I end up in the wilds of Wisconsin at least twice every year. There are far worse places to end up, because I just love the people here. When this comes up in conversation, it's usually attributed to "Midwest Values" which conjures up images of rural farmers living off the land and being generally decent, salt-of-the-earth kind of folk. Still others attribute it to "Christian values" which may also be true... but I hasten to point out that Wisconsin has traditionally voted as a Blue State and is not an official part of Jesusland. I have no idea what makes the people so warm and friendly, they just are. Even in larger cities like Milwaukee, there is a different vibe as to how you're addressed and treated... even as a "foreigner."
When visiting the rural areas of the state, there are many little oddities and eccentricities one must adapt to. Here are some of my favorites...
CHEESE. Wisconsin is known as "America's Dairyland," and they take this title very seriously. Particularly when it comes to cheese. Wisconsin makes 25% of all US cheese, and produces some of the finest you'll find anywhere. And they know it. Cheese is dumped on everything, probably because it's abundant and delicious. As you can imagine, this makes me very happy, because cheese is one of my favorite foods. As a Pacific Northwesterner, my favorite cheese is Tillamook from Oregon. As a world traveler, my favorite international cheeses come from France and The Netherlands. That being said, my favorite place to eat cheese is Wisconsin. The white cheddar here is heavenly.
MEAT. Wisconsin natives love their meat, and people who don't eat meat are a complete enigma to them. I have numerous stories of being a vegetarian trapped in Wisconsin, but it always boils down to complete and total confusion over what to do with somebody who doesn't eat meat. Yesterday I went to Culver's (a large restaurant chain throughout the Midwest) and asked if they had a veggie burger (I always do, just in case they've added one since the last time I've eaten there). The kid taking my order was new, and spent a good two minutes looking over all the electronic buttons on his cash register before calling over a manager for help. When the manager arrived, I asked him if they had a veggie burger, and his response was to ask if I was meaning a hamburger without a bun. The concept of a burger not made from meat is completely outside their ability to grasp. And it's not just that Wisconsin natives like meat... they can't get enough of it. You'll regularly find menus which feature meats accessorized with other meats. Beef stuffed with turkey and wrapped with bacon, for example. If you're lucky, it will be served covered in cheese sauce.
FISH FRY. Don't even think about trying to get anything except fried fish on a Friday night at any local Wisconsin restaurant. One time I accidentally went to a "home cookin'" eatery on a Friday night because I didn't know any better. When I explained I was vegetarian, my waitress said "no problem," and offered to give me a baked potato with my fish. When I asked if I could have a grilled cheese sandwich instead, I was asked what kind of fish I wanted with it. Your only hope to avoiding fish is to go to McDonalds or Culvers, which will be selling fish sandwiches like crazy, but will still be willing to sell you non-fish alternatives.
DIALECT. Speech patterns in 'Scansin are charming, to say the least. Almost Sarah Palinesque, but with intelligence and in complete sentences. The state's proximity to Canada also insures that a liberal dose of "eh?" will be sprinkled in your conversation the further north you go. Heavy German ancestry in the area gives many areas of the state a distinctly German slant in both diction and pronunciation. The "th" sound is a rarity, and gets changed to either "t" or "d"... particularly in rural areas. Most difficult of all though is the speed at which they speak here. There is no punctuation or pauses when a Wisconsonian is talking. "Hey-der-Dafe-yoos-wan-anudder-soda-und-a-braht?" roughly translates to "Hey there, Dave! Would you care for another carbonated beverage and perhaps a bratwurst? Swearing is also a rarity. When somebody gets really mad, you might get a "gosh-darn" or a "guldarnit" out of them, but it's practically unheard of to drop an f-bomb in mixed company. But most charming of all is that there is no "yes" in Wisconsin. Depending on where you're at, you'll get a "uff-dah!" or "hey-yah!" or "yah-hey!" or "you-betcha!" or "okay-den!" or "okey-dokey!" or "oh-yah!" or even "yah-ain't-wrong!" but rarely a simple "yes."
GREEN BAY PACKERS. There is no other football team on earth except the Green Bay Packers in all of Wisconsin. You are either a die-hard Packers fan or dead. People paint their houses and cars in Packers green-and-gold. Packers flags fly everywhere. On game days, everybody wears Packers clothing. After my first two trips to Wisconsin, I ended up buying a Favre* jersey and Packers sweatshirt as urban camouflage. At one point, I had joked with a friend here that I was going to go to work wearing a jersey from a rival team (and next-door neighbor) Minnesota Vikings or the Chicago Bears. "Dats-not-funny-der-Dafe-yoos-gonna-get-yoos-kilt!" To this day I can't tell if they were joking or not. But since death is something I'm trying to avoid just now, I've played it safe and stuck with green-and-gold.
* Bret Favre (legendary quarterback) was once revered as a demi-god around these parts, but was traded to the New York Jets after Green Bay decided to part ways with him when he came out of retirement. Since he no longer plays for the Packers, people here remember him with fondness, but assume he died since he's not on the team anymore.
FASHION. Wisconsin is by no means backwards when it comes to trends and fashion. People here are pretty much like people everywhere when it comes to that kind of stuff. However, the proportion of ladies stuck in the 80's seems to be much higher in Wisconsin than the national average. Roller bangs... poofy bangs... feathered hair... LEG WARMERS(?)... and other retro stylings pop up with surprising regularity. Or maybe it's just that I notice them more when I'm here. I dunno. In any event, I don't mind the 80's flashbacks I get while visiting... I liked the 80's.
FROZEN CUSTARD. I have no idea why frozen custard has not obtain rabid popularity outside of the Midwest, because it's frackin' amazing. Wisonsonians live and die by the stuff, and can be categorized by their favorite place to buy it. The big two are Culver's and Kopp's... but there are dozens of local favorites like Gillies and Leon's, which litter the landscape. I won't be satisfied until I've tried them all.
PATRIOTISM. American pride runs deep in Wisconsin, and not just as a result of 9-11 or the so-called "war on terror." They've always been deeply patriotic people, and not in a tacky or artificial way like you see in so many places now. When they support the troops here, it's not just because it's the trendy thing to do... they mean it. But what really makes me appreciate Wisconsin patriotism comes from my devotion to MIA/POW awareness issues. I see more MIA/POW flags flying in Wisconsin than I see anywhere else, and it gladdens my heart. There are several good organizations here making sure that we Never Forget, and I love them for that. This ain't America's heartland for nothing.
HARLEY-DAVIDSON. There are no other motorcycles. If you ain't riding a Hog in Wisconsin, you ain't ridin' shit. I've toured the remarkable Harley-Davidson Powertrain Operations Factory in Wauwatosa more times than I can count.
And that's just a few of my favorite Wisconsin eccentricities that makes me enjoy visiting here so much.
Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for cheese.
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Hey Dave: Thanks for the praise of Wisconsin, where I was born and raised. Just FYI, I think Wisconsonians are actually referred to as Wisconsinites, but then I may just be playing a game of senseless semantics, eh?
Kopp’s rules them all when it comes to custard. Oscar’s is not bad either (Highway 100).
We here in Minnesota think of Wisconsin as sort of a lesser Minnesota. I feel compelled to point out to you that nearly everything you find in Wisconsin can be found in Minnesota as well. Err, minus the Packers. And the cheese. Well, we’ve got cheese but we have to buy it from Wisconsin. We’ve got Polish Golf. Does Wisconsin have Polish Golf? I bet not.
You make it sound like fun, but I’m still pretty sure I’d die there… From cheese alone.
i really enjoyed this.
it’s the kind of post that i imagine landing you
an awesome travel/foods show.
I’m hungry for cheese now.
Such a diverse state… so many different things there. Cheese… is there anything greater (besides chocolate pudding)?
uh, as a Tennessee Titans fan, I must ask…Brett who?
Wisconsin has the best cheese EVAR. Every year without fail I order some from Cheese To Please. In the winter of course. Brick is my fave and those squeaky little cheese curd buggers are awesome too.
I am from Chicago. I am a Bears fan. This is all Ineed to say.
But… on a lighter note… my sister lives in Neilsville which is north central WI.
She’s also born in Chicago. And a Bears fan.
BWA HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH!!!
I don’t live IN Wisconsin, but so close that I might as well. I am cracking up about all your observations! Although I believe I was told that legwarmers were back in fashion or something. I don’t happen to have any, but a bunch of kids at my kids’ school do. Retro or something.
And the cheese thing is right on. I even went so far as to start making cheese to fit in. All right, I’m kidding, it sounded like a fun thing to try so I tried it. You should move to Wisconsin. We could hang out often.
So I take it from the cartoons that Lil Dave is not a vegetarian? Or is he fake eating that meat?
Great profile Dave. As a neighboring Minnesotan, I have to concur with you on all points.
I’ll go ahead and add one more as well… BEER! In Wisconsin it’s all about the beer!
I have to say a big “thanks” for all the nice things you have to say about my home state. I haven’t lived there in 10 years but it’s still home for me. Most of the time, WI is mentioned as the punchline to a joke so it’s really nice to know there are non-natives who thinks it’s an alright place!
Ilove the Lil’ Daves. I forwarded this along to the Brother as he and his family have been in Wisconsin for 20 years. My niece attends U of W at Madison – Go Badgers.
Man, Dafe, you der nailed it. 🙂
I can’t wait until you come to South Dakota and dissect us. We’re about the same, but for some reason this place votes Red.
So weird. I had lunch today with a vendor from Wisconsin. We covered many of these same topics. (play Twilight Zone music)
Ummm, it’s the GREEN BAY Packers, not the Wisconsin Packers.
And I had a delicious new treat in Albuquerque, New Mexico this last weekend – deep fried bleu cheese nuggets. WOW! Beat that, Wisconsin!
Tillamook is awesome.
We enjoy going there when we vacation at Depoe Bay,OR.
Another vacation is scheduled there in May of next year.
It’s times like these I’m so proud to be a born & bred Midwestern girl. 🙂
And I don’t watch football at all, so…Browns, Bears, Packers…meh, whatever.
This is probably one of the most positive things I’ve read about WI in a long time (I live there). To illustrate, a scene from Dogma:
“Were you sent to Hell?”
Glad you like it though 🙂
Steve: I saw it as both “Wisconsinites” and “Wisconsonians”… I picked the latter without knowing any better. 🙂
Jen: I don’t know about Polish Golf, but they do have Mini Golf which you can play while having a beer!
Bombshell: Cheese overdose is a definite danger… I eat way, way too much while I’m here.
Mew: I really should have my own travel show, shouldn’t I?? Heaven only knows I’m smarter than Rick Steves!
Sue: I’m always hungry for cheese!
ChillyWilly: Well, there’s nothing greater than chocolate pudding… but you’re right, cheese comes pretty darn close!
Ginger: There you go! 🙂
Kevin: Cheese curds make me kind of gag… it’s one of the few cheeses that I cannot eat. Head Cheese is another. 😛
RW: I fear for your sister’s life if that information gets out!
Tori: Legwarmers back in style? That’s more than a little depressing! Some things are better left in the past!
Sarah: Lil’ Dave is indeed vegetarian. That’s a tofu steak!
Jeff: Yes… beer is very important here. I’ve toured the Miller factory too many times for the free sample at the end!
Lora: I love Wisconsin. Embracing the little eccentricities is what makes it such a great place to visit!
Darci: Go Badgers indeed! Madison is an awesome place… I haven’t been in a very long time and need to go back for a visit.
Moe: South Dakota has Sturgis too!!
Robin: Obviously, your vendor was a POD PERSON WHO HAS DUPLICATED MY BRAIN!! I advise taking a shotgun to work from here on out…
Rrrrrrita: Um… yeah… I know it’s the Green Bay Packers. That’s why I called them the Green Bay Packers… like six times??
Crail: Tillamook is awesome. In addition to cheese, they make fantastic ice cream, yogurt, and other nifty dairy products.
Diane: That’s the kind of attitude that could get you killed ’round these parts! It’s the Packers… and ONLY the Packers… when in Wisconsin!
Kittymoose: I’ve always enjoyed my trips here, and find it bizarre that things like that get said about the state. There are plenty of other places on earth far worse than Wisconsin!
While living in Florida the last 2 years, the one thing I missed besides the entire pacific northwest, was Tillamook cheese!
I had my mom overnight a big ol bag from Costco ! Delicious.
Mmm…cheese. If we ever go to Six Flags again for some reason let’s head over to Wisconsin and score some of their glorious cheese.
Thank you Dave for this. This was were I was born. Maybe I am bit overtired, but I can’t help but get a little teary when I read through this.
yah der hey, yah der hey
I don’t know a thing about Wisconsin, but I love this post and the cartoons.
Oh and one more thing. There are pockets of vegatarian havens in WI. Madison was named as one of the best cities for vegetarians by the “vegtarian times magazine”. (is that the name of it, gosh I hope so!)
O-when you are at culvers, order the blackened blue cheese salad (hold the blackened chicken.) and get this with two packets of french dressing. All the veggies and blue cheese and french dressing is truly devine!
and btw-you are right to not wear the vikings gear. We have one lone vikings fan in our family (he is somebody’s husband). He watches any game packer’s/viking’s game in the basement. Or he just says nothing. Really, this is how it should be!
GO PACK GO!
You just gave me a serious case of home-sickedness. Not from Wisconsin, but many family members ARE. Salt of the earth indeed.
I *pph* frozen custard. For years after we left New York, that’s what my mom called any soft serve ice cream.
And, I hate to tell you this, but leg warmers? They’re BACK.
I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and re-twatted to a couple friends from Wisconsin! (on twitter, I’m dorydorydory)
Ya, hey der Dave, listen, dis was great! You diddin’ mention our beer, doh. Udder den dat, I’d say yer spot on. Thanks for the love!
I went to high school with a WisCANsian. He tried real hard to teach us how to properly pronounce Sheboygan but we never quite learned.
You know, the more I read the comments, the harder it is to get Da Yoopers out of my head…
Second week of deer camp, and all my friends are here, we eat, play cards, and shoot da bull, but never shoot no deer…
I grew up right across the border in Illinois and this was awesome to read! We spent a lot of time in Wisconsin because of all their awesome lakes and cheese.
There’s a new hotel in Milwaukee that’s motorcycle themed: The Iron Horse. I hear good things about it.
Great recap! I liked Wisconsin too.