Cultural differences among Midwesterners

Sophia White-

I have been living in Minnesota for about 9 months now, and have noticed a few things in terms of personal preference and pronunciation from Minnesotans that differ from my experiences living in Nebraska for 18 years. This is not an anthropological study where I have lived in another place for several years, looked at one specific thing, and reported my findings. I just think it would be interesting to discuss how Midwesterners (in their respective states) are different.

The Midwest consists of 12 states that can be broken further into West North Central and East North Central. The midwest includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. If you have lived outside of the Midwest before actually living in it, you might assume that this is where corn, cows, and the plains are, but this is much more diverse.

If you live in the actual Midwest, those assumptions would be more accurate for Nebraska and Kansas, but in Minnesota, farmland looks different. There is also less farmland due to the colder climate. Most of the money in Minnesota comes from education and health services, and there are a lot more medical services available in Minnesota than in other Midwestern states.

But I am not here to discuss the differences in job opportunities from state to state, I want to talk about the real tangible differences like food or how to pronounce certain words from my personal experiences and observations.

First off, I want to talk about Raising Canes and Chick-fil-A. Chick-fil-A has 11 chains and Raising Canes has 15 in my home state of Nebraska. Most Chick-fil-A’s in Nebraska reside in Omaha with minimal amounts of restaurants elsewhere, but Canes is spread to multiple smaller cities outside of Lincoln and Omaha. Raising Canes is a real contender in Nebraska and tends to be the best choice, according to Nebraskans, which does not seem to be true of Minnesotans. There are 17 Raising Canes in Minnesota that all pretty much reside near the Twin Cities with one outlier. Then there are 19 Chick-fil-A’s in Minnesota with the same turnout: 18 around the Twin Cities with one farther out. So, my real question is, where do you get your chicken when it’s closed on Sundays?

“I only eat that anti-gay chicken,” A Nebraska Drag Queen once said.

Another issue I have regarding food in Minnesota is Crumbl Cookie. Where did they put the ‘e’? Why are they the size of my palm? Why do I feel uncomfortable when I eat it? And why do they make flavors that should only belong on cupcakes? I can barely stomach a cupcake, so why make the one succulent, slightly subtle dessert – cookies – taste like sugary hell? I want to know why this place and its cookies are such a craze for Minnesotans. Personally, I find them highly overrated. Although there is not a super close equivalent in Nebraska, we typically get the best cookies from whoever has parents who are farmers or own land. I think that cookies taste better at home when the smell can waft out of your oven and into the house. There is more time and comradery put into it. I’m sure Minnesotans do this as well, but I suppose the convenience of buying a large, sugary cookie might be appealing to those who don’t have the time to make their own batches at home.

This last thing I noticed irks me a little. It is the difference in the pronunciation of ‘hammock’. Apparently, ‘hammocking’ is a hobby in Minnesota. Something that I had no idea could be a hobby. For me, it is an object and only that; but on top of that new revelation, I learned that Minnesotans and Nebraskans say ‘hammock’ differently. I learned this on just your normal, average day of school. I waddled into Campus Center with hunger in my belly in hopes of something good at the Caf, but as I walked by the Career Center I heard the words:  “Yeah I like to do HAM-MAH-KING on the weekends,” a Random Student said.

I stopped in my tracks. I thought to myself, “Ham-Mah-King? No, that can’t be right.” For many of you, you believe this is correct but, as a distinguished Nebraskan, this is not how it is said. Most Nebraskans, I know, would pronounce it “HAM-MUH-KING”. This inner debate sat with me the whole day. I decided I needed to ask others how they say it to confirm my greatest fear. I asked two people who I knew were from Minnesota and they said it the same way, HAM-MAH-KING. It became a back-and-forth shouting match of “HAM-MAH-KING” and “No! It’s HAM-MUH-KING” and so on.

When I eventually discussed this with other people I knew, even some faculty on campus, I found that there truly are two distinctly different ways that two midwestern states could pronounce this word, and I truly believe that the way I say it is correct as do the people I discussed this with. Minnesotans tend to pronounce ‘o’ vowels in the same way which is where you get different pronunciations of words like “bag” to sound like “beg” and Nebraskans have pretty relaxed vowels. Both of these things could be part of the reason these two Midwestern states say the same word in two different ways.

With all these examples, I think it can be seen that Midwesterners are not as alike as many would like to believe we are. Our cultures can go all the way down to the level of vowel pronunciation and which chain of food is better, and I think it is incredible how different we can be in those small details. It can also show how much we’re willing to fight for our arbitrary opinions to be right. I know I feel like the way I say something or how I feel about a certain food is the right opinion, and even if those are small details of culture when it comes to the wider point of view, it is important to be thoughtful and compassionate towards diversity. It is easy to polarize people by naming the things they disagree on. It is harder to come together on commonalities, which is why it is an important practice. To know that your preferences are just that: your opinion and no one else’s. Ultimately, the best word of advice I can give to this discussion is a quote used often by one of my professors, which he attributes to Ted Lasso, “Be curious, not judgmental.” Easier said than done, Chick-fil-A.

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