5 Ways To Blend In With Chicagoans

I moved to Chicago from Michigan after graduating college about 3 years ago. In 3 years guess how much I’ve learned about what it means to be a Chicagoan? Not as much as I’d hoped. Chicagoans are still a mystery in a lot of ways. But there are a few things I’ve gleaned and I’m choosing to share them with you. …You’re welcome.

5 Ways to Blend In:

1) NEVER put ketchup on a Chicago dog. I learned this probably in the first week I was here. In a city known for its dogs, this is a point of pride. No, it’s not a mortal sin or anything but Chicagoans really don’t like it. If you want to not be spotted as an out-of-towner and you want to be accepted by the locals, just skip the red condiment altogether.

Chicago Dog2) Complain about the “L” as much as possible. The “L” or “El” (the first is technically correct but you’ll see it both ways) is the elevated train system in Chicago. These color-coded trains take you most places you’d want to go in the city and are a great way to get around. But just as people who drive complain about traffic, people who ride the L like to complain about it being late. Or it going express (only certain stops).  Or them barely missing it. I’ve learned that if you just nod in agreement and occasionally mutter “jerks”, you’ll make lifelong friends.

3) Take Chicago sports seriously. It’s okay to still be a fan of whomever – Packers or St. Louis Cardinals but know that sports in Chicago are a big deal. With the Blackhawks, Bears, Bulls, and White Sox this city boasts some impressive championship numbers. And Cubs…well, they’re just so lovable! So if you can, pay attention to who’s playing and how Chicago fares. And if you do get caught in the crossfire of a White Sox/Cubs feud, I’ve found it’s best to go completely limp, play dead, and eventually people will just ignore you and move on.

4) Get excited about BYOB restaurants. I don’t know why Chicagoans go crazy for BYOB places. I haven’t figured out why picking up your own beer or bottle of wine is arguably better than ordering one during dinner but people here feel it is. Apart from saving money I guess you ensure that you always have your brand? I don’t know.
While we’re on the subject of drinks, Chicago is a city that loves its beer. Blame it on its historic population of Germans and Irish. Or just see it as a trait of a modern city. But they have some decent beers and breweries (which you can read about here). A big staple is Goose Island‘s 312 (pronounced “three, one, two” after the local area code). Whatever you do – don’t say “three, twelve” or “three hundred twelve.” They’ll see right through you!

5) Dress the part. When I moved here I noticed that everyone had an understated urban fashion. That’s probably true of most big cities. There’s nothing wrong with dressing however you want of course; I still sport my University of Michigan hoodie with sneakers and jeans quite a bit. But there are some things you can wear to help disguise your non-Chicagoan status. These include: pea coats (seriously, does every Chicagoan have one?); scarves during all seasons, expecially for women though men sport them too; shoes that are both functional and stylish, emphasis on the latter; and a lot of accessories/elements. Chicagoans tend to like to combine many mismatched items that magically work when worn as a complete set. Basically if you’re wearing a leather watch, green scarf, brown boots, a grey hat, a herring-bone vest, colored jeans, light fabic shirt (or heavy sweater in winter), eye-catching belt, and dark hipster glasses, you should fit right in.

And it’s that simple! That’s 3 years of experience. In another 3 years I should have figured 1 or 2 more things out.

- Sam

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