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I moved from San Jose to Chicago three years ago this week, and in that time, I’ve built a life here. I’ve made friends, gone to school, picked up a girlfriend, worked jobs, lost jobs, found my favorite bars, and explored the city a thousand times over. It took a while, but I consider myself a resident of the Midwest. However, there are several customs and ways of life that still confuse, frustrate, or downright baffle me, and I’m looking for answers.
What’s with rolling up your jeans cuffs?
Can no one in the Midwest buy jeans that fit? Is everyone just prepared for a flash flood at any time? I know these sound like sarcastic questions, but both could very easily be plausible. Everyone in the Midwest is huge, so I can understand if jean sizes don’t fit and people just compensate by rolling them up. Also, I’ve lived through all types of seasons in the last three years, so I totally understand being ready for everything. The fact that it rains during the summer is still super weird to me, so if that’s the reason behind the rolled up cuffs, it makes total sense.
However, if those aren’t the reasons, why do y’all do this? You know it makes everyone look like a kid wearing their dad’s suit at a Bar Mitzvah, right? Why not just buy pants that fit correctly? I know how much of an old man I sound like right now, but I don’t care. It drives me crazy.
Why are you guys so fucking polite?
If anything, Chicago is the least polite part of the Midwest. It’s a big city, and big cities don’t have time for politeness, or etiquette, or small talk. Or so I fucking thought. Every interaction here has a “please” and “thank you” tossed in. People try and talk to me on the bus, like, just about my day and shit. Everyone’s always trying to hold doors open for everyone else like some city-wide game of who can out-nice each other. It’s fucking ridiculous.
Maybe I’m just an asshole west-coaster, but for some reason, this bugs the hell out of me. I moved to a big city so I could do my own thing and not interact with other people. I outright ignore my neighbors despite their repeated attempts to say hi/invite me to things/offer home cooked pie. I say things like “sorry, I don’t have any change” to strangers that are clearly not homeless but are trying to talk to me for some reason. Once I even pointed to my ears and said “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” to an old man who was trying to start a conversation with me on the bus. I didn’t realize until later that I didn’t even have headphones in.
Also, I’ve noticed etiquette is a bigger part of the culture here. I’ve never written a thank you note in my life, yet I have friends who write them every time they stay at a friend’s house or something. One of my friends is still mad about when our friend’s girlfriend invited him over to their apartment for a party and didn’t immediately greet them at the door. While I can understand that’s a little rude, to be honest, I don’t think I would have noticed, and definitely not still cared. The dedication to etiquette isn’t a bad thing, but it does catch me by surprise, even after three years.
Where does that politeness go when you get behind the wheel of a car?
Jesus Christ, Midwesterners. I’ve driven in New York, Florida, and LA, and never seen such angry drivers. Hell, I drove all around the Dominican Republic, a country ranked third-worst for drivers in the whole world and still felt safer than on the streets of Chicago. I’m talking people laying on the horn while a family walks across the cross-walk. I’m talking two fat, middle-aged, men in Cubs hats screaming obscenities at each other while trying to merge. I’m talking cars actively trying to hit bikers, and even more insanely, bikers actively trying to hit cars. One time I saw a ten-minute long standoff in a narrow alley that only ended when one of the drivers yelled, “I’m retired, I can wait here all day!” and then put his car in park. (Such a baller move, tbh).
The surprising part isn’t so much that everyone in Chicago is a nightmare behind the wheel. It is a huge city, after all. The surprising part is that it’s the only time Midwesterners get to let out their inner anger. I have a theory that y’all bottle it up and replace it with politeness all day, and then unleash it as soon as you’re on the road. Whatever works, I guess.
How do you deal with the cold?
I’ve lived through three winters now, and each one has broken me in a different way. The first one was a shock. I thought I was prepared, but the fact that I was trying to buy a space heater at Target before they even got them in stock for the season made it clear that I was not. The second one I was ready for until I lost my office job and had to work outdoor jobs during the negative temperatures. And this third one… well, it’s May, and the temperatures are still bouncing around the 60s. Sure, that’s good compared to where it was, but that’s still chilly. After three winters, I thought I would have a better resistance to the weather, but I think it’s time to face the truth: I am a huge pussy about the cold.
Midwesterners, how are y’all so tough? I see you guys wearing flip-flops when there’s snow on the ground. I see people wearing a light sweater as I walk around in my thickest winter coat (that’s right, I have several in case I have to layer them). I have friends who will run on the lakeshore in subzero temperatures, and I have friends who sleep with the windows open in November. What the fuck? I’m not mad, I’m just impressed. I’m pretty sure everyone in the Midwest is part Orca. Some of them definitely have the right amount of blubber.
Why do you say that you “wouldn’t want to live somewhere without seasons?”
You’re lying. I don’t know if you know you’re lying, but you are. If you’ve ever lived somewhere where the thermometer doesn’t drop below 50, you’ll understand how much happier that makes you. All seasons that aren’t warm are objectively worse than the others. I honestly think it’s Stockholm Syndrome. You’ve been held captive by winters so long you’ve grown to believe you actually like them. I hope you break free at some point..