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Central Standard

What Are The Key Characteristics Of 'Kansas City Nice'?

Creative Commons, Wikimedia

Rashaan Gilmore is a Kansas City native with a lot to say about our city's unspoken code for polite conduct. During a January conversation about race in Kansas City's LGBTQ community, he said, "We don't like to talk about things that are uncomfortable, we don't like to talk about things that are difficult. We're Kansas City Nice."

We invited Gilmore and some fellow panelists back to to Central Standard to unpack that phrase.

Here's Gilmore's definition of Kansas City Nice:

A uniquely Kansas City behavior that gives the appearance of kindness, helpfulness or interest but which belies a true attitude or feeling of envy, anger, disinterest or apathy.

And here is his list of 9 key characteristics that he thinks should tip us off when this particular form of politeness is in full effect.

  1. Polite friendliness
  2. An aversion to confrontation
  3. A tendency toward understatement
  4. A disinclination to make a fuss or stand out
  5. Emotional restraint
  6. Self-deprecation
  7. Envying people behind their backs
  8. Resistance to change
  9. Passive aggressiveness

Sociologist  Michelle Smirnova and etiquette instructor Janis Kliethermes shared their insights, too. In the course of the conversation, they pinpointed some of the following specifics when it comes to Kansas City's code of niceness. Here's what emerged from that conversation.

  1. Kansas City etiquette puts a premium on taking time. Being in a hurry or rushing someone else is not considered polite behavior. Good etiquette demands that people go out of their way to take time for others, even strangers. 
  2. Honking isn't done willy-nilly in Kansas City. It is done selectively, and often in an effort to be helpful.
  3. There is a volume and choreography of conversation that is considered polite; speaking loudly or interrupting is controversial. Although some cultures even within our own community see boisterousness and interruption as a sign of interest and vitality, the underlying idea behind a non-interrupting ethos is that we value listening.
  4. KC etiquette favors being in the middle of the pack. Being first to do something new is risky, from a politeness standpoint. Being last is also disreputable. 
  5. Being nice is part of our self-concept. It's something we aspire to, as a community. Not all cities share that aspiration. In Washington DC, for example, being seen as powerful is more of a shared goal than being seen as nice.

Of course, the rules of etiquette can and do change.
This list, like etiquette itself, is an evolving work-in-progress.

Add your comments to weigh in!

Central Standard
People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.