10 Ways to Be a Chicagoan (and 10 Ways Not to)


(Photo: Go, Chicago! Credit: RSNA.)

Much as I love being a carpetbagging Chicagoan, even after almost five years I confess I still don’t fully understand the mercurial nature of Windy Citizens. Yet, after spending a month back in my native New York over the summer, I’m very aware that floating around in the core of me now is definitely a lot more Midwestern mellowness than Gotham swagger.

Regular readers may raise a doubting eyebrow or two to that disclosure, but it’s true. There are many ways I act a lot more like a Chicagoan than a New Yorker.

I haven’t completely gone native, of course. I don’t think anyone who relocates away from their hometown should go too native–you risk losing the most interesting bits of your personality, that which distinguishes you from the culture in which you live now. But I’m sure not the New Yorker I used to be.

As my half-decade mark of being a half-breed “New Chicagoan” approaches, it’s a little tough for me to pick out the changes. After all, I’ve come to rely so thoroughly on living in Chicago and, for the past couple of years, celebrating what that means on this blog.

But I’ll give it my best shot. Here are the top-ten ways I–very happily–behave like a Chicagoan. Effortlessly, these behaviors are simply instilled in me now. For fullest disclosure, I’ve paired them with the top-ten ways I’m still not a full flatlander. The ways in which I still cling to my identity as an outside observer.

My behavior on any given day falls somewhere between these two extremes. (If you browse back through my archives, I bet you can tell in what city my heart was living on any given day).

10 Ways I’m a Chicagoan

1. The idea of a New York hotdog with ketchup makes me gag.

2. I can finally say a sentence like, “I have a taste for pop, wanna come with to the Jewels?” with a straight face.

3. I know that “alderman” and “comedian” are synonymous terms (even though only one of them is actually trying to be funny).

4. I will vote for Mayor Daley as long as there’s a Mayor Daley to vote for.

5. I will visit the Taste of Chicago every year, because I love to eat over a garbage bin, swat at wasps, and pee in a porta-potty.

6. I can let others speak first and I can live without having the last word. (Can and do are, of course, not the same thing!)

7. The sight of the Chicago skyline makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

8. Margie’s Candies makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

9. Trash cans belong in alleys, not on sidewalks.

10. It’s Marshall Field’s. Period. End of discussion.

10 Ways I’m So Not a Native

1. The following words rhyme with farthest: forest; orange; horrible; Florida.

2. This is a sidewalk. Get. Out. Of my way.

3. I find Italian beef sandwiches to be soggy and disgusting. (In New York, we preferred our hot dogs to be soggy and disgusting).

4. I immediately laugh at off-color jokes instead of waiting for others to laugh first.

5. I almost never give money to panhandlers.

6. The terms “viaduct”, “speed hump”, and “gapers block” still make me chuckle. (I grew up on “overpass”, “speed bump”, and…get ready for it…”rubbernecking delay”).

7. I still think Milwaukee is a fun day trip.

8. I still think there has to be somewhere, somewhere, within a day of Chicago that really is a fun day trip.

9. I will tell you exactly what I’m thinking if you ask me to.

10. I will never, ever use the words, “Yes, but it’s not New York.”

For those Chicagoans reading this, native or newcomer, I’d love to know what local behaviors you think pegs someone as a Chicagoan. And for those carpetbaggers like me, I’d also love to know what quirks you just can’t let go of from your lives before you became Windy Citizens. Please feel free to leave a comment!

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