“Why did you come to Wisconsin?”
By and large, this is the first thing University of Wisconsin-Madison students will ask you when you say you’re from California. I get it, California has its draws: great weather, unbelievable scenery and let’s face it, a lot of hotties (whether that undeniable attractiveness is God-given or man-made is up for debate).
But, in California, what you gain in sunny skies and tall mountains, you lose in empathetic people and a sense of community. So, as a Californian who has lived in Wisconsin going on two years now, I’m here to tell you something that may shock you: I like living in Wisconsin better than living in California.
And here’s why.
At home, I don’t know my neighbors, and I have never known my neighbors. When I visit my school friends who live in Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, I’m always introduced to their neighbors. Built-in friends! Who wouldn’t want that? Californians don’t. That’s who.
During move-in day my freshman year, a boy smiled at me in the elevator and started asking me questions: about my day, about myself, and all I could think was, “Here goes another creepy guy trying to skeeve on me.” I relayed this information back to my roommate who instantly checked my ego. “Sophie, he wasn’t hitting on you; that’s just what friendly people do here. It’s Midwestern manners.”
Midwestern manners. God, how I love Midwestern manners.
I’ll give you another example.
I’m waiting in the lobby of The Graduate hotel during my sophomore year move-in, complaining to my mother about how my nightstand is too wide for my new bedroom. Within minutes, a kind mother from Minnesota strolls up to me, a brand-new nightstand in hand. She had overheard my conversation and was on her way to Target to return the brand-new nightstand she had bought for her daughter. Evidently, it was too narrow for her new bedroom. This kind woman refused to let us pay her for it. She was just happy to help and gifted me the nightstand with a smile.
In my Jewish community, this Midwestern woman would be considered a mensch. In my Californian community, she’d be considered rude for eavesdropping.
So, as the population of California students at UW grows, please be patient with us. The culture shock of seeing smiling faces and people not being phased by torrential rain is quite extraordinary for us. We’re learning to be just as friendly, just as compassionate and just as tolerant of cold weather as you Wisconsinites.
However, I don’t care how long I’ve lived in Wisconsin; I will never give up my umbrella. Laugh at me all you want, you sociopath Scons walking around in board shorts and flip flops with nothing but a Packers cap to shield you from the rain. That is a train I simply cannot, and will not, get behind.
But I will start a conversation with you in the elevator about it … Baby steps.