The Kindness Meter in Various Cities
Returning home last Monday from a weekend trip to visit our newly transplanted daughter and her family in Seattle, we had a delightful conversation with our Uber driver, a native Pittsburgher, on the way back from the airport. He had recently retired from his full time job, but enjoys meeting people and figured driving for Uber would allow him to welcome visitors to the city. Since then, I’ve been reflecting on how enjoyable it is to return to a town where people reach out to strangers and each other alike and will go out of their way to be friendly. In Seattle, the Freeze is alive and well, and our daughter confirmed that “Welcome, stranger” was not a greeting she had heard yet. The two very different attitudes of the local populations made me wonder if, as Pittsburgh attracts more smart young techies and entrepreneurs, we can maintain our Welcome to Our City culture.
I’ve travelled to over a dozen cities across 11 time zones in the past two months, and in thinking back to my experiences in the various places I’ve been, trying to pinpoint what it is that makes a city friendly—or not. My conclusion is that friendliness begins with individual acts of kindness towards people who have no expectations of being the recipients of them. I stopped for a haircut in Amsterdam last month and the barber, a nice young guy, laughed when he considered what he could do with my mostly bald head, and offered me a beer and a meatball. The offer was genuine, unexpected and totally appreciated. That single act went a long way towards making me believe that Dutch people, in addition to being very tall, are very friendly.
You’re probably thinking: “What’s the point here?” The point is that for a number of reasons, including a no-holds-barred election campaign and the feeling a lot of us have that the world is adrift, people are angry. Tempers are shorter, arguments are louder, and I don’t see a lot of people who are whistling while they’re working.
Pittsburgh, in its own small way is a bit of an island in that sea of anger, and our visitors notice it. I hosted a meeting of my U.S. partners two weeks ago, and several remarked how nice Pittsburghers are to visitors. We are friendly here, and it ultimately begins with individual acts of kindness towards strangers.
To our new bright, highly motivated residents who are transforming Pittsburgh into a destination and to the people who have been here for generations, I would ask you continue the tradition. Kindness goes a long way and will ensure that our town continues to enjoy the reputation for being a nice place to visit as well as a wonderful place to live.