Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Typical Midwesterners: A Guide (Pt. 1)


One of my favorite quotes is from the notoriously creepy yet talented actor John Malkovich, who once said, "I'm very much a typical Midwesterner, and I don't think the condition is curable." Amen, John. Me, too.

But what is a "typical Midwesterner"? What characteristics make someone so Midwesty that they can never be cured? For one thing, I should note that I have no interest in curing my Midwestiness - but if I were looking to downplay my roots, where would I start? I spent last Saturday with a New Hampshire-born friend who's lived in Boston for the better part of the last decade, & our conversations about the many differences between our native lands got to thinking about what makes me so distinctly not from any other part of the country.  

I've come up with a few things, & I know there are about a million more. This is a part one of an ongoing list. I welcome your additions & insight.
  1. To Be or Not To Be?
    My D.C. coworkers had a field day making fun of me when I once told them, "This document needs edited." Apparently that is not acceptable - and even I, with all my grammatical superiority, had no idea. I say things like, "The lawn needs mowed" and "The dog needs walked" all the time, a turn of grammatically incorrect phrase that is unique to the Midwest and maybe even to Ohio. In fact, when I applied for a job at the University of Akron, I spotted this "error" multiple times within the job description & application. I'm told that if you omit "to be," you have to turn the word into a gerund, for example, "The dog needs walking." I write this way, but I would never, ever speak this way.

  2. At the Drive-In
    Everyone's heard of drive-in movie theaters, which have mostly fallen by the wayside with the progression of, you know, it not being the 1950s anymore. But do you have beer drive-throughs where you're from? I'm told this is a strictly Midwestern phenomenon, but it's one I sure do like. Stay in your car & drive through the little tunnel attached to some gas stations, where an attendant will come out & take your order, then round up whatever it is you're looking for - a case of Miller Lite (see #5 on this list), Cheetos, gummy bears... Bringing a whole new meaning to "fast food" & a whole new level of convenience to small-town potheads.

  3. Eatin' Good Better in the Neighborhood
    When I first moved to D.C., my meals of choice included spaghetti, chicken fingers & mozzarella sticks. Yes, at age 23, I boasted the palate of a very picky third grader. Can you blame me? Though it seems to have improved as of late, the suburbs of the Midwest aren't exactly known for their culinary prowess. Growing up, my go-to restaurants included Applebee’s, Olive Garden, Damon's & the late Bennigan's (R.I.P.), which didn't allow for a great deal of palate expansion. It's only now, four years later, that I can claim to like Thai food, sushi, even - gasp! - Indian food without feeling like an imposter. I now make a concerted effort to eat at locally owned restaurants when back in the OH, but sometimes the Midwesterner in me just wants an Applebee's quesadilla, no shame.

  4. Stranger Danger
    I'll never forget the first time I visited New York City. At age 11, I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, & so suburban that I thought pigeons were pretty. (See also: IDIOT.) While touring the city with a friend who was a New York native, she caught me smiling at a passerby. "Did you just smile at a stranger?" she yelped. "Never smile as a stranger here. Do you hear me? Seriously, never." To this day, this is a piece of advice that I still follow... except when I'm in the Midwest, when smiling is still my favorite.

  5. Real Midwesterners of Genius
    Let me be clear: Everywhere else in the country is not the Home of the Original Lite Beer. Beer drinkers only tap the Rockies at backyards bonfires & bars with $1 drafts, which I should note, don't seem to exist in non-Midwestern cities. As a Midwesterner trying to adapt to a foreign (read: non-Midwest) city, you must drop all sentimental attachments to watered-down brew & develop an affinity for a more respectable drink of choice. If this means you must become a liquor lover, so be it, but you may not order a lite beer in good conscience on either Coast - and by “may not,” I mean “must not, if you want to keep your dignity.” Safe bets include Yuengling, Stella or Sam Adams, or only frequenting hipsteresque bars that serve PBR in a can so that you can get away with being a Midwesterner everywhere - & even looking kind of cool for it.
So tell me: What makes your home region unique? And are you jealous of our beer drive-ins? And how did this list end up being so beer-centric...?

    40 comments:

    Ashley said...

    I've heard of the "The lawn needs mowed" regionalism, but I've never actually heard anyone say it  I'm sure I'd forget it's a thing and just think I heard it incorrectly.

    I'm from the Pacific Northwest and I know there are things about us, but they don't really stand out in my mind and it isn't until I'm confronted with a bunch of east coasters that I realize I'm a west coaster.  Even that stuff, though, I can't really put into words.

    Jealous of the beer drive ins, but one of my favorite things about California is that you can buy any kind of alcohol just in the grocery store.

    theTsaritsa said...

    I think colloquial speech is wonderful and needs to be kept alive. When I talk with friends, family, and in casual situations I use my Philly vocabulary, but I don't usually write that way because I know it's not grammatically correct, but I have no problem ending sentences with prepositions when I'm speaking.

    Suburban Sweetheart said...

    You can buy any kind of alcohol in grocery stores in Ohio, too, & on Sundays
    at most places, but I know this isn't the case through a lot of the Midwest.
    And Pennsylvania, which is not the Midwest but is quite nearby, has THE
    WORST LIQUOR LAWS IN EVER.

    Suburban Sweetheart said...

    I'm a fan of "Can I come with?" and "Where are you at?" when speaking. No
    doubt.

    theTsaritsa said...

    Ending sentences with the word "at" is my jam :)

    Jill Farkas said...

    I'm a midwesterner too, but I've never heard of some these things. But maybe that's because I'm from big city midwestern (Chicago). Though, now that I've moved (to small town midwest), I can say that number 3 is true. Everywhere I look there's an Applebee's, Red Robin, or Olive Garden. 

    Suburban Sweetheart said...

    I think cities are excluded from many of these, though... well, not Ohio
    cities, haha. Most of these hold true even in Cleveland & Columbus. Which
    weren't you familiar with? But yes - CHAINS RESTAURANTS ARE EVERYWHERE.
    Sometimes it's truly exhausting to seek out locally owned places because
    there are so few of them, or so few good ones...

    Allison Blass said...

    I need to do this for Oregon. There are so many things about the PNW that are idiosyncratic like woah. Like recycling. If you don't recycle, you've basically broken the 11th commandment.

    Suburban Sweetheart said...

    Hahahaha, WRITE THIS!

    LBB said...

    I can't be jealous of beer drive-ins because I hate beer.  But everything else, hell yes!  

    BTW, they just closed our last drive-in last year.  Sad.

    Suburban Sweetheart said...

    You can also buy liquor at the drive-through, if that's your bag....!

    sarahs laundry said...

    this is the best post ever. we need to band together and to an ohio specific post. omg, i love this! hahahaa

    Jill Farkas said...

    Haha, I figured cities are excluded. I'm not familiar with Cleveland or Columbus; I've never been to Ohio actually, but I'm assuming they're nothing like Chicago. Maybe more like where I am now, Ann Arbor. As for local restaurants, I don't seek them out much as a)no car, and b)no money (living on student grad loans). But the few I have tried are good. 

    lexilooo said...

    My boyfriend is from Iowa and insists that Ohio is not part of the midwest. I disagree with him.

    On another note, there is a drive-in theater in Weirs Beach, in Laconia!

    I just like dropping my r's and saying how everything is wicked good :)

    LoriNKY said...

    Ah yes, we made frequent trips through the drive thru and pony kegs - usually so my mom could buy cigarettes.

    I think another common thing is to say "pop" instead of soda. Or, so it would seem to be a southern Ohio thing, at least.

    I live in Northern Kentucky now, which is basicaly the southern 'burbs of Cincinnati, and I can say it's still pretty Midwestern here. Drive 30 minutes south and it's a whole different story. There seems to be a very clear line between the Midwest and The South. It's interesting.

    Jaclyn said...

    I have to say: Nos. 1 and 2?  Not Midwsester. Just Ohio. I grew up until fifth grade in Illinois, lived there again after college graduation for three years. I have never heard that No. 1 thing before in my life. (Actually, I never even heard that in Ohio, but that may just be lack of paying attention.) As for No. 2, I've only ever seen that in Ohio. There definitely aren't any in Fort Wayne or Illinois. I have to say -- that's a failure on their part. Drive-thru convenience rocks.

    GingerMandy said...

    If you live in southeast Michigan and aren't afraid to go into the city (aka not an uncultured suburbanite yuppie), it is insulting to go to Applebees or Olive Garden. We have some amazing food in the city and surrounding areas, and I will never understand why people here choose to eat at these ridiculous chains.

    Also I will never leave the midwest if we're the only place that has $1 beer specials. Oh, and drinking Stella out here will get you stabbed. Beer doesn't come in a stemmed glass.

    Stacey Darpel said...

    So I'm from Northern Kentucky (as in all my extended family is there) but I've lived in Kansas most of my life sans three years in New Mexico. "Do you see Dorothy and Toto?" DUH! There's a billboard for the museum of oz on the way to manhattan, ks (home of kansas state university) and I always wanted to take a picture of it so the next time someone out of state asked me I could tell them where to go.

    Anyway, ruby slippers aside, apparently Sonics are big here? Every time the fam from NKY comes to visit, we have to make multiple Sonic runs (their closest sonic is a half hour away or something ridiculous like that.) Instead of chain restaurants, we have chain bbq restaurants. There was a "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" over a sweet bbq place here that I don't frequent enough. People are serious about their bbq. No lie.

    I believe it is a Midwest thing to love your state teams no matter how badly they play. Kansas City Royals... Kansas City Chiefs... they play well enough to get everyone hopeful for a successful season, and then they crush your dreams. However, everywhere you go people are rockin' super classy chiefs apparel or, my favorite, the Irish green KC Royals hat (confused? Yes. You should be.) 

    Sarah Svigals said...

    I went to college in central PA and they drop the "to be" as well. I kinda love it and when people say it it makes me think of college. They also say slippy instead of slippery

    Kat said...

    I'm from Ohio but currently living in Northern Virginia.  People here make fun of me for saying "I need to get a few things from the grocery" instead of "grocery store".  Maybe I'm just weird though.

    Jill Farkas said...

    Ok, good. I'm not the only one who thought one and two aren't midwestern. I'm from Chicago, and I had never heard of number one or two before, ever. 

    Dena said...

    I grew up in Upper Michigan and suburban DC (PG County) before moving to North Florida. I saw my first drive-thru liquor store (er...package store?) in a small town west of Gainesville, near University of Florida. 

    I've never heard of #1, however #4 has happened to me but here in Florida.  After eight years in PG County, I came to small town Gulf Coast Florida where strangers waved at me while driving.  After so many days of it, I had my grandfather check my car to make sure all the parts were still on it, sure that the "wavers" were trying to clue me in to some car trouble.  That's when my grandfather told me that they were waving to say hello. 

    So, yes, strangers will wave hello to you down here.  It takes some getting used to after the whole DC gig. 

    Sammi Roberts said...

    Wait...Pigeons aren't pretty? This is news to me...

    nadine chambers said...

    ahaaa this made me smile :) although im not american I can imagine that each area has their own little ways! Beer drive-ins? That is genious!
    all that glitters.

    Patchie[Verbs] said...

    The NC coast has Brew Thru's! They are just like the Beer drive-ins you're describing. Living south of DC, people order light beers all the time - that's more of a city thing than an east coast thing, I've found. Except New England, they are all about "real" beers.

    Patchie[Verbs] said...

    Oh, and liquor store drive-throughs - more like a fast food drive through than actually driving "into" the store, are like churches around here. You can't go more than 1/4 mile without seeing one.

    Elizabeth said...

    So maybe it's just an Akron thing that #1 thing?? Born & raised in Akron gal here...graduate school educated, yet terribly confused on #1. our lawn does need mowed. My hair needs washed. The dog need fed. Where is my phone at? What time do you want to meet at? This is all wrong? I am shocked!!
    Ps, rocknes chicken pasta salad with the house dressing is where it's at!!

    Shin Susieq said...

    i go over seas and meet a midwesterner...and we both say "we are NICE people!!" :)
    http://ashindig.blogspot.com/

    Tiffany said...

    I collect the state magnets. I have one for every state Scotty & I have been in since we started dating.

    Denise said...

    I'm so hopelessly mid-west that I didn't even know other places don't have drive-in's... I'll go out of my way so I don't have to get out of my car, sometimes.
     
    I think another thing is that we give directions to places by reference to how near campus it is... and everyone knows what we mean.

    Mel said...

    Co-sign on the worst liquor laws ever for PA. It's so frustrating. Also, did you know we pay 18% tax on alcohol -- ON TOP of sales and county taxes. It's so ridiculous. Don't even get me started on the reasons why we can't get beer and vodka in the same place. 

    Also, living in Pittsburgh now... is even MORE UN-Midwest than being in Cleveland. But, I can't yet figure out WHAT we are, save for being very close to an East Coast mentality, with a little hill-jack (aka: yinzer) thrown in for nostalgic means and purposes. Although, "Pittsburghese" cracks my shit up, n'at.

    Polly Kyle said...

    Even though you didn't include PA in your mid-western map... I consider myself a mid-westerner (Though I don't think ALL of PA is mid-western, just the western part of the state). The drive-throughs beer places is because of the strict alcohol laws. PA has them too. Also, I drop the 'to be.' I had no idea it was wrong either until a friend from Boston ridiculed me for it. 

    Arielle said...

    The grammar thing drives me up a wall just reading it. I have NEVER heard someone speak like that. Insane yo.

    Stephany said...

    I could probably do a list like this just for Florida. My best friend is from Michigan and it's so funny how different things are. I have to say, though, don't hate me but I just can't read #1 without wincing. 

    Suburban Sweetheart said...

    You're definitely not alone. I guess I just... never knew it was wrong. Like
    I said, I probably wouldn't write this way, just like I wouldn't write,
    "Where are you at?" but I say it all the time. It never even occurred to me
    that it was wrong or that people didn't do this everywhere...

    San said...

    This is so interesting! Seriously. I mean, by now I can easily tell when people are not from California ,but obviously growing up in a different country( on a different continent) all together makes me an expert on "sticking out like a sore thumb" ;)

    Alli Rense said...

    I'm from the Midwest (Grand Rapids, Michigan) and the only one that actually fit for me was number four. (Which was one of the reasons why I started the Conversations with Strangers project: http://conversationswithstrangers.net ) I wouldn't omit "to be" in a sentence (I'm also a grammar snob, but the syntax you referenced was unfamiliar to me) and my beers of choice in GR were PBR and Newcastle. We also had various "ethnic" food: a few Thai restaurants, an Indian restaurant, etc. I actually became a "non-chain food snob" before moving to DC, and Michigan still beats DC in terms of Greek and Mediterranean food. Maybe Grand Rapids is a big enough city to avoid these issues, or perhaps, as I suspect, Michigan is just better than Ohio. ;P

    terra said...

    As a kid growing up in Ohio (for a little bit at least), I very distinctly remember getting all sorts of random things at the Beer Drive-Thru things. In fact, I'm pretty sure we got dog food there once...

    Becky said...

    You can totally tell I'm from the D.C. area because as soon as I read "this document needs edited" I started laughing! And the stranger danger thing is so true. I went to school in Southwestern Virginia and the first time someone waved at me while I was in the car it freaked me out!

    mandy said...

    I had no idea that drive through carry outs weren't common  place. I also say things like number one, often without thought.

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