I was born in Canada and later lived in Illinois before heading off to college. But my formative years were spent in Wisconsin, where I learned everything I needed to know.
Midwesterners are famous for being nice, yes, but they’re also pretty stoic in the face of adversity, big or small. Trust me, when “Sconnie” parents get hit with 31 inches of snow on October 31, no one’s canceling Halloween. It might take a little longer for Junior to trick-or-treat, sure, but hauling a bag of candy through a big drift is half the fun, right? Besides, why is there a Toro 18 inch Electric Power Curve Snow Thrower in the garage if not to plow some packed powder while dressed as Darth Vader? Please. Quitcher whinin’.
It’s not ‘soda.’ It’s ‘pop.’
Seriously! Who says “soda”? No one from Wiskahnsin, that’s for sure.
There’s a season for everything.
The four seasons in Wisconsin go in this order: Packers, Brewers, Packers, House Lights. December is its own season, when we turn our attention away from professional sports long enough to drive up our electric bills so we can blind our neighbors with festive, blinking, exterior bedazzlement. Plastic lawn ornamentation in the form of fake deer feeding on imaginary berries is big in these parts, too.
Our work ethic is legendary.
When fresh college grads from the University of Wisconsin (my alma mater, go Badgers!) and its satellite schools show up in booming towns such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Washington, D.C., they’re immediately scooped up as interns and for entry-level positions across competitive fields. Why? Because bosses love them. Not only are they polite as the day is long, they possess zero sense of entitlement. They smile when asked to grab some coffee. They’re happily willing to manage Google Docs. They figure they’ll work really, really hard and then slowly advance. No Wisconsin kid brags about going public before turning 30—which, ironically, is why these transplants so often find success. We just work hard without excuses. End of story.
Eat more cheese.
There’s nothing a nice slice of extra sharp cheddar can’t fix. For really hard times, we might reach for the savory Swiss. Trust me on this one.
If you can’t water ski up nort’, you’re nuthin’.
Let’s hit the lake—any lake, there are 15,000 in Wisconsin—with the fam’, go camping, build a fire and cook some s’mores. If you can’t stand up on water skis, there is something seriously wrong with you. Better work on that.
Respect your elders.
You’ll find few youth giving sassy lip to their parents in this region of the Midwest. Why? Those mega-churches might be over-abundant, literally found on every other corner, but clearly, they’re teaching something about honoring fathers and mothers. Because kids around here definitely do.
Cow-tipping is a thing.
Not everyone lives on a farm in Wisconsin, no. But there’s generally one within a short drive. And, yes, tipping cows has been known to happen among bored high school students on a Friday night after the local football game. Don’t try this at home.
Speaking of Friday night …
What’s one without a fish fry? I don’t care if you live in Fond du Lac, Milwaukee, Madison or Green Bay. If it’s TGIF, you and your extended clan are looking for some greasy potato sticks and accompanying deep-fried cod with some tartar sauce on the side, preferably in a bustling church basement. If you’re in Sun Prairie, I have it on good authority Buck & Honey’s is the place to beat.
Brats are not spoiled children.
Brats—pronounced brahts—are sausage. Treat them with reverence. (And then with a healthy dose of sauerkraut.) Never confuse a bratwurst with a hot dog, or you might be chased out of town.
Beer might be our other religion.
If you’re over 18, honestly, we’re most likely looking the other way. For beer only, mind you. If you’re under 21, don’t go to a bar where you’ll get carded, and don’t you dare drink and drive. But if you happen to find yourself sipping a brewski at a friend’s barbecue, well, then, OK. We might understand. Because beer is a mindset. Beer is good. Beer makes people happy. (Do I need to remind you the Milwaukee Brewers are our baseball team? C’mon!) Wisconsinites favor locally brewed Leinenkugel’s and Capital Brewery. If you’re lucky enough to live in marvelous Madison, the state capital, you’re likely sitting on the university’s stunning terrace overlooking Lake Mendota right now with a cold cup in hand. Enjoy it. Because it’s summertime and you’re in Wisconsin. This is why so many of us never leave—and those of us who do always come home.