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Understanding the behavior of Midwesterners in Phoenix, Arizona


Phoenix has always been strongly influenced by two cultures: Mexico, and the Midwestern United States. And if you've ever been puzzled by the behavior of people from places like Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, or Minnesota, I think I can help.

Although I left Minneapolis when I was 19, I was raised in that culture. And culture is a funny thing, because you really can't see your own culture, unless you look through other eyes. I've talked to a LOT of people who have no idea that they even have a culture, to them it's just "the way things are done". I've had a lot of fun looking back at my Midwestern culture.

The first thing that I know that puzzles people is "Midwestern friendly". It's kinda like "Canada friendly", where people always wave, and if you ask them what time it is, they tell you. I have friends who grew up on the East Coast and if you ask them what time it is, they say, "What do I look like to you, Big Ben?!" But there's more to Midwestern friendly than might meet the eye. Midwesterners are wary, and observant. When they wave at you they're letting you know that you're seen. I've known people in Phoenix who are very surprised by this behavior, and they find it intrusive. It is.

Midwesterners don't have a tradition of hospitality. Yes, you can stay with them, on the couch, but you'd better be moving along. Saying that you're a distant relation doesn't necessarily make you family - there's an expression that I grew up with - "shirt-tail relatives", which were distant relations who tried to borrow money. Midwesterners are big believers in rugged individualism, pulling your own weight, getting up on your own two feet. They don't like lollygaggers, and tend to not give money to people on street corners, whom they consider to be beggars, or panhandlers. Speaking for myself, I retain this attitude, and if I see someone who needs help I'll direct them to where they can get food, or shelter.

Like I say, I moved away from the Midwest a long time ago, and have lived in Arizona, and California all of my adult life. I was fascinated by learning about different cultures, but I never kidded myself that I wasn't just a kid from the Midwest. When I visit the old neighborhood the people there really don't see me as very Midwestern - I often say that to my old friends in Minneapolis I might as well be carrying a surfboard, and wearing a serape.

If you see me, wave!

Image at the top of this post: The residence Hiram C. Mann in 1896, Peoria, Arizona. Peoria was named after Peoria, Illinois, and a lot of people came from there.

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