Growing up in rural Wisconsin, we had certain words, expressions, and traditions that I just assumed every American shared in.
I was wrong.
When I met Iwanski (who grew up in Chicago), I began discovering these Wisconsin “oddities.” For example:
--In Wisconsin, the word “bag” (and words like it—i.e. flag, tag, and gag) is pronounced “bayg.” I learned from Iwanski that this is actually an incorrect pronunciation! Apparently the correct way to pronounce it is in a similar way to the word “bad”—just substitute the “d” for a “g.” Who knew?
Iwanski had a hard time adjusting to the unique Wisconsin accent when he attended college in Wisconsin. Once, when a store clerk asked him if he wanted a “bayg” for his purchase, he got momentarily confused. He thought, “No, I don’t wanna BEG for it, I would rather PAY for it.”
--In the area of Wisconsin I grew up in (not sure if this is true everywhere in Wisconsin), we refer to sloppy joes as “hot tamales.” (Although my sister calls them “Spanish hamburger.” So there’s that.)
This really threw Iwanski for a loop. When he was going to meet my parents for the first time, I told him that my Mom was making hot tamales. “Wow!” he thought. “Something ethnic!” Of course, when he got there and saw sloppy joes, he was pretty surprised. That’s when he realized that “hot tamales” were actually sloppy joes. (No, I have no idea why we call them hot tamales. It’s a true Wisconsin mystery.)
--There is also a unique Wisconsin tradition surrounding birthday candles. (Again, I’m not sure if this is just in the area where I grew up—all I know is that this is not a tradition in Illinois.) In my family, whenever the birthday girl or boy blows out the candles on the birthday cake, and some candles remain lit, the number of candles that remain lit are the number of boyfriends or girlfriends she or he supposedly has. (Yeah, I know, it does seem like a pretty silly tradition. I’m realizing that as I’m writing this.)
So when I attended my first birthday party with Iwanski’s family and his sister blew out all but two candles, I said, “Oh, you have two boyfriends!” They all looked at me like I had grown a second head. “What?” his sister asked. Then I had to explain/apologize about yet another weird Wisconsin tradition.
So there you have it. While I was growing up, I never realized how weird all of these things were. Frequent trips to the local cheese factory and the Dump, saying the word “bayg,” and “hot tamales” for sloppy joes, and equating the number of lit birthday candles with the number of boyfriends, all seemed completely normal to me.
Now they just seem funny.