Until you guys write me letters, I’m just going to keep posting about weird social interactions, okay?
I grew up on the East Coast, but have lived in the Midwest (Chicago) for the last 10 years, and there are some distinct cultural differences. Once I went out on the world’s most boring first date, and we discussed some of these.
Him: “I went to Massachusetts once. They called it ‘soda’ instead of ‘pop.’”
Me: “Yes. And we call water fountains ‘bubblers.’”
Him: “Wow, that’s so weird.”
Sadly I did not have a ninja smoke bomb handy to make my escape, so there was like 90 more minutes of this crap while we dutifully masticated our Thai food and agreed blandly that we should totally do this again sometime.
Anyway, what I want to talk about here is the Midwestern practice of offering other people the thing you really want before you’ll let yourself have it Anyone who lives here and who has been to any kind of baby shower or other LadyParty has watched Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox enacted on a plate of brownies knows what I’m talking about. “Do you want the last one?” “No, you take it.” “Let’s cut it in half.”
When I moved out here, I didn’t know about this.
Honestly, I don’t know if I can chalk it up to cultural differences, because until, say, very recently I was very socially backward and not really able to read social cues until it was too late and the social cue was “You’ve screwed this up in some subtle way, weirdo.” But yeah, when I came out here, people would be like “Do you want the last brownie?” and I’d say “Sure, thanks!” and then I’d eat it and there would be this awkward silence while I did and it would get harder and harder to chew because I could tell something was wrong but not what was wrong. If the person was close enough to me, I’d just ask, “Hey, is something wrong?” and of course they’d be too polite to tell me. “No, everything’s fine.” “Wait, did you want that brownie?” “No, no, I wanted you to have it.” At which point I’d be like, “Okay, everything’s fine!” and the brownie would be tasty again.
There are other layers to this, the whole gross undertow of how women sometimes can’t admit that they want things, and where food is concerned there is even more weirdness, like certain foods are “sinful” (ugh) and you have to be always pretend that self-denial is some kind of virtue so it’s a competition on another level for who can be the most self-effacing and let the other person talk them into like, having dessert. “Oh, I shouldn’t.” “No, you should!” “I couldn’t possibly!” “Enjoy yourself!” “Well, if you insist.” We have to make it okay for each other to want things while allowing each other to save face through this ritual of pretending that we don’t really want those things because it would be too gauche to just eat the fucking last brownie and enjoy it.
So, not understanding the rules, I moved into an apartment with a roommate. We were trying to figure out how to choose our rooms, and she started the discussion with: “Do you want the back room? It will probably be quieter when you need to study.” and I said, “Sure, that sounds great.”
And then she quietly resented me for the next two years.
I DIDN’T KNOW.
So after 10 years out here, here’s the rule, I think:
If you’re in the Midwest, and someone offers you something – like the last brownie, or the room with the big closet and its own back porch – don’t just agree right away. Just run through the ritual with them. Let them offer. Refuse. If they offer again, it’s yours.
“Do you want the last brownie?”
“Okay, but don’t you want it?”
“No, you go ahead.”
Now has been transformed and sanctified by ritual into something you can consume without guilt.
If anyone who is actually from here has any further insight or examples of uniquely Midwestern Manners, please let me know.