The Truth about West Virginia

I’m going on the record: West Virginia is the friendliest state in the U.S.

This past weekend I did my second visit to West Virginia in the past six months. I’ve probably been there once or twice a year in the last ten years, and my experience is always the same: beautiful scenery, incredibly nice people, and a few chuckling moments.

You see, if you visit any state near West Virginia, you’ll hear them make fun of the state. “They’re backwoods hicks!” “Watch out for those banjo players!” You get the idea.

Yes, West Virginia has it’s share of ‘good ol’ boys,’ and even a handful of folks who seem to be a few fries short of a Happy Meal… but they are the nicest bunch of people you’ll ever encounter.

Allow me to summarize my observations:

1. Plenty of good ol’ boys: There’s a big difference between a ‘good ol’ boy’ and a ‘backwoods hick’ with three teeth! I’ve met plenty of good ol’ boys in West Virginia. I’ve met more backwoods hicks in Rio Linda (about 20 minutes from my house in California). This weekend I was hanging out with a youth worker named Chris. Chris was definitely a ‘good ol’ boy.’ We were starting to unpack some boxes and I asked him, “Isn’t this where a good ol’ boy would have a knife in his pocket to open up these boxes?” He smiled, pulled out a pocket knife and began cutting open the boxes. I laughted and told him, “I knew it! I knew you’d have a knife!” He smirked and said, “You know what we call a man without a knife around here?” I shrugged my shoulders and nodded– no idea. He folded his knife and put it back into his pocket, flashing another smile at me. “A woman!”

2. They know their reputation, and aren’t all bent up about it: I spoke at a conference in Pennsylvania a while back and someone on stage made a comment about “Even some people from West Virginia are here!” The West Viriginia group whooped and hollered. They were West Virginian and proud. People made West Virginian jokes all weekend and no one got worked up about it. Most of them would simply retort, “We’re hicks, and we’re proud of it.” I remember even joking about ‘road-kill’ at the conference. One guy at that conference came up and told me, “You know, they just passed a new law in West Virginia that if you hit  a deer with your truck, you can take it home and cook it!” I told him that it had never been a temptation for me.

3. They actually have manners: In California if you bump into someone in a store (particularly this younger generation), they will probably give you a hard look, maybe even flip you off and bark obscenities. In WV, they say, “Excuse me sir.” and smile. I was in Charleston, WV a while back and I was lost. I pulled up to a sidewalk and asked a guy for directions. This guy was ready to hop in my car and show me how to get there! Nicest people you ever will meet. I stopped by an Arby’s to grab a quick bite on the run this past weekend. Let’s be honest. Arby’s isn’t exactly a fine dining establishment. A teenager was walking in the door just before me. He stopped, held the door, then chatted with me about the weather when I walked in. Then the person working the counter smiled, called me sir, thanked me… it was amazing! In California there is only one place that treats you like that: In and Out Burger (They are trained that way). In West Virginia, everyone is like an “In and Out” employee.

If you haven’t been to WV… give it a try.

Don’t believe the hype. They’re not inbred, backwoods hicks. They’re incredibly friendly, they’ve got pocket knives, and they’re ready to cook you up fresh venison at any moment (just don’t ask them where they got it!)

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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12 Responses to The Truth about West Virginia

  1. Eric says:

    Thanks for noticing the real part of West Virginia Jonathan. Let’s hope this new movie from “Johnie Knoxville” about West Virginia does not get the lime-light it so ignorantly does not deserve.

    Regards,
    Eric
    Pliny, WV

  2. Marilyn Scott says:

    Hi Jonathan, This is one WV hick that really enjoyed your Youth Conference in Lumberport WV on Saturday. So glad you came and share with us. It sure was an eye opener. Thanks Marilyn

  3. Thanks Eric… glad to share my two cents. I wouldn’t count my chickens with anything from Johnny Knoxville. 🙂

    And thanks Marilyn. Glad to share with you all. I’m actually finishing writing the Youth Culture Window article about the MTV Movie Awards right now. Wow! Talk about eye-opening.

  4. Gil says:

    My experience in WV was not as cordial. I am hispanic, my ex wife is caucasian and our children obvious half each.. We stopped at wendy’s and when I ask for a refill of my drink, the counter teen, would not touch my glass but gave me a new one. I thought that odd, so my son who is light skinned went up and she took his cup, refilled it, then we sent my darker skinned daughter up there and again the server gave her a new cup. It was quite an eye opener for my children. Guess it all depends on the situation but there are not so friendly people everywhere…

    • Sherry says:

      Not saying the person was right but, My son is a manager of Wendy’s and it is company states that everyone that get refills are to get a new cup. I live in Florida now but, I’m from WV and I’m part white and native american and my son is part white/native american and black. He looks hispanic(darker). Sorry that happened to you and your family but, that happens everywhere. I got it there and here in Florida but, was worse in Alabama. Just have to overlook some people and know we are all Gods kids. God Bless you and your family….

  5. Gil… that’s lame. Although let’s be honest Gil, that’s everywhere.

    I live in Sacramento, and my African American buddy experiences that kind of nonsense here ALL THE TIME! So lame!

    I’m so sorry that happened.

  6. Heidi says:

    I grew up in WV and you are right. They are truly nice people. Thanks .

  7. Tonya Berry says:

    Yeah that’s why they call it “Almost Heaven”, Jonathan! My grandpa on my mom’s side is from Bluefield. He used to say that on Saturday nights, he would walk over to Beckley to find a fight, LOL! That’s what they did for entertainment. Is that better than MTV? Probably not. I guess sin’s been around a long time, huh?

    As far as racism goes, my great grandpa (same side of the family) had been involved in the Klan until he got saved. Then he became a preacher and preached against racism for the rest of his life, even in the rest home, clear until he died. I guess it all depends on the individual and how they let God change them. 🙂

    This took such an effect on the family that my mom ended up living in Norfolk, Virginia during the Civil Rights Movement and she actually got fired for serving a black man in a regular cup at the counter, but she didn’t care. She also got caught in them middle of a sit-in and sat there and finished her lunch anyhow, which the people doing the sit-in got a big kick out of!

    Wouldn’t my great grandpa be proud to know that now his great grand-daughter plays on a worship team with a dark skinned African American worship leader, his light skinned daughter and her white boyfriend, and several Indonesian people….just one state away in Ohio. -_-

  8. Jeanne says:

    Thank you for the compliment Jonathan! I am proud of West Virginia. Grant county to be precise. Until I moved to Virginia, I did not realize how much we are looked down on. I have not figured out whether they are from ignorance or guilt, wishing their state was not so judgmental. Sorry guys, we West Virginian’s do not claim to be something we are not. Call us lazy, we don’t waste our time building facades. What you see is what you get. Just the way God made us. Unfortunately we are all human, therefore the racism is there also.

  9. MMMMM says:

    People in WV are nice IF you fit their mold of being just like them. If different than them in any way (appearance, lifestyle, interests, …) they aren’t very accepting.

  10. WVBornandRaised says:

    I was born in WV over 40 years ago, and I’ve tried to move elsewhere, but I can’t – a yearning for the hills is in my blood. I’m overly educated for my area, and should seek more lucrative employment, but I always end up missing “home” too much. That’s how most people from WV are: They grow up thinking they want to go out and take on the world, but they find it to be cruel and uninviting, and they come back. We prefer river banks to ocean beaches, dense woods to bustling cities, and front-porch pickin’ to Symphony Hall. I’m always sorry to hear when someone meets with hurtful ignorance in our state, but it truly is everywhere. My son attends one of the most prestigious schools in the nation, and when we visit, members of other visiting families always make ignorant comments about how surprising it is that we have teeth, shoes, and an education. We don’t mind at all, though, because we are some of the most unpretentious people alive (and I really don’t like to wear shoes – lol). Don’t spread the word too much, however, about this place called “Almost Heaven.” If everyone finds out how great it really is, they’ll try to buy up and “develop” all the natural beauty. No thanks, we’d rather remain “America’s Best Kept Secret.” 😉

  11. William York says:

    The person who stated his grandfather walked from Bluefield to Beckley to start a fight is a victim of a joke. It is nearly 50 miles from Bluefield to Beckley I doubt if anyone ever walked that distance for any reason Get your facts straight before making such stupid remarks