Chicago neighborhood by cojones 2010

We’re having another cold, snowy day in Chicago. Although, today and last night the snow has been very light, only accumulating about a half inch, last night it was blowing around like a blizzard… and I loved it! First of all, we needed a nice, clean white blanket to cover the dirty, partially melted January snow that was scattered about giving everything a dingy appearance. Secondly, there is just something invigorating about braving the wind and snow as it blows and bites into your face and forces you to walk backward! Unlike many in Chicago, I will admit that I love this stuff. But, all you have to do is look at the smiles on the faces of the people here when we get a real blizzard to know that deep down, Chicago people thrive on our harsh winter storms. We bundle up properly with no pretense of fashion, loudly stamp the snow off our boots upon entering the local coffee shop to pick up the morning cup, and proceed to moan and complain about the weather, all the while with twinkling eyes – though that could be due to the cold – and an energy you don’t see during the dog days of summer.

I love Chicago! This is the place of my birth and the city I have lived in, or next to, my entire life. Chicago is the place where both my parents were born and lived all their lives, as well as, the parents of the majority of my childhood friends. South-siders, most of them. The people here are friendly to the point of desensitizing me to the legendary, yet more subtle, friendliness of the people of Ireland. When I returned to Chicago after living a year in Ireland, folks often asked me, “So are the people there as friendly as I’ve always heard they are?” And I had to say… they’re nice, and they’re friendly enough, but nothing like the people of Chicago. The friendliness of the people of Ireland is more reserved. Ready with a smile and an interested response to anything you have to say to them, they usually wait for a person to talk to them first. The closest anyone would come to asking me where I was from after hearing my accent would be the statement, “So are you here on holiday?” But that wouldn’t be the case in Chicago. We are much more direct, in fact, I’m sure more than once my husband’s accent has been met with, “Are you from Ireland? How long have you been here? Why did you decide to move here? Do you still have family back in Ireland? My great-grandmother came from Tipperary! Do you know anyone by the name of “O’Reilly” in Dublin? He worked with me here in Chicago one summer. I think it’s Michael O’Reilly. Oh, is Dublin pretty big? I didn’t know that. So how do you like Chicago? How is it different from Ireland? Is Ireland as green as they say it is? I’ll bet you don’t get snow like this in Ireland!” And all this would be said with an open innocence and genuine curiosity that could never be mistaken for pushy or nosey, except by the most cynical person.

The first time I realized that Chicago people are different, was during my first trip to Toronto. I was waiting in line at a grocery store check out counter, and like any Chicagoan, I struck up a conversation with the person behind me. Well, attempted to anyway, as the person didn’t seem to be in the mood to talk and apparently did not find my observations about the great selection of items available in Canadian super markets, very interesting. I chalked it up to that particular person being a bit unfriendly, or maybe just having a bad day, until I then directed my casual chit chat to the woman working at the cash register and received little more than a polite smile and a slightly befuddled stare. It was then that I realized that the open, friendliness that I have taken for granted my whole life just might be specific to Chicago. After many subsequent trips to Canada and after meeting a lot of people over the years who have moved to Chicago from other states and cities, by the time I made my first trip to Ireland I was aware that Chicago people are unusually open and friendly. But, I’ll admit, I was surprised to find out that our friendliness even rivals that of ‘the land of a thousand welcomes’!

Coffee shop troll that I am, it’s no surprise that I came up with the perfect example of the difference between the friendliness of the Irish and the friendliness of Chicagoans, in the context of coffee shop experiences. If I was sitting in an empty coffee shop in Dublin and another person walked in alone, nine times out of ten, in spite of the room full of empty tables, the Irish person would sit either at the table directly next to me, or at most, one table over. They would likely sit there quietly, but there would usually be a sense that they would welcome a bit of friendly conversation if I were to initiate it. If I remained silent, they would often find a pretense to say something… like ask if the newspaper sitting on the bench between us was mine before they picked it up to read, and then use my accent as the perfect start to a conversation, most likely asking if I was on holiday. Now, move this situation to a coffee shop in Chicago. If I am sitting in an empty coffee shop in Chicago and another person walks in, nine times out of ten that person will find a table that is a ‘respectable’ distance away from me, very likely across the room, as we like our physical space and will give it to others as well. However, shortly after getting settled in their seat if not before, that person, if he or she is a true Chicagoan and not a life-long suburbanite, will catch my eye and begin a conversation as though I were a long time next door neighbor they just happened to run into. And if we’re lucky enough to have wandered into the shop out of a good Chicago blizzard… you can bet the conversation will be an enthusiastic rant about the weather!

Walking Across the Chicago River - HuffPo