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Does your town like you?

Lagos, a city that agrees with me

Lagos, a city that agrees with me

Global nomads know it instinctively: there are places in the world where we feel more at home than other places.

I’ve spent a lot of ink describing that how we experience living somewhere new is to a large degree influenced by how well we prepare, what we expect and need at that point in our life and how much we really want to be where we are.

But there may be another element at play: the ‘personality’ of the neighbourhood we live in.

A recent study at the university of Cambridge used data from the Big Personality Test, an online survey published by the BBC in 2009. The study looked at five personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness. Results showed that within the UK:

  • Scotland is home to the friendliest, most emotionally stable Brits
  • The Welsh tend to be open but the shiest and least emotionally stable
  • People in the East of England are conscientious, agreeable but less open
  • Londoners are the most open but least welcoming and are not very conscientious

I guess on a day to day basis these traits would mean that in certain areas people are more welcoming to outsiders, or more apt to greet strangers, or easier to get to know or to deal with in daily transactions.

Of course it is important to stay wary of stereotypes that generalise for whole groups of people – anyone who has done a bit of travelling knows that there are friendly and unfriendly people everywhere in the world. But generalisations are often based on a grain of truth and this study seems to indicate that there are observable tendencies among geographical regions in the UK.

In other words, it would appear that national ‘cultures’ can be subdivided: the attitudes, behaviours and values of citizens are influenced by factors such as the level of urbanisation, the type of natural environment, population density etc. I’m not sure if it is the location that shapes people or if certain people are attracted to types of locations – it’s probably a combination of both.

The interesting lesson for globally mobile individuals is that some of the places we live in will feel friendlier or more welcoming, more extroverted or dynamic, more forthright and direct than others. And for each of us, each place’s ‘personality’ will suit will feel more – or less – ‘right’. For instance, do you like chatting with strangers on the street or do you prefer to go about your business in introverted contemplation? Certain cultures are more prone to public contact than others, but so are people in smaller towns around the world.

So how do we know what our town’s personality is? Following up on this study, the BBC produced an online test: ‘Where in Britain would you be happiest?’ The results show both the region that is most similar to the individual’s character and also how well the individual ‘fits’ at their current location.

At an international level, there are quizzes on the Internet of the type ‘which world city should you live in’. While these are perhaps not the most scientific of results, they probably do say something about our own preferences.

Internationally mobile people don’t always have the choice of where we move to – we often go where the job is. But being aware of our own personality, our preferences in terms of style of interaction with others, goes a long way towards helping us adapt to our environment. If your town doesn’t agree with you, is a move to the city perhaps in order?



For the Cambridge study:


For the ‘Where in Britain would you be happiest?’ test:


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