (And in all fairness, nor of road rules, either. Or else, there are a lot of drivers in our town who are colour blind and cannot tell a red light from a green light.)
Parking. Parking fees are higher in the city and a lot of workers have to pay for parking for a whole day. I pay for parking if I go shopping in town and feel too lazy to walk an extra block of two. I don't know of anyone who pays for parking for a whole day while they work. It's just an expense that we don't factor in.
High house prices. Of course this goes two ways. We couldn't afford to sell up and move to the Capital but those who have bought there can often afford a far nicer home in towns like ours across New Zealand.
Anonymity. When we first moved here I was amazed whenever we went out at the number of people I met that I knew. Before then I'd lived half a life in the same town where I had been born and had gone to school, and I could go shopping or into town and not see a single person that I knew. Here, people in shops know you at least by sight, and ask about your kids and grandkids and tell you all about theirs. In fact, it sometimes pays to allow more time to do an errand in case a bored shop assistant wants to stand chatting.
Isolation. In a small town there is a sense of community. Which is why, when a crime occurs, as happened last week, the whole town is affected. When police cars and ambulances and plainclothes detectives converge on an area directly opposite your workplace, you not only know that something terrible has happened, but you instinctively feel that it affects you too. As it turned out, I didn't personally know the woman who died or those injured, but in all likelihood I had passed her in the street or the supermarket aisle, seen her in passing - perhaps even smiled or said hello as we've both been about our day. Perhaps she had even come into my workplace accessing the resources offered free to the wider community.
Which is why, when you come home and there are police cars and an ambulance on the intersection by your house, your immediate concern is that someone you know could be in one of the three cars that are now piled together as one. It's why your neighbour rushes out to offer everyone a cup of tea or a place to rest. Because even if you don't know them personally, in all likelihood you know someone who does.
It's why local residents get upset when our town is painted negatively in the media. We're working together to build a community and, as the saying goes, one bad apple shouldn't spoil the whole bunch. Yes, crime happens here, as it happens in most parts of the world, but there's also a lot of good that happens here, and I still affirm to this day, that it has been a wonderful place to raise our family.
Perhaps, just as I struggle to see the positives in living in a large city, others struggle to see the positives about living in a small town. I guess it all depends on what you value.
But for me, give me open spaces, and five-minute traffic jams, and shops that don't open until 10:00am on Saturday morning, people that greet you by name when you're out and about while you struggle to remember theirs, shop assistants who know you by name and who know your MIL's preferences at the fish counter, a place where it takes less than ten minutes to get to town or to the beach or the lake, a town where strangers don't look at you sideways if you smile at them or say hello, farmers' markets where you know the produce has likely come from a farm just a few minutes down the road, a place where crime rocks a community and makes everyone feel somehow responsible, a place where you can choose to pay for parking or walk an extra block, a place where everyone is connected through someone.
Yes, I'll take all that, and try not to complain about those visits every ten years to the city to renew my passport.