Delayed Culture Shock

my denial and/or blissful ignorance of our drinking culture stopped when I saw the stats

Kinzy Janssen, illustrated by Holly Zimmerman

Talk smack to Wisconsin, and I’ll smack that talk right back. Call it a boring state; I’ll call you boring. Say its winter is unbearable; I’ll glare and say, “then you’ve never curled.” Insult our cows, and my heart will ooze pure regional rage. My responses are reflexes: headlong and not necessarily the most reasonable. But my behavior is also natural – I’m only reflecting what scholars have already documented.[1] I wouldn’t want their theories to go to waste …

So when outsiders started casually using the phrase, “Wisconsin’s drinking culture,” it grated on me. I had a hazy grasp of our statewide love of beer, but how could I prove that it was deeper or more widespread than other states? Maybe we’re just more vocal about it. Maybe it’s more about pride for historic breweries. Maybe we harbor a lot of demographic-data-skewing college students. In any case, were state boundaries really that culturally definitive?

Nope, I wasn’t ready to confirm the existence of a distinct “drinking culture,” even when presented with first-hand accounts of Wisconsin “culture shock.” A customer at a café told me that, upon moving here from Washington, he found quart bottles of beer emblazoned with the words, FAMILY SIZE. Now a seasoned resident of the state, he laughed and shook his head resignedly as if to say, “That’s Wisconsin for you.”

Temporarily rattled, I dismissed it as an outdated story or an exaggeration. I was also not looking up any statistics.

At least until last Monday. I typed three words into the Google search box – “drinking culture in” and froze. The auto complete function suggested the following places, in this order: America, China, Wisconsin, Australia, Japan, Korea, Ireland, England, Europe, Russia.

Apparently, we are the cultural equivalent of a sovereign nation when it comes to drinking. We also require separate analysis from the nation we inhabit.


[1] “Midwesterners… have constructed much of their identity in reaction to ridicule from the outside. Defensiveness … has been a long standing trait.” – The American Midwest: Essays on Regional History