June 15, 2005
Two Years in Wisconsin and Counting. . .
Posted by Christine Hurt

Yesterday marked the second anniversary of our family's arrival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from Houston, Texas.  We moved in on a Saturday, and it was probably 69 degrees at 10:00 a.m.  The movers predicted that it would be a hot day at about the same time that I told them that if they saw a box marked "coats" could they point me toward it?  We have since noticed a lot of differences between Texas and the Midwest, and many of them focus on the weather.

1.  The term "it's freezing" to mean "Jiminy Christmas it's really, really cold" is rarely used here.  In Texas, one often said "it's freezing" either to note that the air conditioning was on too high or that the outside temperature had dropped enough to warrant a windbreaker.  In Wisconsin, I never hear people use this phrase.  Why?  Because the outside temperature is literally below the freezing point for water much of the time.

2.  In Wisconsin, the world is your icebox. 

("Icebox" is Texan for "refrigerator.")  The majority of the time, the outside temperature is cooler than the inside of your icebox.  So, if you don't have room in your refrigerator for your drinks for the party?  Put them outside on the porch.  Want to go the grocery store and then do some errands for a few hours (months)?  No problem.  Your freezer items will be just fine inside the car.  Oh, look, that fountain soda in the car cupholder from this morning -- it has more ice than when I left it.

3.  "Barbecue" means something entirely different here.  In Texas, "barbecue" means beef cooked either with a spicy rub or a spicy sauce.  The sauce is usually reddish-blackish.  In other parts of the South, "barbecue" means pork cooked with a pinkish-brownish sauce that is sweet.  In Wisconsin, "barbecue" means "cooked outside."  If someone invites you over for a barbecue, don't get your heart set on brisket.  You could get a plain white chicken leg that happened to be cooked outside.  Be prepared.

4.  I once heard that Texans used more electricity than the rest of the country because of beer.  I took that to mean that Texans drank more than the rest of the country.  Not so.  People in Wisconsin drink much more than people in Texas, on average.  Maybe it's the cold.  Maybe it's a Catholic v. Protestant thing.  Maybe it's because the Packers haven't won so much since we've been here.  All I know is that at Hallowe'en, I saw a Dad walking his kids around pulling a cooler.  However, this may be related to #5.

5.  People in the Midwest are friendlier quicker than in Texas.  I'm from West Texas, where people live quite far from one another and don't talk a lot during the day.  Here, people live right up next to each other and talk all day long.  The first week we were here, I did not have a commercial transaction where the person on the other end of the transaction did not begin a deep conversation with me.  I had to spend a day without any interaction just to rest up. 

6.  Texas is not breathtakingly beautiful.  I think I was educated to believe that Texas was the best.  At everything.  Even the Texas landscape was the most beautiful thing in the world.  Once we got far enough out of Texas where we could look back with an objective eye, I see this is not true.  Wisconsin is beautiful.  I grew up loving the Big Sky Country of the Plains and the Hill Country, but in a way that's like growing up liking your mother's cooking, which may or may not be objectively yummy. 

7.  People who don't live in Texas believe that Texas is in the South.  When we moved here, people kept saying, "You must be from the South."  I would respond, "No.  I'm from Texas."

8.  Back to the weather -- I now understand the concept of "tropical vacations" and retiring to Florida.  Never caught on to that before.  I also now know why on the calendar summer "begins" on June 21.  In Texas, our eight-month summer is half way over.  Here, it may or may not be over 70 degrees on a regular basis.

9.  I now notice the economics of living in an area with a large immigrant population.  Some things cost a lot more in Wisconsin than in Houston -- landscaping, nanny care, manicures, home construction and remodeling -- although generally the cost of living seems cheaper here.  Relatedly, Mexican food is hard to find, and our elementary school teaches French, not Spanish.  The municipal bus line has a billboard campaign featuring a license plate that reads "Y NOTRIDE."  I think it's supposed to say "Why Not Ride," but for two months I read it in Spanish.  I racked my brain trying to figure out what the verb root of "no-tree-de" was.

10.  People in Milwaukee complain about the property taxes a lot.  We don't.  Our property taxes are quite similar to the taxes we paid in Houston.  However, in Houston we did not have a good public school in our district or a library or a park or sidewalks.  In Whitefish Bay, these amenities look as if we live on a luxury cruise ship.  The system works for us because these are things we would choose to pay for anyway.  If we were not in the schools/parks/libraries/sidewalks phase of our life, then we might complain also. 

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