In response to some discussion on various social media and even in some e-magazine articles that basically boils down to an idea that “the west lacks culture” (or at least the culture “there” is something less of those of the East) I am taking part in a blog carnival with American Punjaban Pi to show that yes – the West has culture. America is culturally quite diverse. As a Yooper transplanted to India – I know for a fact that Yooper culture is unique and that means that yes – Yoopers have culture. While we may not have been our own “civilization” for thousands of years a collective culture has been formed.
Let’s start with the basics. Definition please!
“Culture: learned and shared human patterns or models for living; day- to-day living patterns. these patterns and models pervade all aspects of human social interaction. Culture is mankind’s primary adaptive mechanism” (p. 367).
Damen, L. (1987). Culture Learning: The Fifth Dimension on the Language Classroom. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Just as there’s no “one” Indian culture – there is no one American culture. There is no one Swiss culture. To truly see a cultural identity one must understand regionalism. However there are still lumps of similarity through American culture, there is such thing as basic Indian culture and there is such thing as a common thread that bleeds through the various cultures of Russia. Basically there are some basic, though often negative, truths to generalizations. Of course, we cannot grow if we do not take some of the cultural “eek, please don’t mentions” with the cultural gold medals. We all have things we are proud of and we all have things that we wish would change. Who has a right to discuss those things? I like the response given by American Punjaban PI in her post last week.
What is a Yooper?
A Yooper is defined by someone who lives and has adapted to the long-winters, pristine summers and have come to respect the life of those living in the 15 counties that make up the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Okay, some will say a Yooper is only a Yooper if they were born and raised in the UP (Upper Michigan). Just as I am not an Indian because I live in India, being a Yooper is something I’ll hold forever as a card to those who live below the bridge (AKA trolls, a loving but derogatory term used by Yoopers to describe Michiganders who are not Yoopers).
What is Yooper Culture?
Yooper culture is defined by the hardiness to know what is needed to survive a 6 month winter, with temperatures below freezing for at least 4 months each year, if not longer.
Yooper culture has taken part of the Sisu of Finnish culture (the only locations outside of Finland where those with Finnish heritage make up a plurality of the residents) and the respect of nature from the Native Americans who have inhabited the land for at least the past 1000+ years (some say 8000 years). Of course there’s plenty of other ways Yoopers have their hardiness and love for the outdoors - but in the end these are two common threads among Yoopers.
Yooper culture includes a low population density which leads to plenty of opportunity to learn the types of trees and enjoy wild blueberries and likely know what a maple tree looks like and just what real maple syrup tastes like.
Yoopers know the regional food is a pasty. Photo use by Creative Commons – User Bobak
Yoopers understand more about riding through dirt roads than designers (in showing my true Yooperness I’d have to look up some designers to actually list some).
Yoopers probably have worn Sorels and a Stormy Kromer. Blaze Orange was a “day” to dress up on Homecoming week.
Yoopers are proud of such things as record snowfall, the largest wooden Dome in the world (Superior Dome in Marquette), wearing flannel. In regard to wearing flannel – UP schools often get the first day of deer hunting off but do not take off a day for president’s day or Martin Luther King Jr Day.
We have our own tourist trap (and band) and we lovingly make fun of the stereotypes of Yoopers. Heck (we’re more likely to say heck than hell it seems too), we take it as it comes and we are willing to fight.
We’re willing to ask for our own state even.
We eat pickled eggs and venison (yes I was a vegetarian for a good 5 years of my life in the UP — vegans in the UP even exist).
Then, my relatives who root for the Green Bay Packers won’t be known as traders – I mean really the UP is split among Wisconsin versus home-state (Detroit Lions) fans. Oh there’s no changing favorite teams there. No such thing as a fair weather fan when it comes to football.
While Yoopers may celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December like the rest of America and some parts of Europe, most Yoopers have an uncle who has a place on their back 40 (low population density allows for this) where the Christmas tree came from. We don’t need to import trees from another part of the country or buy a fake China-made tree. I even spent a few months in my teen years sorting tree saplings as my first job outside of delivering newspapers.
Culture doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Of course there are Yoopers who will say “but I’m not a Yooper” because they don’t hunt and wear the top fashion. But there’s more to culture than just what you see in a culture. It is about how you live.
Until recently a Yooper would still pick up a hitch hiker. Now crime is increasing so I wouldn’t dare say it would still happen. But there’s a hospitality in the UP that may make “Southern Hospitality” to shame. After all – a Yooper will serve you coffee after you come in from the outhouse. Not because you don’t have indoor plumbing (yes I remember being asked about outhouses when I was in high school Youth in Government and one of Governor candidates failed to include the 1st district AKA the UP on their Map!) but I say that because Yoopers are less pretentious. Just because we’re less pretentious it doesn’t mean we lack culture.
Culture is worth protecting but it will change
Culture changes slowly and is worthy of protection. But that protection doesn’t mean that others cannot also change – adapt – and take part in parts of someone else’s culture. No one owns a culture. It isn’t owned by an individual and except for a few aboriginal communities in the world no culture is its own. We give and take. Wars and bartering have caused adaption to come along – whether it was forced or not, is often rewritten through history and folklore by dominant cultures. But, we need to be able to be open to change to fully embrace life’s changes and to be able to really experience what the culture of the “other” has to offer. Instead of looking at other culture’s as taboo, forbidden, odd or unacceptable; instead, consider the parts of culture that are similar.
Note about the featured image. My daughter was not born in the UP. I cannot pass down to her Yooper culture except through exposure. Just like living in India won’t make her entirely Indian like her father. Part of a third culture – she with her brother and others like her will form their own. Honorary Yooperness has been bestowed but even after living in the UP for decades many will still feel like outsiders. But a true Yooper loves that person just the same.
I may not live there now but I’m proud of my Yooper heritage. I may live in one of the world’s largest metro areas today but one of my early memories is seeing the lights of the city and being delighted from the backseat of my grandmother’s car. That big city – Marquette. Population 18000.