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...?
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