The Mountain Chat

Lessons Learned in a New Home Town

About a year ago, we made the great and wise decision to move to Asheville, NC, in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a decision we have celebrated every day since moving – the mountains are a place apart, and people who live here know that.

Still, any relocation comes with surprises, challenges, and adaptations. We thought we knew this area pretty well, but upon becoming residents, we learned something new that would take on importance as we settled in.

I am referring to The Mountain Chat. Allow me to explain.

We moved here from the Washington DC area. In that area, things tend to take on a sense of urgency almost organically, time is money, and people tend to focus on the matter at hand pretty quickly. It was a lifestyle model we were comfortable with and one we recognized as productive.

When we moved to Asheville, we had a number of settling in business transactions to carry out. We needed to buy a couple of new cars; we wanted to connect with a lawyer for a range of legal matters, we were in the hunt for a tax preparer, and we wanted new financial advisors. We asked around, did some research, and found good prospects for each role.

The first of these was the car dealer. We had communicated online and by phone and had pretty well settled matters before we ever met in person. Our vision of the meeting is that we would all introduce ourselves, we would be offered a beverage, we would exchange pleasantries for maybe a minute, and we would settle our business. Out in 30 minutes, tops.

The pleasantries moved on to where our families were, what “mountain people are like,” grand kids, the relative value of pick-up trucks vs SUVs, traffic, weather, the state of farming in the area, etc., etc., etc. More than an hour and a half later, we left, thinking to ourselves, “nice people but the conversation sure wandered.” We chalked it up to the natural tendency to talk and the desire to make a connection of a car dealer.

But then, essentially the same thing happened with the tax accountant, the investment counselors, the lawyer – with pretty well everyone we spoke with for the first time. We even observed and took part in similar discussions in line at the supermarket. This was going on everywhere.

At first, in all candor, we were a bit perplexed and a bit impatient (“Don’t these people have things to do?”). Then, slowly, the light came on. We came to refer to this as The Mountain Chat. It is very much a part of the culture here and its function is simple. It is designed to allow people to get to know each other as individuals and/or as members of a given group. We get some feeling for who we are dealing with before doing any business or volunteer work together.

Once we understood it, we embraced it. It’s brilliant, and it puts the priorities in the right place. It feeds community and builds connections, a process that is rather thin in our country these days. Now, we are full-fledged Mountain Chat participants. We look forward to them, whether talking with a food server or a CEO – the process and the objectives are the same.

People here have decided that a little time and energy expended in getting to know each other is a solid investment, and a pleasure to exercise. I cannot imagine doing otherwise now.

So, if we have not met as yet and we do in the future, expect to take some time doing so. We are going to have a Mountain Chat.


4 replies to The Mountain Chat

  1. I hope you have mastered the concept of the return wave from the sidewalk or the top of your steering wheel. If you don’t wave acknowledgement to my sister in Southwest Virginia (town is 7 miles from the NC line) she will sniff and mutter “well don’t speak” and judge you.

    • Yes, m’am. Also a staple of life around here. It would be considered rude for a car and a pedestrian in passing not to wave at each other. Whether it is someone you know is completely irrelevant.

  2. In Oklahoma we have “lake time” where the conversations are slow and thorough. People are more giving of their time and resources at the lake. It’s communal there and refreshing.

    • Sounds like the same concept, in a lovely setting to boost. Perhaps it’s a quality of a slightly more reheat life that we enjoy. Hope it catches on.

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