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Hello Iowa: Pickles, Acorn Trees, and Nice People
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Our move from the west to the Midwest is not without its fair share of culture shock. My first impressions of our new home are mostly in contrast to the place we came from: the spicy salsa-loving Southwest. Iowa is a beautiful state, and since it is all new to me and my family, I’d like to share our first impressions with you.
First, there’s the pickle aisle. Yes, you read that correctly. The pickle AISLE. Rows, and rows, and rows of pickled items at the grocery store. Sweet pickles, sour pickles, dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, and every other possible variation on pickled vegetables, offered in several different sizes and brand names. And don’t forget the kraut. Saur kraut is also readily available, and you can choose from your favorite brands, too. Salsas-well never mind that. Who needs salsa when there are so many pickles to choose from?
Next are the acorn trees. My 13-year old daughter has apparently spent what is now a disproportionate amount of her life becoming a dyed-in-the-wool Arizonan, because after she pointed out to me that she had found acorns from the acorn trees in the nearby park, I said, “oak trees.” And her response was, “well, yeah, but I found them by the acorn trees over there.” Now I realize how incredibly ill-informed that makes my progeny sound, and I even kindly suggested that she avoid calling them that at school, but in her defense, if you moved down to Arizona, would you be able to identify a cholla or an ocotillo or tell the difference between a gopher snake and a rattlesnake? Anyway, it appears that there are some lovely acorn trees in the park nearby.
Aldi. It’s a local grocery store chain that thrives on penury. You can save quite a lot of money there over the prices at big box stores as long as you don’t mind buying your bags and paying a quarter to unlock the grocery carts from each other. You do get your grocery cart money back, as long as you make sure to return the cart to its proper position and lock it back into place. I don’t actually mind renting my grocery cart, but it drives the whole concept of deep discount grocery shopping to a whole new level that I had not seen in Arizona.
Sump pumps. Boy am I in trouble with this one. I know there’s one in my basement and I suppose it will work if I need it to, but I’m not entirely sure what it does. Something about keeping the next great flood at bay when it rains.
Amish. They are everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Like at the Aldi store, and in the WalMart children’s department buying heavy-duty winter overalls and talking in accented German. I’m sure I’ll get used to them, but up until now, my main exposure to the Amish was in that Harrison Ford movie, Witness. My husband thinks that I am making a culturally insensitive statement here, so let me assure you that I have no prejudices against the Amish. My daughter, on the other hand, thinks that the bit about acorn trees is far more culturally insensitive.
Hamburgers that you eat with a spoon. We ordered hamburgers from a store out here called Maid-Rite, apparently a local restaurant that has been in business since the early 1920s. Imagine our surprise when we unwrapped our hamburgers to find them shredded like a Manwich sandwich, only without the special sauce to hold it all together. Fortunately the company served up their burgers with a nice little plastic spoon. I find it rather amazing that this burger joint has stayed in business for 90 years or so by serving hamburgers with a spoon. I must confess, I do feel a slight prejudice against these.
Nice people. This is such a culture shock. In my old state, if I wanted a man to open the door for me, I had to don a pair of 6-inch stiletto heels and a really short skirt. I’ve had more men hold the door for me in public places as a common courtesy in the last 6 days than I’ve experienced in the last 6 years. It is nice to experience courtesy so universally here, but it takes some getting used to. I didn’t realize that courtesy was a missing element in my life until I started to see it so prevalent here.
Northern light. No, not THE Northern Lights, just northern light. What I’m referring to here is that sudden feeling that the whole world just got a little darker about three or four o’clock in the afternoon. This is again probably only surprising to me because in the sunny southwest, if you stay outside too long without sunglasses you end up with cataracts by the age of 35. Everyone in Iowa stares at me like I’m very odd when I roll into the parking lot with my sunglasses on. Of course, I will probably never be able to get rid of them, since they do such a nice job of holding my hair back. Note I am referring to the sunglasses and not the door-holders.
Iowegians. There are a disproportionate number of blondes here. ‘Nuff said.
Farming. We moved to a metropolitan area of over 400,000 people where a large number of people still have barns in their back yards, motels are disguised to look like barns, and people flock to eat at a restaurant called The Tool Shed, which oddly enough, also looks like a barn, whose slogan is “Farming is Everyone’s Bread and Butter.” In Iowa people take their allegiances to certain brands of tractors, for example, with the same fervor as other people might support a football or hockey team. My new neighbor, whom I had just met, found out my husband works for the big green tractor people, and she said in a rather disdainful voice, “Well, we’re International Harvester people ourselves.”