It can feel that way, living on an island. In a small town it can feel like you know everyone. If you don’t know someone, you probably know someone who knows them. That also means that, if you do something embarrassing, it can feel like everyone knows. That’s not quite the feeling on Whidbey Island, but it isn’t hard to imagine.
People tend to know lots of people. They may not be friends with everyone, that would be hard to manage, but various studies suggest that Americans can know a few hundred people. Typically only about a dozen are considered friends, but because of work, sports, volunteering, schools, etc. it is easy to at least recognize hundreds of people.
Whidbey Island has less than 80,000 people. That’s much more than a dozen or a couple of hundred, but if 283 people each know 283 different people it is possible to connect all 80,000. It is a stretch, but it is possible.
Realistically, Oak Harbor has about 24,000, Coupeville has ~2,000, Freeland ~8,000, Langley ~5,000, and Clinton ~2,500. The fact that they don’t add up to 80,000, and the fact that they can be counted in different ways reflects the fact that much of the island is unincorporate and rural. We’re spread out.
Because each of those communities are smaller, it becomes easier to know the people who live around you, and for them to help fill in the gaps.
The ability to know so many within such a short set of connections also means it is harder to be anonymous. We stand out, even when we don’t want to. It also means that when help is needed, there’s an encouraging chance that a support network will show up; it isn’t a guarantee, but when it works it is impressive and refreshingly familiar.
Anonymity is easier in city life. In a big city it is possible to upset someone and never see them again. Anonymity makes it easier to not worry about upsetting someone. It is also possible to find someone you want to get to know better, but that chance encounter may be all there was.
On Whidbey, blast your horn at someone and you may find yourself standing in line with them at the supermarket. Oops.
The lack of anonymity is probably not something that the County has issued a pamphlet on. Tourists don’t get briefed on it, but then, they have a better chance of remaining anonymous if they are only here for a while. That may also explain some of the touristy traffic stories, people using loud voices as if they are too used to having to speak over sirens and business sounds, and people who are surprised by a smile.
Visitors do comment on how friendly we can be, and why not? The stranger you just met may be the person who is going to be on your team, or doing work for you, or is going to help when you need it. Be friendly. It makes life easier. And that’s easier on an island.