How to adjust to the Midwest?
June 19, 2007 6:16 PM   Subscribe

Moving to Kansas City, single and mid twenties. How do people here socialize? Where do they socialize?

About a month ago I moved to Kansas City from midtown Manhattan. I'm working at home and living with family in a southern suburb (Leawood). I grew up here as a little kid and I visited family during holidays so the city is not foreign. I've been to the "rejuvenated" downtown, the Plaza, Westport and all the places one is suppose to go. I'm just having a very hard time connecting and meeting with people. It seems like the young people, at least that I have met, are extending their Big 10 fraternity and sorority lifestyles into their twenties.

I realize this isn't Manhattan and am trying very hard to avoid being the elitist stereotype. I am finding this town so unpretentious that it is almost a fault. I never had problems finding and maintaining a large social circle, finding dates and so on. I am used to having to schedule everything because everyone is so busy, seeking out new restaurants, cultural events and hardly ever seeing my apartment.

I've found myself becoming a pompous asshole and beginning to believe no one here has traveled anywhere, has anything vaguely intellectual to talk about and that this place is the nadir of American culture. This is incredibly narrow-minded, so help a neurotic New Yorker become a laid back Midwesterner.

N.B. I have read previous threads on making friends and the advice within. I'd appreciate tips on adjusting to the Midwest, obviously Kansas City in paticular, how the social scene works, etc. It is quite a culture shock and it seems way too easy to become easily isolated here. I am sure this isn't as bad as it seems, I just haven't figured it out yet.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Not KC-specific, but . . . One month seems too early to reach any conclusions. Having lived both in the Midwest and on the east coast -- each of which conceals a huge range of different subcultures -- I agree that they have different feels (though no doubt you are also adjusting to living with family). I'd bet that KC folks are far less transient than in Manhattan -- assuming you mean NYC, not Manhattan, KS. Maybe you can identify another likely population of outsiders?

If you can stand the Pollyana-ish suggestion, try to reflect frequently on positive aspects of living where you do, such as cost of living, apparent friendliness, and so forth. I agree that you want to try to nip the nasty feeling in the bud.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:40 PM on June 19, 2007

Actually, Anonymous, I think you're right on. I lived there for four years and (most) everything you say is true. The frat / sorority thing never dies. Almost no one I met there had traveled anywhere or done anything interesting. Every person I've met with any sort of compelling personality moved elsewhere pretty quickly. I'm not American, but I've lived other places in America, and even by Midwest standards, KC is pretty lame. The latent racism and intolerance there is unbelievable (and I say this as a white, heterosexual person without reason to think much about the subject.)

One thing you're wrong about: it's not laid-back. There is incredibly tense negative energy, especially in the wealthier Johnson Country suburbs (like Lenexa.) You'll see this sooner or later - the scathingly unhappy "bleached blond soccer moms," the jocky 30-something guys who become bitter old racists as they age, the incredible division between the upper middle class and those barely hanging on, the not one but *two* neighbors who told me that if I weren't going to mow my lawn on Thursdays like everyone else, then I should move back to wherever I came from (I mowed mine on Saturday morning - apparently "matching" lawns is a big deal.)

I actually made many more friends going to Chicago or other places for a weekend than I did there. There *are* many "nice" people, but really, anyone with any suss leaves as soon as possible.

After four years, I gave up, moved and was INSTANTLY happy and remain so. I hate to say it, but I think it is as bad as it seems! I've never lived anywhere like it, and I've lived in about ten states and four different countries.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:57 PM on June 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

Any chance you'd find some culture in Lawrence?
posted by treepour at 7:03 PM on June 19, 2007

I've lived in KC and Lawrence since 1990, and my news for you isn't good. I echo Dee Extrovert's sentiments.

First, the town is incredibly cliquish. If you didn't go to high school or college near here, friends will be hard to come by. I have friends from college who I hang with, but have had little success in branching out and finding other friends. People here are very sedentary and prefer to hang out at home, in a bar, or restaurant.

Second, there is not going to be an arts scene equal to what you are used to. There are First Fridays in the Crossroads district, where people browse through all the art galleries, and Lawrence is decent.

Finally, if you want to meet more interesting people, you need to get out of Leawood. I live in Lenexa, and I despise it. This is suburban hell. Westport has some ecletic shops, and as diverse a mix of people as you'll meet here.

You might want to try and go to a French Meetup. I think you can find the info on A good friend of mine tapped into a pretty diverse international crowd by attending these get togethers. You may also want to try and go to parties or fundraisers thrown by the International Student Association at KU or UMKC. You'll meet a lot of interesting folks there.

If you need any more KC-specific info, message or e-mail me.

FWIW, I'm moving somewhere else by the end of the year. This place has gotten to be too unbearable for a self-proclaimed interesting person such as myself.
posted by reenum at 7:21 PM on June 19, 2007

*cough* Big 12 *cough*

Echoing the previous answers, get out of Leawood as much as possible. I'd stay away from the Plaza, too (except maybe to hit Eden Alley).

You never really mentioned what you're interested in. If you have hobbies, do a web search to see if there are local clubs focused on them. Then just show up at a meeting. Seriously. Alternatively, suggest a MeFi meetup -- or, to maintain your anonymity, use a throwaway e-mail account to contact a MeFite who lives in KC and ask them to suggest a meetup.

Also, try checking out happenings in the Pitch. Go to the Nelson-Atkins and the Kemper. Go to the unfortunately-named but very cool and free Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. Hang out at Prospero's. Surely you can connect with a few like-minded people in one way or another.

If you get completely sick of KC, Lawrence is just an hour away. Honestly, there's drastically less going on here, but the overall atmosphere is different. It may be more your speed. Lots of good local happenings are listed in and The Lawrencian.
posted by cog_nate at 8:10 PM on June 19, 2007

I hate to add to the negativity but St. Louis is very similar. It is a city of people who have always lived here, know everyone here and want no new perspectives. The people are slow-paced, apathetic and generally unenlightened. St. Louis is lucky to have several strong academic communities because it would have otherwise fallen off the map like every other small town. Its is a small town in every sense of the word (phrase). You have to work really, really hard to meet people and at best you can expect that people will be lukewarm in return. St. Louis has some nice cultural opportunities/venues but its true spirit is pretty uninspiring.
posted by rglass at 8:25 PM on June 19, 2007

One other thing--Proper grammar seems to have eluded most St. Louisans. "Alls" is a word that I should never gotten used to.
posted by rglass at 8:27 PM on June 19, 2007

Uh, chalk up another one - I moved to KC from Los Angeles in 2001, was miserable for four years (and I did go out, make friends, create a social circle with some wonderful people, but it didn't alleviate the overall frustration of trying to communicate different perspectives to a very negative culture) and finally escaped to art school in Greece before moving back to California.

I couldn't hang in Kansas City. My experience in other places in the midwest was vastly different.

Lawrence is pretty fun, and I do second the motion on taking advantage of KC's great arts culture. Definitely susceptible to small town cliquishness, but there are some good resources. Check the local cafes and the Pitch for events (esp. in summertime). Hit the drive-in. Go experience great live music (all bands pass through KC, it's practically a law of musicianhood). Meet as many people as possible - if you meet hundreds, you'll find a few young college kids who are still curious about the world at large. They'll be fun to hang out with a few months before they split town.

Avoid the bars and the gambling boats. Nothing makes you want to drown your sorrows in a toaster-filled bathtub than an hour at The Granfalloon or one of the other hundreds of nameless sports bars that fill the spaces on the streets between gas stations and auto shops.

My respite from KC living was hitting the countryside - Missouri and Kansas are damned gorgeous, and I could occasionally find solace in the landscape. But after a two-week visit a month ago, I know there's not a snowball's chance in hell that I will ever move back.
posted by annathea at 9:36 PM on June 19, 2007

You are not being a pompous asshole. Leawood is an utter hellhole for someone of your age and background and the Plaza and Westport are as you describe.

However, it is not all gloom and doom; there really are some interesting people and pockets of culture in the area, especially in KCMO and Lawrence. The sources already mentioned (pitch, are good to find out what to do (if you love music at all you will be especially gratified by the shows you can see in small clubs for peanuts), but as to who do it with? This may sound stupid but many of my good friends still in the area meet people and stay connected through livejournal-- there are many KC groups there. Check out kansascity, lawrence_ks, and kansascitymusic to start. (I've got one friend's music/film/progressive politics calendar-heavy journal especially in mind but don't want to post it here, so feel free to email me if those interests line up with yours.)

I won't pretend it's easy; we got fed up and left last year, but while we lived there we made some incredible friends. However, it definitely took some effort and we never would have survived without some passionate self-directed interests to fill our days. It's a DIY kind of place, that's for sure. Assert yourself a bit, keep an eye out for events, and get out as much possible. Best of luck.
posted by melissa may at 11:53 PM on June 19, 2007

rglass, I'm a British dude who had some friends in St. Louis and hung out with them for quite a while over a few years. I'd disagree with your assessment of the place - the people were generally warm and friendly by American standards. They were open to new music and other things generally - and the one STL'ian I knew there who was all "I don't want to leave America... it's got everything I want" is currently in China getting married to a Chinese girl.

There are probably pockets of sanity in any town. It's just a matter of finding them.
posted by electriccynic at 1:54 AM on June 20, 2007

Quit your in-home job and get out of the house. Get a job at Sprint and you'll meet thousands of people from all over the country/world. It is a very culturally diverse place in a sea of white bread. There are plenty of single 25-year old career minded folks here who did not take the stereotypical route of marrying their high school sweetheart and cranking out little K-State fans.
posted by daveleck at 8:17 AM on June 20, 2007

Well, acknowledging that you've become a pretentious jerk is probably a good first step.
I moved to KS from NY, and spent 6 years there.
Here are some tips from my experience.

It's Big _12_. Sports are a reasonably big deal out there.
Even if you couldn't care less about them, you're expected to have a passing familiarity with the current status of the local teams. If you're in your 20's, you'll need to be up on the local University (UMKC, KU, and maybe K-State for you).

Quit saying "In NY" or "Back east" or anything similar.
I know when I got to know people well enough, the thing they'd bring up most was how annoying that was when I first met them. And honestly, I didn't even realize I was doing it so much.

In the same vein, stop comparing KC to Manhattan. It's not the same thing. I know it seems obvious, but when you are constantly focusing on what you are missing, you miss what you have.

KS, and especially KC, are not cultural backwaters. True, they don't have the sheer amount of attractions that you will find in NY, but a lot of major exhibits, tours and shows find their way to KC at some point. As an added bonus, they are usually cheaper and less crowded than in larger cities.

It is easy to become isolated in the Midwest, especially way out in the suburbs like you are. Working and living at home probably doesn't help. Maybe taking some night classes would help you meet people that interest you? There are lots of clubs and groups that meet at JCCC.

Finally, just _relax_. It's been a month, that's hardly enough time to make any sort of judgement. I know I was fairly miserable my first year out there. I hated the people, the food, the landscape, the weather.
But you know, it grew on me, and it'll probably grow on you as well. Just give it a chance.

Hope that helps a bit.

P.S. Give up on Italian food. You're not going to find it in KS, so you might as well accept that as soon as possible. It'll save you years of grief. Trust me.
posted by madajb at 10:18 AM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Give up on Italian food. You're not going to find it in KS, so you might as well accept that as soon as possible. It'll save you years of grief. Trust me."

I have to disagree with this comment. I spent a year in KCMO (from So Cal) and would recommend the Italian food.
There are several "family" places (if you catch my meaning...) downtown in the banking district and by the marketplace that are authentic and very good.

Ask your neighbors or the friendly guy at the grocery store for a referral. They will know what you're talking about.

Also, Westport is pretty fun, so make an effort to get down there frequently. Just about as eclectic as you're going to get in the mid west, full of diverse types looking for others to hang with. Visit Kelly's while in Westport and take note of the uneven floor and ceiling - Kelly's was once the end of the underground railroad. Worth checking out.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by Carnage Asada at 10:55 AM on June 20, 2007

It's hard to meet new people in Kansas City. I moved back here three years ago and I've struggled to meet new people. I enjoy live music -- especially in small clubs -- and that's how I've made new friends since moving back. I kept running into the same people at show after show after show and eventually we started talking...

I'd also second the suggestion to join the livejournal groups. I'm fairly new to them myself, but my boyfriend has met quite a few cool people through the groups.
posted by whatideserve at 8:13 PM on June 20, 2007

I have no great advice to offer about meeting people that the folks here haven't, aside from an extra-strong encouragement to get out of Leawood. I certainly found no lack of community groups and clubs available outside the usual bar and music scenes during my year living there.

KC is no great city, I won't argue with that; but it's got its pockets of brilliance, you just have to seek them out. I can't imagine what it's like, adjusting from Manhattan, but give it a year and you may find a new, slower rhythm.

As for Italian, maybe it's all on the Missouri side, but Cascone's up north, Lidia's, and Garozzo's are all brilliant. And the barbeque, how I miss it. Arthur Bryant's is calling me from 800 miles away... Embrace the food and you can love KC, too.
posted by daveadams at 9:40 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Most of what I want to say has been said, but I want to just echo the 'you're not a pompous asshole' business. Social customs are different, body language is different, and I got told over and over again (by people who had never been there) that west coast people are 'cold' and east cost people are 'arrogant and rude'. It'll take a while to beat that with the locals. Probably containing the comparisons to places you've been or lived is also really good advice too. That was one of the hardest adjustments for me, since I dig on hearing about new places and how the world looks through other people's eyes, but people in the midwest either don't care, or take it as a constant insult (as in 'Well I guess Nebraska is just never going to be GOOD enough, is it?')

Definitely go out to art events whenever you hear about them - the scene is probably going to be pretty small and closed, but getting yourself seen means alot in circles like that. I don't know if you can stomach this (I couldn't), but getting to know the local sports teams can be a really good conversation piece to have, especially if you end up hanging out in bars (where nearly all adult socializing took place where I was living, insofar as I could tell.)

And well, as trite as this sounds, don't give up. It'll take some time before you're not a total 'outsider' (but you'll always kind of be an outsider.) I wish you sincerely, the best of luck, since I know how it goes.
posted by lastyearsfad at 11:19 PM on June 20, 2007

Cascone's is where I had my wedding rehearsal dinner. (Wedding was at Rembrandt's BTW - classy and also good food)

Visit the MO side and enjoy the food. :)
posted by Carnage Asada at 9:08 AM on June 25, 2007

« Older IPCC/RCM climate data   |   Hand-painted art - tacky or good value? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.