Hunkering: How Countryfolk Converse in Rural Farm Communities

Learn how countryfolk in rural farm communities converse through hunkering, an important skill that includes tact, body language, and nonverbal and verbal communication skills.

| July/August 1986


So you find your neighbor in his driveway, fiddling with his hay baler and, willy-nilly, you start getting your message across even before you open your mouth.


All of us who move to the country are trying to make successful new lives for ourselves. But I conjecture that some of us will fail because we don't understand hunkering . . . and never learn how.

The Art of Hunkering

On one level, hunkering is the squatting-on-the-haunches posture assumed by many countryfolk outdoors, especially when there's something serious to discuss or ponder. But the art of hunkering goes far beyond physical posture to encompass tact, sensitivity, and all the other aspects of effective communication between human beings. And I believe that mastering this skill just might be the key to successful living in a rural area.

Say you need to know when to plant strawberries, how deep to sink a fence posthole, or the answer to any one of a thousand other day-to-day questions. No amount of reading — even in MOTHER EARTH NEWS — is going to provide you with all the information you need. Occasionally, you'll require on-the-spot aid and advice . . . and what better source is there than your neighbor who most likely met up with and solved the same problem 40 years ago?

OK, you're willing to ask for assistance. That's half the battle, but only half... because that man up the road is not an automated teaching device but a human being. And if he thinks you're nothing but an imported city slicker or stuck-up "foreigner" (who should have stayed where you came from), he won't lift a finger for you.

So my first suggestion is to rid yourself of any notion that you're "bringing yourself down to the level of the local people." True, you may be better educated, more widely traveled and perhaps even wealthier than your new neighbors. But in hunkering you're the one going to them for help and advice, not the other way around. Their experience has made them experts at the kind of life you're seeking. You aren't lowering yourself in this interaction .. . you're just moving over toward the other fellow's position. I hope that point seems obvious to you. It took a devil of along time for me to learn it!

With that basic ground rule established, let's say you're approaching Ed Hopkins — the owner of the next farm over — with a specific problem: You need to know who owns the fence between your field and his. Although you might view your visit as a fairly straightforward errand, Ed sees the transaction in a somewhat different light. You need only some basic information, but he wants to know who you are, where you come from, what you're doing over there on the old McAllister place, and the identity of those other people living with you. That's the conversational small change he'll spend talking down at the store with his cronies . . . and that's part of the price you have to pay for what you want to know. It's no use bemoaning the infringement on your precious privacy. The "nosiness" of rural neighbors is inevitable. If you want perfect isolation, you might be able to get it in a warrenlike Manhattan apartment house, but you won't in the country.

1/1/2013 10:19:34 PM

Personally, I loved this segment. Thanks for this! I'm born and raised country stock. I can tell ya that this writer is dead on with the specifics and there are cultural and social differences to regard. Even though my grandpa had a B.A. (born in 1907), this writer's method of conversational approach was an accurate way of summating the point on how to approach him, for example. It has nothing to do with how well educated a person is, because believe me - farmer's are among the most highly educated whether or not they went to college because of their natural didactic abilities to garner information. "Through the fencepost" was 1 of those methods. His learning that little bit of personal info about you may save your A 1 day. Thanks for the segment today. Loved it! -TN Farmgirl

c cummins
12/20/2012 3:05:19 PM

This article is ridiculous! For someone trying not to be arrogant, the author "shoots himself in the foot." I'm wondering if he just has poor social skills? Although I am now a "city gal," I come from "country folk." My experience is that rural people tend to be just as well-educated as the city variety. They have the same diversity of personalities and quirks.

shreesh ponkshe
12/20/2012 2:41:49 PM

Never knew there was an English term for this concept! Quite liked the article - and very much in line with my personal experience. Never realised there would be so much common between India and America in this context :)

clarissa smith
12/20/2012 3:08:44 AM

As a farmer you don't have a lot of time for idle chit chat, if we are working on machinery,be friendly but get to the point.

sandra modersohn
12/19/2012 9:28:22 PM

??? This seems like we're trying to learn to talk to aliens... People are people no matter where you are and you don't and shouldn't have to completely change yourself to fit into your new home. You'll be liked or not just as you are and no amount of forced changes to the way to speak to someone will change who you are, which will eventually out anyway. So why on earth are we trying to get people to pretend to be something they aren't? This is just a bizarre article that really shouldn't have been featured in the newsletter.

12/19/2012 8:56:52 PM

Good heavens. Where did the guy who wrote this article come from? Rural people aren't inept at the social skill of conversation. You don't have to slow down your speech or feign interest in corn to talk to us. Are you all so rude to each other in the city that you feel you need lessons in common courtesy? Also, about possibly being more educated. Maybe not. I wouldn't send my children to an urban school for a million dollars. Many many great writers and scholars have come from the country. We live a life where we have to actually figure things out and do for ourselves instead of relying on hiring people to do things for us. It doesn't take any brains to call a plumber or a contractor. No wonder you think people might look at you as if you don't belong. It doesn't sound like you do.

4/1/2007 2:00:21 AM

Almost seems like I was there whene Wodraska learned the art of hunkering...

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