Letters to My Kids

Regional Dialects

Well, Child, I hope you enjoy this little expository on the states in which I’ve resided. I’ve wanted to write this post for at least a year and finally got around to doing it. I want you to remember to be humble when you go to your friend’s house down the street or when you move to the college a few states away or when you get married and move to Mississippi (please don’t!). All the things we do in our family that seem so obvious and why-in-the-world-would-you-do-it-any-other-way simply are our way. But maybe you’ll learn a better way somewhere else. Explore!


I’ve lived in Ohio for 18 years.

I’ve lived in Michigan for 7 years.

I’ve lived in New York for almost 3 years.

What I’ve learned: Everyone who’s lived in any town or state all their lives thinks theirs is the only way of doing things. Anything different is completely foreign and is met with a laugh or rolled eyes or a lecture on the ways things are done around these parts.

At this point, I just find it incredibly entertaining. I love that I’ve gained a little perspective and now know what it feels like to be an outsider. I “mispronounce” words. I don’t know the local terms for roads and intersections (like “Five Corners” or “The Avenue”). I have had no idea how to get there because I just moved to this town/state/street three months ago.

For the sake of remembering (and a little because I’d love for all the locals to have an outsider’s perspective), here is a list of completely unique things that each town thinks is totally normal, but it’s totally not (if you’re not from around here.)


Southern Michigan

Chapel Rd = chape *uhl road (Why do we go to chap*uhl but we drive down chape*uhl?)

The U-P = Upper Peninsula (that part of Michigan that’s connected to Wisconsin so most foreigners don’t even realize it’s Michigan.)

Michigan = University of Michigan

State = Michigan State University

Big Mac = The Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Island = pronounced “Mack*ih*Naw.” A gorgeous island off of Northern Michigan where only bicycles are allowed (no vehicles) and where the best fudge is made.

Rock & Rye = Faygo brand red creme soda-like pop (Kevin is oddly obsessed with the stuff, especially since you can’t buy it anywhere except in Michigan. Other states sell Faygo, just not Rock & Rye.)

Pop = Soda

Meijer = Mye*er (grocery store/super store loved more than Walmart)

Pasties = Paah*steez (kind of like a “Hot Pocket” or a beef and root veggie hand pie)

Paczki = Poonch*skis (a Russian doughnut eaten en masse on “Fat Tuesday” before Lent; also found in WNY)

The MEAP = Michigan’s standardized test; Michigan Educational Assessment Program. People get really fired up about this topic.

Middle School = Grades 6-8 (in my town we had Junior High for 7th and 8th graders.)


Western New York

North Chili, New York = North CHI*LIE (wait, WHAT now?! How is that not Chih*Li…just like the food we eat?)

Hots (Red Hots or White Hots) = Hot Dogs (Red Hots and White Hots are only manufactured in the Rochester area)

Soda = Pop

Sneakers = tennis shoes, running shoes (I get really strange looks when I say, “Oh, I like your tennis shoes” and people say, “these aren’t for tennis, they’re basketball shoes.” Or if I say something about my tennis shoes they ask, “Oh, are you planning to play tennis today?”)

Wegmans = what? you don’t shop at Wegman’s, Melanie??! But they have the best food in the world!!

Using the article “The” in front of so many things. For example: The Ridge (Ridge Road/Rt. 104), The 90 (Interstate 90), The 390 (I-390), The Pinterest.

Garbage Plates = a restaurant menu item originating at Nick Tahou’s in Rochester. (A “Plate” consists of a burger topped with French fries and macaroni salad, doused in hot sauce and added grease.) I will never in my life partake of this atrocity.

Beef on Weck = basically deli roast beef on a thick bun (or apparently a specific type of roll referred to as “weck.” The first summer in Albion we were invited to a grad party that had “beef on weck” in the invitation. I wasn’t sure if this was some sort of formal dinner we should dress up for. Nope, just sandwiches.)

Chicken Barbecue = not to be confused with barbecue chicken, this meal consists of large pieces of chicken that have been dried rubbed and smoked (quite delicious actually) and is traditionally advertised at least 10 times a year as fundraisers for various clubs or events. Side dishes always include coleslaw, corn on the cob, a roll, and dessert, all for $10. Tickets can be pre-ordered or purchased at the door. Yes, this is a big deal. I’ve eaten two chicken barbecues in 3 years. Obviously I’m not a native.

Sweet Sauce = a sweet marinara sauce used on pizzas, apparently the restaurants literally dump in a 5 pound bag of sugar. Ok….

Tim Hortons = are everywhere.

Party Begins at 1pm, Food served at 2pm. = I have yet to go to a party, even a completely relaxed type of a party, where the food was out and ready to be eaten as soon as guests began arriving. Everyone insists upon waiting to eat. For what, I’m not sure. I prefer using food as an ice-breaker. Plus, food getting cold is one of my biggest pet peeves. If it’s not a formal dinner, I say break open the chips and dip!

Regents (aka THE Regents) = New York’s standardized tests for high school students, taken the last week of school (which, by the by is the THIRD week in June. holy smokes.) Certain tests much be passed to graduate. If you achieve high enough scores on so many tests, you get a Regents Diploma. A big deal. But only if you live in New York. Tell anyone in any other state that you have a Regents Diploma and I hate to say they won’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

February Break =  a week-long school vacation randomly in the middle of February. It feels like you just get back from Christmas and you’re on break again.

Rock Salt = this is used in Michigan and Ohio as well, but I swear that New York has a corner on the market. Never in my life have I seen so much salt on the roads all winter. Just a few flakes falling? BAM! road crews are salting.

Modified Sports = Middle School athletics, super short seasons and mostly co-ed.

Young Teens and Senior Teens = Middle School and High School youth


Northeast Ohio

Pop = Soda

Tennis Shoes  = sneakers

Pierre’s Ice Cream = yes, it’s a real company, located in Cleveland. I grew up on this stuff and no, I’m not confusing it with Perry’s.

Pizzelles = Italian waffle cookies (I grew up in a heavily Italian populated town and these are in all of the supermarkets.)

DQ = Dairy Queen. I had three in my hometown. Michigan and New York are totally missing out.

Sausage and Peppers = again the Italian town triumphs, resulting in this stupendous dish at every party. Totally awesome. I had it at my wedding reception.

I apparently have an accent because I pronounce my Os long. I don’t know if this an Ohio thing or just a Melanie thing, but I like it.

Dollar =  Dohll*er (whereas in NY and sometimes in MI it is pronounce Dawl*er)

College = Cuhl *idge (NY/MI = Cawl*idge)



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