If you really want to understand America—the core of America—you need to at least visit the Midwest. Despite what you may think, not all of the Midwest states are the same. You’ll find blue states and red states, religious folks and non-religious ones too. You’ll find lots of delicious food— and you’ll have to watch your waistline. And all of that is just the beginning.
If you’re moving to the Midwest, you may be in for culture shock, especially if you’ve lived on either coast. Let’s explore the American heartland in greater detail.
Extremes in Weather
The Midwestern states have all four seasons. Drive through a forested area in Illinois, Indiana, or Ohio in the fall and you’ll see miles of trees with colorful, browning leaves. That same forest in the winter will be covered in fluffy white snow, will show new buds in spring, and will be in full bloom come summer.
When we say “extreme,” though, we mean it. Summers get hot and extremely humid. When you head out on a summer day, particularly in paved city, you’ll want to go quickly from your air conditioned car to an air conditioned building. Likewise, you’ll need air conditioning and possibly a dehumidifier or two in your home. Many houses have basements, and they’ll need dehumidifiers as well.
Winters get cold and snowy. Yes, some of the states in the northeast tend to have colder and more extreme winter weather, but the Midwest does get frigid and dry. When moving to the Midwest, you’ll want to pack thick jackets and socks, mittens, thermal underwear and winter boots.
Your kids will find snow days a perk of living through a Midwestern winter. Sometimes the snow gets so bad that the schools close for the day. Of course, those days have to be made up later, but the school districts often plan this into their schedules.
It will take a little time to get used to driving in snowy weather, if you’re not used to it already. However, be assured that in most areas, the city and town governments salt the streets early in the morning to keep the roads mostly free of snow and ice.
On the subject of driving, due to the weather shifts, many roads will have potholes. There’s a joke that goes something like, “The Midwest has two real season: road destruction season and road construction season.” So, in the non-snowy months, expect a lot of repaving to be going on, particularly on major roads.
Much of the Midwest is flat. Yes, there are hills, and a few mountains, but when you drive between cities and towns, you’ll find a lot of flat, seemingly empty space. You will see many farms, and so very much corn. Because of this, driving can be pretty dull. Put on an audio book or listen to your favorite music.
Religion is Pervasive
While it’s true that not everyone is religious—particularly in the cities—most of the people you’ll meet belong to one denomination of Christianity or another.
Expect to see religious billboards. For those of us from coastal states, this can seem weird, as we’re used to billboards selling something. In the Midwest, many churches use them as a means to spread their message.
And yes, you’ll see churches everywhere. So, if you belong to one denomination of Christianity or another, you will likely be able to find the right congregation for you.
People are Especially Friendly
I lived in the Midwest—specifically in a small town in Indiana, and then in Indianapolis—for about a year and a half. The people there are really friendly. It may sound like a cliché, but even in the city, life has a slower pace than in other areas of the country, and many people are more laid-back. Until you know someone well, though, try not to get into discussions of politics or religion. Many people feel strongly about their beliefs.
Everyone Knows Your Business
This applies to small towns rather than cities. While people in Midwestern cities also tend to be friendly, in small towns, people are going to know a lot about you, and they are going to ask a lot of questions.
However, they also come together to help community members in need. If someone in your family is particularly sick, perhaps fighting a battle with cancer, you can expect your neighbors to bring food, to visit, and to help out, to take some of the burden off you.
At restaurants, your servers will know what you usually get. At the barber, they’ll know how to cut your hair. That kind of familiarity can be a real comfort.
Housing is Cheap
Can’t afford that four bedroom house in California or New York? Move to the Midwest and you might be able to! Housing prices, including sales and rental prices, are cheap, even in nicer areas. You’ll find new developments, where you can be the first to own a particular house, and can get in for prices so low they’ll shock you.
In addition, there’s actual room between homes. In so many other areas, if you have the TV on loud enough for you to enjoy it, it’s too loud for the neighbors. That’s not as likely in the Midwest, where houses tend to have a good fifteen to twenty feet separating them.
You know those car commercials where a solitary sedan is zooming down an empty, country road? Those must be filmed somewhere in the Midwest.
Now, city roads, and the highways around and leading to cities, can be busy. Indianapolis in particular is an interesting case, as its major roadway circles the city and people drive on it as if they’re in the Indianapolis 500. But get out there between pockets of civilization and the roads tend to have very little traffic.
Plus, the speed limit on rural interstate roads, of which you’ll find quite a few, is 70 mph. Sammy, you don’t have to drive 55.
Get Used to Shopping at Walmart
Many small Midwestern towns have one place to get everything, and it’s Walmart. The upside is that you can go there to get all your groceries and just about anything else you need. Prices are low and shopping is easy. The downside is that there just aren’t as many mom and pop shops as there used to be.
There Are Basements for a Reason
It is nice having a house with a good basement, and many people in the Midwest use their basements for more than just storage. They’ll install air conditioning to keep the basement comfortable, and use it as a game room, an entertainment room, or an office.
However, one major reason to get a house with a basement is tornadoes. The Midwest can get some fierce winds that will knock the siding off your home, and those winds can turn into spinning vortexes. When you hear a tornado siren, get down to your basement.
Food Prices are Lower
It’s not just housing that’s cheap in the Midwest. Food tends to be cheaper as well (though a lot of food comes in from California, and that can be more expensive). Gas is also cheaper than in most parts of the country, as are utilities.
Of course, many consumer items are the same price as anywhere else, including appliances, books, and so on.
Those Blue Laws
There are some weird laws still on the books, especially concerning alcohol. A major one you may encounter prevents businesses from selling alcohol on Sundays.
There are more things to get used to in the Midwest than we could cover in this article, but with these in mind, you’ll avoid much of the culture shock. Keep in mind the most important things here: friendly people and a low cost of living. Even with its inconveniences, the heartland can be a great place to live.