Yes, I Grew Up in the Midwest – Enough With the Cornfield Jokes Already!

One of the biggest pet peeves I have is when people ask where I’m from. Okay, so maybe this doesn’t count as a pet peeve since I live in LA, a city infamous for its transplants. And as a brunette with fair skin and a small bust size, I get asked this question often. It’s the follow-up that bothers me. You see, I’m from Missouri – specifically St Louis. The response after sounds a whole lot like this:

a) “Missouri, huh? More like Misery! Am I right or am I right?” (Note: these people usually expect you to laugh after this ‘joke’.)

b) “Where’s that? Is that like a cornfield?”

No! No, no, no! This is the moment where all of a sudden my face does this remarkable thing in which I look at the person speaking in such a way that they step back a little and feel the need to say, “Hahah,  I was just kidding! Hahaha! Haha. Ha ha. Ha.”

I didn’t grow up in a cornfield. On the contrary, I lived in a city with over 350,000 residents. A city that is regularly ranked as one of the most dangerous in the country and is known for its beloved Cardinals baseball team, toasted raviolis and where the beer runs through the land like water since Anheuser-Busch is headquartered there. A city of block parties, crazy stupid humidity and one huge Arch.

Were there moments where I wished I had grown up somewhere else? Yes. Especially when I was a teenager, I didn’t like living in STL at all. I felt like, despite all of the people who lived there that I never met, I always saw the same ones over and over again. There were some moments where I feared never getting the chance to get out either because well, I mean, what if you can’t? It’s really easy to settle and stay put and not leave. Really easy. This is true of basically everywhere you live, but for me it was a legit fear that I actually lost out on sleep many a night over. A writer needs to get outside of the box – or in my case, a state that kind of was shaped like a box smack dab in the middle of the U. S. of A.

I do make the occasional visit back home every now and then, but I try to keep from going back often. I like to let at least 2 years go between visits, which I know might sound impossible and crazy when your family lives there. The thing is, STL rarely changes, and I mean that from a significant standpoint. A few new businesses might crop up here and there and then a few years ago there was some highway work done, but nothing too huge to demand my immediate return. It’s the memories that change when I go back. The last time I was home was last summer and it felt very odd. The first couple of days at home were a little like I was breaking them in, like they were shoes I was trying on. Walking along my old neighborhood and around my favorite places, I felt like I had this big butterfly net and I was trying to catch all of the old memories again. Bring them back to walk beside me. It didn’t work out like that for a reason: all these memories are meant to be good for that moment in time. They wouldn’t have fit a time like now so I made a bunch of new memories instead with my girlfriends and family, memories that now include the fact that there is a club out there called Library that serves drinks at midnight for $3.50. That’s right, three American dollars and fifty cents for an alcoholic beverage that in LA I’d be paying $9-12 for. (Note: I do not remember every new memory created during this night.)

So to all of the people making the whole “Misery!” joke, please don’t. I have never done that to Californians and I expect the same treatment back! You can’t call a place miserable unless you’ve lived there for a significant amount of time. Even in kidding, it’s not funny. And as for cornfields, well, I don’t know where that came from. There’s an insane amount of sophisticated and stylish folk that live in that city and some seriously great shopping, art and theaters. University City alone has some of the best thrift stores I’ve ever been to in my life gathered up and down one long street, where I don’t consider a visit home to be complete without checking out before I go.

But if you really, truly, don’t know where at on the map Missouri is, I’d be more than happy to fill you in on the location and a couple of must-visit places to make your destination of choice. This pet peeve is more directed at that stupid Misery joke than anything else. And a little at the cornfield dig too. Can we please just never repeat them ever again?

  • Bonnie Birdsell Williams

    Amen to this! I’m from KC and recently moved to NYC, so I hear this all the time.

  • Darny Darny

    Where else in missouri, do we get great talent? And im not talking about the hyper-obsession over mark twain,et al, ag nosium… But just true, real (present case–hottie) writers; im talking about the Lou, baby.

  • Anne-Marie Tonyan Lindsey

    I moved from Minnesota to NYC, and I heard it all the time, too. But the most common joke was about my “accent.” Apparently it was really hilarious to make fun of my occasionally midwestern values. What was actually hilarious was that New Yorkers thought *I* had the funny accent.

    • Anne-Marie Tonyan Lindsey

      HA! By “values” I meant “vowels.” Oops.

    • Dana Zetterlund

      An excellent Freudian slip! I also get crap sometimes for “bag” or “no,” but have since relearned how to say “bag” as to limit the laughing at MN’s expense. Also yesterday when I said I was from Minneapolis someone called it “the countryside.”

    • Casey Knowles

      I’m from Minnesota, too (Mpls, hollah!) and I moved to Des Moines, IA. So I’m not having the issues with people thinking I must have a rural mind-set because I’m from the Midwest. HOWEVER, I still get crap for my “accent”. Who knew 250 miles could make such a difference. “Bag” is the one that I got the most crap for, followed by anything with a strong O, like in crow. Gets very annoying, so I make sure anyone who gives me crap gets an earful about local sayings, too. Like the tendency to say “across” with a T at the end (acrosst), or my personal favorite: “That lawnmower needs fixed.” – As if “to be” isn’t in the local vocabulary.
      I guess what I’m saying is: It doesn’t matter where you go, or where you’re from, we all have things we say or pronounce that seem funny to other people, so LAY OFF Minnesota.
      /End rant. :)

  • Darci Graves

    Agreed! I also grew up in Missouri (St. Louis, Spring and then Kansas City) and eventually made it to the DC area. And I can’t tell you how many folks compliment me on “losing my accent”… I then explain to them (nicely) that we don’t all have accents, we didn’t all grow up on farms and some of us are even well-educated, liberals. Depending on the mood I also throw in that I’m on a PR mission for the state to let folks know we aren’t all Rush Limbaugh’s and John Ashcroft’s… but here is to all of us doing “fly over country” proud!

  • Amanda Haas

    I feel ya! I live in Louisville, KY which is a HUGE city and people ask me how is that new thing called electricity and light bulbs. Geez.

  • Valerie Anne Francisco

    I experience this too, but in an opposite fashion. I grew up in a Massachusetts suburban town, then I moved to rural northwestern Michigan. Now I get the jokes from my friends back home about corn fields and the like. Then my friends here pop the question about if I prefer Massachusetts more. Here’s the deal: I like the practicability of suburbia, where stores are close to home and a major city is at most a half-hour away. But I also love the beauty of nature that northwestern Michigan provides, especially a sunset at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

    So which do I like more? I like them the same!

  • Susan King

    I agree! I’m originally from Rhode Island, moved to a tiny town in Kansas in 6th grade and now get nothing but Dorthy and Toto jokes. I went to college in Columbia, MO and now live in Austin, TX. The Dorthy jokes still exist. I don’t laugh anymore ’cause it got old real fast.

  • Melissa Fielman

    I live in Indiana, so I am no stranger to the midwest jokes. Sure, my high school was surrounded by corn fields, but the actual neighborhood I lived in was not at all like the jokes people throw at me. My neighborhood is 20 minutes from Cincinnati, and now I live in Bloomington. There is much, much more to the midwest than people think. & as a matter of fact, some of the nicest people I know live on farms… so those jokesters can just shut their mouths. (:

  • Careth Tash

    I love to see the STL represented here! My husband and I just moved to Chicago from there, and while the public transit is much different (read: better) and the shopping is more abundant, it’s not that different. I miss the toasted ravioli! Maybe some day we’ll make it back there, it’s a good place to raise a family. Home is home, even when you live somewhere else.

  • Eileen Hogan

    I have moments where I Google how long of a drive it is to St. Louis and whether or not I could make it there and back in a weekend just because I get mad cravings for Cyrano’s (in Webster Groves) bourbon bread pudding.

  • Julie Wallace

    I found this interesting as I grew up right outside STL. In fact, I played in cornfields, creeks, and lakes often but do NOT confuse me with someone who lived in the country as I did not. I’ve never in my almost 30 years had any of these Midwest jokes or my ‘accent’ brought to my attention. In fact I generally speak with no accent ( it’s called standard process). But I did watch a recent video on YouTube about STL and heard an accent I never heard in my 20 plus years living there (worked downtown, college downtown,etc.) but news to me some in STL have an accent ( but you’ll never hear me say I-sixty-far. I still appreciate this article but it really surprised me.

  • Ashley Miller

    hahaha I loved this. Thank you. I remember moving to AZ from NE in high school and everyone asking: can you walk on rocks barefoot? If your family involved in the KKK? Do you know how to tip cows? – All of which I answered NO. However, my first job at 13 was detassling corn…

  • Stephanie Weir

    I never thought the St. Louis accent was real until someone pointed out that when I say “Star Wars”, it rhymes. I love this post; I dated a guy from Connecticut and I couldn’t believe the condescending things people would say to me. The thing I love the most about St. Louis is that every neighborhood feels so different, at least when you get closer to the city. Heather, come down to Washington Avenue next time you’re here! People actually live downtown again, and we love it!

  • Chelsie Jordan

    lol people are silly. I think it’s Nebraska that is known for it’s corn anyway. I live in Texas, and people think I ride a horse to school, wear a big cowboy hat with boots, and talk with an annoying country accent. So I totally understand what you’re talking about, you think eventually you’d get used to it, but you never do, it’s always just as annoying as the first time that you heard it.

  • Kelsey McGinnis

    HAHA love this! I am from Oklahoma City, OK and I get asked all the time if I rode horses everywhere growing up!

  • Danielle Smith

    I’m from Minneapolis and get this shit ALL THE TIME (I live in Vegas now and have lived in several other cities, including LA). Everyone thinks Minnesota is one big cornfield when, really, they don’t understand that it’s actually a really cultured place to live with really educated people, a great culinary scene, an accomplished art and theater community and some of the biggest businesses are housed there. I guess I have a bit of hometown pride… 😉

  • Carolyn J. Lamson

    I am from Lincoln, NE (pop. over 250,000), and while it’s true that there are LOTS of farms in NE, there are also plenty of people (most of the population, in fact) who do not live in rural areas.

    However, I honestly believe that this goes deeper. It’s not just the assumption that Midwesterners live on farms and ride horses, etc., it’s the underlying implication that that would be a BAD thing that really gets to me. Like I said, I grew up in the city, but so what if I hadn’t? Would I be somehow less qualified, intelligent, or capable if I had grown up in the panhandle, rather than the state capitol? Would I be less worthy of respect and consideration?

    I don’t think so.

  • Emily A. Growney

    Sometimes I wonder if NYers and CA people think that the 6 hour plane ride (from NY to LA and v.v.) is just the plane flying in circles over some blank void a couple of times before landing. I’m from MO and went to college in DC and that’s how most people reacted. “Where’s Missouri?” “It’s in the middle” “Ohhh, you mean by Texas?” “…Sure”

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