In case you’ve ever wondered which state is the most polite, YouGov.com asked the following question to 77,000 people across the nation: do people in your state tend to be more rude or more polite than most other Americans. You might be surprised to learn that Rhode Islanders ranked themselves as the most rude, 50th place on the politeness scale.
This is especially significant considering that Rhode Island is really small, boasting a whopping 1.06 million residents and 1,214 square miles of territory. It would easily fit within the boundaries of the Greater Houston area. So, even weighting the results as statisticians do, if Rhode Island got enough responses in the polite rankings to come in dead last, rudeness must be rampant. Or, maybe Rhode Islanders excel in candid self-reflection?
I’ve had a particular interest in Rhode Island since my boyfriend, Robin, took up residence in Providence for a while. I hadn’t heard of this survey before I visited him, so I didn’t expect to be landing in a snake pit of incivility. When it was brought to my attention early on during my stay, I was surprised because all my interactions with the natives had theretofore seemed pretty darn polite. Rhode Islanders complimented me on my Texas accent and, overall, were extremely helpful in the restaurants, bars, and retail establishments we frequented. Many people had visited Austin for one reason or another and were glad to meet us. We cycled on city streets where drivers seemed especially accommodating, not a bit interested in running us off the road. Admittedly, it was a small sampling of the state’s residents.
But suddenly, my sample size ballooned when I had to meet a bunch of Rhode Islanders all at once. You might question the structure of that last sentence, particularly the “had to” part. You’ll understand when I also explain “suddenly.”
Like, suddenly, I fell off my bicycle. Robin and I were having a wonderful ride along the East Bay Bike Path, when I began to sense my steering wheel was wobbling. Maybe there was a smattering of sand on the concrete. Maybe it was just me. Whichever, I decided to stop. My best reconstruction of the accident is while I applied the hand brakes, I might not have come to a full stop before I tried to dismount. The bike’s remaining momentum threw me down and I broke the arm in an attempt to brace my fall.
By the time Robin had peeled me off the pavement I was hugging, my cell phone rang. I was being called by the Providence Fire Department which had been alerted by the fall detector on my Apple watch (best watch ever!). They couldn’t find us because the path wasn’t visible on their GPS map. Robin gave them directions and a swarm of friendly firefighters was soon upon us. With polite concern, they performed some first aid and gingerly placed my arm in a sling before hauling me down the path to the ambulance. Soon after arrival in the ER, I began meeting Rhode Islanders around every corridor who all wanted to have interactions with me, some painful, some not. But, all polite.
I visited the hospital’s x-ray room frequently that day. Each time I showed up, I was greeted with a “welcome back!” How’s that for friendliness? My second or third photo shoot involved someone pulling my arm to more clearly show the edges of the break. After enduring this tortuous ordeal, which I met with some spectacular grimaces, I was congratulated. Many people, a technician told me, screamed when that was done, so I probably could have gotten away with a sob or two. Was I trying to show my Texas toughness?
But back to Rhode Islanders. Once, while I waited for x-rays in a holding area off the main corridor, a woman on a gurney was wheeled by to get her x-rays. She spots me on my gurney and says, “Oh, there you are! How are you doing?” I thought it was strange that she appeared to know me, but she seemed nice, so I just responded, “I’m hanging in there, thank you.”
Apparently, she soon realized she’d mistaken my identity, and upon leaving the room, she said to me, “I’m sorry, I thought you were my roommate from last night.” I told her that I thought she was just being friendly, adding that Rhode Islanders seemed to be very nice people. Then, a man on a nearby gurney who had appeared to be sleeping, raised his head and said, “We are.” I’m guessing he didn’t respond to the yougov.com survey.
Unfortunately, I would need surgery and a few days later, I met the surgeon who would perform it, Dr. Andrew Evans, co-director of Orthopedic Trauma at Rhode Island Hospital, surgeon with University Orthopedics, and an assistant professor at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School. With so many credentials, I expected an older man. When I asked someone about his apparent youth, I was told he was about 45 — no Doogie Howser. But the more important point is that he, and everyone on his staff couldn’t have been less hostile. Actually, they were great professionals. Not a rude person among them. Dr. Evans’ secretary, Becky, was just a phone call away both before and after my surgery. She was an absolute pleasure to work with. Same with Amanda, her assistant.
A week after my fall, I went back to the hospital to join Dr. Evans as he joined my humerus back together. Since every single person I encountered in pre-op and post-op was so compassionate and caring, I was forced to conclude that rude people didn’t make it into Rhode Island health care.
Nor do they become hairdressers. While incapacitated, I went to a nearby salon and got to know two of the hairdressers, Ray and Jaclyn, who washed and dried my hair at least four or five few times. Both made me feel like an old customer by the time I left town.
You have probably figured out by now that I failed to find rampant rudeness in Rhode Island. I still wonder whether my sample size was too small, even for this small state, but I’d prefer to believe that Rhode Islanders might be too hard on themselves. I’d also like believing that Robin, who doesn’t have a rude bone in his body, is living among a population of equally nice people.
So, that’s what I did during my summer vacation – conducted a survey of rudeness among Rhode Islanders and broke my arm. I wouldn’t recommend breaking an arm, but if it has to happen, Providence, Rhode Island is not a bad place for it. I received excellent care from a great surgeon and very compassionate people. In my case, of course, I had the added benefit of having Robin, the most wonderful and patient caretaker a gal could ask for. He never seemed to tire of caring for the functional equivalent of a five-year-old.
By the way, just in case you wondered about Texans in the YouGov survey, we were ranked No. 19 on the “more polite” scale. Obviously, we have a pretty high opinion of ourselves. In the past, I would have agreed with this opinion, but I run into more rudeness all the time, which I suspect may be the result of migrants from other states. Despite my doubts about their actual rudeness, I might even accept the possibility that we have some former Rhode Islanders in our midst. Maybe it’s no wonder I couldn’t find any rude ones up there!