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My Intercultural Marriage

January 27, 2012

I married a Hoosier.  My husband is from one of those towns that has two stoplights.  It’s called Attica, and the name is apt as I’m sure I’d feel like a prisoner there if I ever stayed for more than a week.  I grew  up a “Navy brat” and moved fairly frequently, living on both coasts and Hawaii.  I am used to different cultures.  But marrying a Midwestern boy was definitely more of a culture shock than I was expecting.  Ninety percent of the time, it leads to funny moments when we laugh at ourselves or each other, but sometimes it is frustrating.  The two biggest areas where I notice differences are food and language.

I have to keep myself in check when eating and/or discussing Midwestern fare.  I am not a country cookin’ kind of girl, and I have to politely eat things that I normally wouldn’t serve to my cats.  Some of their food traditions just seem wrong to me.  Here are some of the most egregious:

  • Peanut butter sandwiches served with, and meant to be dipped in, chili.  This is actually a school lunch – they train kids on this early.  And it’s disgusting.
  • Noodles and mashed potatoes – This is just a starch bomb and it’s served at every family dinner and holiday celebration.  You take Amish noodles, cook them in broth until they’re a soggy mess, then ladle them over mashed potatoes.  It makes no sense.  I try to tell Curtis it’s like a rice sandwich but he was raised on this dish and can’t see why adding carbs to carbs is weird.  It’s like Atkins’ worst nightmare.
  • Pork tenderloin – You’re probably picturing this but it’s actually this.  Ughh.  It’s greasy, grey meat battered and fried, served on white buns with mayonnaise and pickles at every drive through and roadside shack.  These monstrosities are actually comical because the meat is 4x larger than the bun.

Then there’s the language (click here for a YouTube video series “How to Speak Hoosier”).  Some words are simply pronounced differently.  Like bush.  If you’re from Indiana, it’s said “boosh.”  And consequently, bushel becomes booshel, which is a word commonly used to describe units of corn production.  Also, tour is turr, and tourist becomes turrist, which sounds more like terrorist than tourist, so it can lead to some startling conversations to the uninitiated.   The worst is wash being pronounced warsh.  (Thankfully my husband doesn’t say warsh.  I’m not sure I’d have married him.)

There are also vocabulary differences.  The one that frustrates me most is:

  • Sweep = vacuum (v)
  • Sweeper = vacuum (n)

So my husband will tell me he is going to go “sweep out the car” and I’m picturing him with a broom.  Also confusing is calling a bell pepper a “mango” – I assume they would also call a mango a mango, so I’m not sure how you tell the difference, but they probably don’t have such exotic fruit out there anyway (my mother-in-law was in her fifties before she had her first bite of avocado in California).   Also produce-related:  cantaloupe is called muskmelon, which I guess isn’t exclusive to the Midwest but I’d never heard before.  Curtis once mentioned a church “potluck” to his mother, who seemed confused and said, “Oh you mean a carry-in dinner?”   Now, I understand maybe having an alternate term but to not know the more commonly used term at all baffles me.  Here’s another one:  don’t invite a Hoosier over for a “barbecue” and serve hamburgers.  They will be very confused.  What you are having is, in fact, a “cookout.”  A barbecue is only for serving actual barbecue (ribs, pulled pork).  I encountered this distinction in the South as well, so it’s not unique to the Midwest, but I did grow up referring to anything cooked outdoors on a grill as barbecue.

Sometimes, the grammar is also different.  The example that I notice the most is in the use of the infinitive form of verbs.  A Hoosier would say, “The plants need watered” or “Those pants need washed.”  I’m constantly correcting my husband, “You mean, ‘The cats need to be fed’?!”

It’s interesting.  I’m constantly finding new differences.  Sometimes it’s like having a foreign exchange student.  I’ve learned to reserve judgment (usually) and find the humor in these things (usually).  I’ll never accept country music or country cooking but I accept my country husband.

P.S. Quick tip:  If you want to see his face turn red, as him what Hoosier means.

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