I mentioned a couple of days ago that Girona, north of Barcelona, is the unfriendliest place I've ever been. Toledo is full of Fascists, who are assholes by definition. Chicago, outside the singles-bar district at Rush and Division, where everybody is so drunk that they're tolerably nice, ranks right up there. There are a lot of nasty people in Houston, though my opinion may be tainted because my grandmother lived in a lousy neighborhood there, near Hardy Road and Crosstimbers just north of 610, until the late '80s. No problem with the Mexicans--they were cool, just regular hardworking folks trying to move their families up in the world. Yeah, they'd drink some beers and turn up the gadinga-dinga music on Saturday nights, but that doesn't hurt any, and they'd invite you if you were around. When I was about 16 I made friends with the girl next door, Cristina, whose family was from Reynosa down on the border and who was in and out of my grandma's house--Granny was the kind of old lady who'd talk about niggers and Meskins, just as a matter of course, but her behavior didn't have anything to do with her language, if you see what I mean. I think if I were, say, black, I'd rather deal with a white person who is a straight-shooter although somewhat racist, but not in a hateful way, than with some liberal who is always tiptoeing around on eggshells trying not to offend. No, the problem around there were the white people, who were about as rednecky as I've ever seen, and I don't mean picturesque farmers up in some Appalachian holler, but people who owned lots of guns and mean dogs and worked as repo men and bounty hunters. I ran distance in high school and worked out every day, even when visiting the folks, and I carried a two-foot-long iron bar when I went running in that neighborhood, ostensibly for the mean dogs, but really for the mean people. I can't believe they never held a cross-burning. Had they, I imagine there'd have been a pretty good turnout, and everybody would have brought his own sheet and pint of Evan Williams. By the way, the absolute biggest redneck I know is my dad's cousin Larry, who lives in Lufkin, Texas. Hi, Larry! Since you can't read this, I don't know why I bothered to say that. I remember the last time we went to visit them, twenty years ago, and Larry talked about niggers the whole time in a hateful way, his kid Kenneth tried to pick a fight with me (Larry said it was fine, that Kenneth liked to fight and that he would only mind if Kenneth ever ran away from a fight), and his other kid whose name escapes me cut her foot on a piece of broken glass while running around the front yard barefoot and it was gushing blood. We left and in the car my mom, who is very diplomatic, said, "You know, I believe I would have taken that girl to the emergency room," and my dad kind of snorted and said, "I have never been so appalled in my life," which is strong language coming from him. We haven't seen them since. They didn't get invited to my sister's wedding, I know that.
As for friendly places, all of California is right up there except for San Francisco leftists, Berkeley students, and rich folks in LA. People in Kansas City are really very nice. New Orleans earns a high ranking. My sister says Nashville people are super-friendly. You won't believe this, but every time I've been in London, the only place I've really been in England, everyone was great except for the bums hanging around Euston Station. Narbonne and Nîmes are particularly friendly places in France, Soria, Santander, Zaragoza, Córdoba, Navarra in general, and Barcelona (if you stay away from the Cataloonies--hint: run should you learn that an Elèctrica Dharma concert is imminent. Also flee the mere appearance of sardana bands and sardana dancers) are congenial cities in Spain. Oporto in Portugal is full of nice people.