I’ve lived in both the country and the city, and I’ve often wondered what my grandfather meant when he talked about a “country mile” in comparison to a “city mile”. Gran and Grandy spent most of their lives in the country; both grew up on large farms and were no strangers to days of getting up before the sun rose and going to bed long after it went down.
When I was a kid, I gave no thought to what the phrase meant. Most of the time, it was used in the context of something like, “It’ll be a country mile before that job gets finished.” I can assume now that it meant it would take forever. The factors to consider involve both time and distance. But when you think about it, a mile’s a mile…isn’t it?
Not necessarily. You see, I’ve come up with several theories about the difference between a “country mile” and a “city mile“. First, there’s the difference in the pace of life between both places, and how time seems different, depending on where you are. Everyone knows that things move more slowly in the country. It’s just a way of life. People take their time, they stop to appreciate their surroundings, the natural beauty of the land to which they’re so connected. Country residents enjoy the way afternoon lazily blends toward evening, as the stars come out, they appreciate the sunset over a secluded lake, or the nearby calls of barn owls and tree frogs as the night-time spreads over the land.
The city has its own beauty, I suppose, in the twinkle of lights along a city skyline at evening, as the sky-scrapers and cement towers pulse with the heartbeat of thousands of busy people, scurrying like ants to burn the midnight oil to make their fortunes or simply reveling in the endless bars, clubs and shows of city night-life. The pace of the city is far removed from that of the country. There is something like an inaudible ‘hum’ that directs all those urban people, moving them with an energy, a hustle and bustle, the feeling that things have to be done NOW, that there is no time to wait for anything, whether it’s an elevator or a sunset. So maybe that’s one thing that makes a country mile seem longer — the miles in a city pass by in the blink of an eye because city folk are so concerned with where they’re going, they rarely take the time to appreciate the journey. In the country, taking the time to soak up the details of the journey IS more than half the fun.
The second theory I have ties into this last point, but I think it has more to do with distance than time. It’s a matter of perspective, of scenic distance vs. flat distance. There is much more natural beauty in the country, the roads twist and turn, cross hills and valleys, sometimes seem to wind forever into the woods and fields. In the country, one never knows where the next curve in the road will lead, the horizon is often unseen. In the city, the streets are usually laid out on some kind of grid, and the land is usually flat — it has to be, to support all those tons of concrete buildings. The roads in most of the large cities I have lived in often had a horizon I could see. I could look far ahead to where I was going, see the next stop-light, the next block, the next cluster of offices, businesses, or cars stuck in traffic jams. Maybe it’s just me, but it sure seems like if I can see the end of where I’m going, it feels like I get there faster.
My last theory is that in the past, it probably took a lot longer to get anywhere, going back to the concept of how time is different, depending on where you are. In the past, there were more cars in the city, and people in the country used horses, or horse and buggy combinations, or just plain walked to where they were going. Naturally, one would assume that cars (even the first ones) could move faster, and so a ‘city mile’ didn’t take as long to traverse as a ‘country mile’ did. When you think about foot-power vs. gas-power, it’s easy to understand the comparison.
Whether you agree with me or not, whether you dwell in the country or the city, have you ever paused to think about how some of these sayings came to be? For me, personally, I’ll take a “country mile” over a “city mile” any day. That’s just me. But I don’t think I’ll ever again simply assume that a mile is always a mile.