Regional Geography & Cultural Anthropology 101

Last night, during my weekly trivia night outing (yes, I have weekly trivia night outings!), the subject came up of how Michigan and Virginia residents seem to be completely unaware of each others' lifestyles--or of each other's existence at all. Although the two states have been cohabitating within the same United States since our country's formation, there's almost an invisible force field around each that seems to disappear somewhere in the middle of Ohio. And nothing gets past the walls of that barrier.

Here's a handy visual:

state explanations 

No disrespect to either state, but you know absolutely nothing about one another. And I am here to change that by debunking a few myths and clarifying a few interesting facts.

**Disclaimer: I know that not everyone can be grouped into these two categories, and not everyone thinks in one of these ways. This is merely an attempt to focus on the widespread misinformation that seems to have disconnected two beautiful parts of the U.S. And, okay--I might make fun of both places just a little bit.**

Lesson 1: Climate

Okay, all ridiculously-uncharacteristic weather patterns from this year aside . . .

Virginia, meet Michigan. The mitten does get more snow than the Commonwealth, but it is not a frozen tundra year-round. When it's hot (summer does exist), the jackets come off. When it gets cold, people don't lose their ever-lovin' minds and run naked in the snow like desensitized penguins--they bundle up. Same internal thermometers, same adaptation skills . . . fall just starts a little earlier and spring starts a little later. In fact, I'd argue that on many days, the numerical temperature here is the same as it is in southwest Virginia . . . it just feels cooler because of the northern air coming in over the lakes.

And Michigan--I say this lovingly: just because Virginia is south of you, that doesn't mean it's a tropical island. I've gotten so many comments from people who think the mid-east coast is eighty degrees year-round, with no traces of snow and lots of sweltering days. Sure, the Commonwealth gets some sun, but it also knows what winter is (and spring and autumn, for that matter). People from this four-season climate don't normally have light-jacket-weather in January, either . . . so a "mild" winter for Michigan can also very easily be construed as a "mild" winter for Virginia.

Lesson 2: Reputation

Virginians think Michigan is one, big Detroit stereotype. They think everyone in the state has bars on their windows, and that the only people who live here are long-time GM employees who don't have enough sense to get out.

Michiganders think that Virginia is a foreign land that sustains itself primarily on coal mining. I should also mention that many Michiganders think that Virginia and West Virginia are the same thing.

(Related note: I met a cashier in a local Bed, Bath, & Beyond that didn't know "MD" was the abbreviation for Maryland. Did someone build a wall between the Great Lakes and East Coast regions?)


Michigan is outdoor-centric. People up here fish, hunt, boat, swim, run, farm, picnic, climb trees, whatever--all the time. Sure, there are parts of the state (many in Detroit) that have seen better days, where fire and crime have claimed the upper hand. For the most part, though, people live very active and often nature-oriented lives, and cities like Detroit are coming into an economical renaissance. Also, while I can attest to the fact that GM does play a huge role around here, it's not because its employees have no other career choice. In reality, there are more new residents moving into the area for respectable careers than many people would imagine. If that's not evidence of a prosperous economy, I don't know what is.

As for Virginia? It separated from its western counterpart a looooong time ago (West Virginia being where the coal mining is). Just like Michiganders, Virginians like to boat, hunt, fish, and whatnot--in fact, you could say it's a lot like Michigan itself (minus a lot of lakes and plus a whole bunch of mountains). There are also lots of urban areas in northern Virginia, near D.C. (an area referred to as "NOVA" by most Virginians). And yes, we're glad you've heard of Virginia Tech--but do you know anything about the University of Virginia, William and Mary, Radford University, James Madison University, or Virginia Commonwealth University? There's so much schoolin' floatin' around, it's a wonder anyone can choose. And while we do love VT, we want you to know that we're proud of all of our alma maters.

Lesson 3: You both have a peninsula.

Isn't that cool? Now you have something else to talk about--not every state can say they have a little almost-island clinging to its edge. Peninsula power, baby.

- End of Section 1 -

Now, don't you feel enlightened?

I'm sure I'll post more of these "lesson plans" in the future, but I figured I'd stop here for now and let you all add any other misconceptions that irk you to the list.

In the meantime, your homework is to go find someone who lives in a different state than you and make friends. C'mon. Let's love each other. Or at least be aware that the interstate doesn't disappear somewhere in the middle of Ohio.