Colloquialisms and Small-Scale Culture Shock

My husband and I have lived in southwest Missouri for about seven and a half years. We moved from central Missouri, a distance of about 200 miles. Seven and a half years seems like a decently long time, and 200 miles is really not that far (it’s not even half of how far the Proclaimers would walk), but there are still things that I can’t get used to. It seems strange to me that I should be experiencing what can really only be described as culture shock. It’s especially confusing because I went to college in Springfield, which is also in southwest Missouri, but even that did not feel as foreign as so many things do here.

Some of these differences are large. What I would call “normal” grocery stores are few and far between here. By “normal,” I mean grocery stores that are not superstores, but which have specific, manned departments, provide multiple brand and style options, and a checkout counter with a conveyor belt and bagging area. I can hear you thinking, “What other kind of grocery store is there?” so I’ll elaborate.

We have more Wal-Marts than I ever thought possible, but I’m not counting those because supercenters have automotive and electronics and clothing departments, which make them not just grocery stores, and the neighborhood markets are still part of the evil Wal-Mart organization. I refuse to shop at Wal-Mart for a variety of reasons, the biggest of which is even the parking lot stresses me the hell out. There are other ethics reasons, but if I’m honest, I just hate it.

We have Aldi, which is where I do most of my shopping, but it’s not a “normal” grocery store because there isn’t really brand variety to speak of, and while almost all of the Aldi brand items are equal to or better than name brands, not all of them are, and there are basic ingredients that I can’t get at Aldi ever, like shallots. Shallots aren’t exotic. Or plain popcorn kernels, which are only available seasonally. When exactly is popcorn season? Almost everyone I know eats popcorn year round. Aldi also doesn’t really have actual departments, like a bakery or a deli where someone can help you. I know there are reasons, and I know it’s different in some big cities or in Germany, but not here. So Aldi is also not a “normal” grocery store.

We used to have a couple of Price Cutters but they were ridiculously expensive for sub-par items, and they’ve all gone away anyway. We have a Harp’s, which is pretty decent, but even Harp’s doesn’t have a “bagging area” for the cashier. Actually, they have a bagging area for the cashier but not for a separate bagger. So when I take my reusable bags, you can see the poor cashier die a little inside trying to find a way to use my bags in the limited space provided and I can’t move to the end of the checking area and offer to bag it myself because there isn’t that space at the end like a normal grocery store has.

We don’t have Schnuck’s, or Hy-Vee, or Publix, or an IGA. Normal grocery stores.

So am I crazy? Or just too picky? The bagger set up thing is weird right? I’m fairly sure even the grocery store I used when I was in London had a normal checkout counter where the bags went down to the end for the customer to pick up or help bag. It moves too fast to see, but even the opening sequence of The Simpsons seems to have a normal checkout lane, even if they do mistakenly scan and bag babies.

There are also linguistic anomalies that still throw me off, and yes, I know there have been literal books written on the subject of regional differences in use of certain terms. But again, I’m confounded by some of the differences in speech when the geographical difference is so relatively small.

Kalen and I agreed that it’s a pancake breakfast. But I’ve seen multiple organizations here unapologetically host pancake feeds. “Pancake feed” puts me in mind of a trough of corn slopped in front of pigs. I try not to be high and mighty, but my dignity doesn’t really want to allow me to eat at a “feed,” however worthy the cause. Even Michael Scott, who is not the most sensitive person didn’t call it a “pancake feed” and he made big dumb rectangular pancakes.

I actually went back and watched that episode to make sure I wasn’t peddling lies (Michael Scott Paper Company hosts a “pancake luncheon”), and I’m going to take a bit of a detour here to point out that even though I’m not working in an office, or indeed an actual place of employment at all, anymore, I still found some uncomfortable truth in that episode (Season 5, Episode 21 “Michael Scott Paper Company”), because Michael stormed out of DunderMifflin to do his own thing. Pam asks “What do we do now?” and Michael replies “We wait and hope that people show up,” which feels too much like what I’m doing with this blog and the Facebook page, because I don’t want to bother people by constantly self-promoting, but when I don’t post anything, my statistics definitely reflect it. I had ZERO views Sunday, the first since I launched my page. So if you like this, or at least like me, please like, comment, and share. This might never be anything, but it’s more fun when you participate.

Another colloquialism that makes my face involuntarily cringe is the name of a popular outdoor game. I can see some of you snickering because you know what I’m going to say, and you know I’m right. Maybe it was the school setting where I learned of this game, but I always knew it as “Bean Bag Toss.” I’ll admit that’s a little cumbersome. But I’d rather say “bean bag toss” than brazenly brag about my cornhole skills. And I know this one is more common. (I had “widespread” there but didn’t really like the proximity of the terms “widespread” and “cornhole.” Oh, shit, I just made it worse!)

I’ve also seen a concerning number of backwards ampersands (&) on marquis signs, and I don’t think that’s a colloquialism or cultural difference. I think it’s just ignorance and accident, maybe a lack of attention to detail. Like that test with all the fancy lowercase g’s asking which one is right, but almost no one knows because we don’t write them the same way they’re printed, or when you see a sign where they’ve definitely used an upside down W as an M, and you aren’t sure if they were out of M’s or maybe they just didn’t see that the legs on an M are parallel.

Weigh in. What’s the proper name for selling large quantities of pancakes? What’s that backyard game called? Is there such a thing as a normal grocery store or am I projecting my biases too broadly? Have you moved and discovered strange and unexpected customs that leave you uncomfortable years later? I want to hear from you!

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