“Jesus was not a Midwesterner,” began the homily at Mass the other day. The Gospel was from Luke 11:42-46, “Woe to you Pharisees…” I got it.
Having moved two states west (from Pennsylvania to Michigan), I have learned a lot about being a Midwesterner and how different that is from living out east. Some of the differences are minor. In Pennsylvania, people say “soda” and in Michigan it is called “pop,” and “hoagies” in Pennsylvania are called “subs” in Michigan. But other differences touch deeper issues of cultural identity.
During the years I lived out east, friends would often share their reflections after trips to the Midwest. They would talk about how friendly people are in the Midwest, how even cashiers and other people in line at stores would chat. “Everyone is so polite and friendly,” the traveler would report. Although I grew up in Detroit, I had been away so long I was not sure I knew what they meant.
Having been back here a few months, I now understand.
Life here seems to move at a slower pace, and people tend to make more time for one another—whether it is family, friends or strangers.
In visits to the bank, I have heard about tellers’ children and vacations. At stores, sales people go out of their way to be helpful. When people learn I recently moved here, I get a genuine “welcome to Michigan” and then often some questions about Pennsylvania. I have had to adjust to the fact that business transactions here are also social transactions and that people are downright friendly.
Even when I went to get my driver’s license, the clerk welcomed me and asked how I was settling in. She made the discovery that she had once worked with one of my sisters. As I stood at that counter, I realized I had been braced to be treated rudely, and I had been greeted with kindness. Welcome to the Midwest.
I have rarely heard a horn honk since I moved here, and when I have, it has usually been mine. Other drivers seem to wait patiently for an errant driver to self-correct; I try to be a polite Midwesterner, but sometimes I just have to honk.
Almost every day presents me with revelations of cultural differences. I find myself noting the differences and thinking of how my cultural identity is changing as I adapt to living in the Midwest.
Jesus might not have been a Midwesterner and he did not care that he was offending the Scribes and Pharisees, but I am trying a little harder to fit in. I want to be a Midwesterner. I am even trying to lay off the horn.