Saturday, December 9, 2023

10 Michigan things observed by a non-Michigander

August 5, 2019

Michiganders are proudly mid-western but have their own cultural quirks that set them apart from the rest of the region. 

Living in Michigan while not being from Michigan isn’t a complete culture shock, but there are plenty of quirks to observe and make note of.

1. Michigan lefts

They’re just U-turns. But anyone who’s driving should be aware that they are mandatory. They’re especially prominent on Michigan Avenue, where that is the only mechanism for turning left. 

2. Better Made chips

Originally founded in 1930 by Detroiters Peter Cipriano and Cross Moceri, Better Made chips are in 23,048 stores with 124 flavors and products, including chips, popcorn and pork rinds. 

These chips are deeply cherished snacks all over the state. Demand even exists from Michiganders who leave the state and go elsewhere. The company now has a presence in 14 other states outside of Michigan.

3. Saying you’re from Detroit when you’re an hour away from Detroit.

Many Michiganders are guilty of this, but it isn’t their fault. 

The Federal Office of Management and Budget defines metro Detroit as the six counties of Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne, encompassing 3,889 square miles. The 2010 census documented a population of about 4.3 million people, nearly half of the state’s total population. 

Lapeer, Michigan, about an hour and a half in driving distance from Detroit, is still considered as the Metro Detroit area.

4. Faygo

In 1907, Russian immigrants Ben and Perry Feigenson started blending soda flavors to create what is known today as Faygo. Mixing this Detroit classic up with Fanta will get you laughed out of any room in the state of Michigan.

There are over 50 flavors of Faygo, and the company has a rich history. 

Joe Grimm, a Michigan State journalism professor, published a book detailing the company’s background and the people involved.

Another thing to keep in mind is that people in Michigan call it pop, not soda.

5. Vernors

Michiganders truly cherish their soft drinks. Detroit pharmacist James Vernor left for the Civil War and returned to create the country’s oldest surviving ginger ale brand in 1866. 

The company was in his family’s name for a century before it was sold in 1966. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group now owns this hot Michigan commodity.   

The drink also has a purpose beyond the drink itself. Vernors is popular for baking and stomach relief, though medical benefits have not been scientifically verified.  

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The company said it sold 7 million cases of Vernors in 2015, with many of those sales in Michigan. Yet, some Michiganders take their love for the drink one step further, with a collector’s club seeking to own the thousands of available Vernors merchandise. 

6. Little Caesars, Dominos and Detroit style pizza

With over 5,000 locations, Little Caesars is the third-largest pizza company in the United States. But for Michiganders, it is a proud state staple. The first location opened in Garden City, Michigan in 1959.

In 1998, the company filled what was then the largest pizza order with 13,386 pizzas. Papa John’s broke that record in 2006 with 13,500.

The company said in 2015 that it wants everyone to eat Detroit style pizza, which has a rectangular, deep-dish crust, crispy edges and a chewy texture.

Domino’s, recently crowned the largest pizza company in terms of global sales, also had its start in the state. The company was founded in Ypsilanti in 1960 and is now headquartered in Ann Arbor. 

7. The hand thing

The first time someone from Michigan uses their palm to locate their hometown, it can be perplexing and perceived as an individual quirk.

The next 10 times this happens, it becomes clear they all do it. 

Here is a rough estimate of the Michigan hand map, with a Michigan map outline to assist newcomers.  


8. The concept of ‘up North’

Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit are the main urban hubs of the state, which are all in the southern portion. Among Michiganders, what constitutes “traveling up north” is far from a consensus. 

Here are the most common answers of what “up north” means, using the Michigander-approved map once more.

The baseline definition is north of Grand Rapids and Flint, but many Michiganders have a higher threshold for up north.

Next is north of Saginaw: the Zilwaukee Bridge, opened in 1987 about 40 miles north of Flint, is considered a gateway between northern and southern Michigan.

North of Cadillac or “the thumb”: West Branch is a popular marker because it’s a rest stop on highway I-75, and any camping site around will be free of both traffic and light pollution. 

The Upper Peninsula: this is what hardcore, uncompromising Michigan travelers consider to be up north, and geographically speaking they could be right, but people who live near the southern edge still believe a lower boundary is necessary.

9. Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland

It is Christmas 361 days of the year in the town of Frankenmuth, Michigan, with a store the size of eight Olympic swimming pools. 

Founder Wally Bronner was a teenager when he first opened up the niche marketplace in 1945. Up until his death in 2008, he persistently promoted a blend of the religious meaning of the holiday with commercialization.

The store carries over 50,000 items with 8,000 ornament styles, of which 1,500 can be personalized, according to the store’s media relations representative. The store has a map for customers to navigate the experience that is Bronner’s. 

10. Apples

Michigan is the third-largest state producer of apples in the country, following Washington and New York, and it’s no secret that apples have blended in with Michigan culture. 

Apples, applesauce, caramel apples and, especially, apple cider are all popular in Michigan. Visiting apple orchards in the fall to go apple-picking is a necessary childhood experience for any Michigander. 

There are over 11.3 million apple trees covering 35,500 acres on 825 family-run farms, according to the Michigan Apples Committee

The committee lists 16 different varieties of apples grown in the state, and MLive compiled a list of 83 fan-favorite orchards across the state in 2018.


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