Every state had a few quirks, some regional affectations, things that make perfect sense to its residents, but cause visitors to scratch their heads. Here are a few things about Michigan that leave out-of-staters guessing.
Mackinac vs. Mackinaw – If you want to make a Michigander cringe, tell them you enjoyed your visit to Mack-i-nack Island. The correct pronunciation of the island’s name is Mack-i-naw, just like Mackinaw City, even though it’s spelled differently. This is because the British and the French couldn’t agree on how to spell the name derived from a Native American word that means turtle. While those countries were busy screwing up geographical names, the Americans won the Revolutionary War, and the rest is history.
Coney Islands – You’ll be disappointed if you were expecting replicas of the seaside amusement park in New York City. In Michigan, a Coney Island is a hot dog, topped with meat-sauce, mustard and chopped onions. It’s one of Michigan’s most famous regional foods. You’ll find the best ones in Detroit, Flint, Jackson and Kalamazoo. Greek immigrants are credited with creating Coney Islands in the early 20th century. No one knows for sure how a hot dog in Michigan came to bear the name of an island in New York.
Boston Cooler – This is another regional food that has nothing to do with the location in its moniker. A Boston Cooler is an ice cream float made with vanilla ice cream and Vernor’s Ginger Ale, a Michigan-made product. The sweet, creamy treat was possibly named after the street it originated on in Detroit, but no one really knows. We do know that no one from Boston knows what a Boston Cooler is, unless they’ve been to Michigan.
Northern Michigan – If you think Northern Michigan is the northernmost part of Michigan, you’re wrong. It’s the northernmost part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. There’s an entire Upper Peninsula north of there that’s 16, 452 square miles. In the 1830s, before Michigan became a state, the U.P. belonged to Wisconsin. To avoid a war, the U.S. government gave the U.P. to Michigan as a consolation prize after it took Toledo away and give it to Ohio. Even after almost 200 years, the designation of Northern Michigan for the upper Lower Peninsula still sticks. Probably because it’s a mouthful to say upper Lower Peninsula.
Michigan and Michigan State – Michigan has 15 public universities. The University of Michigan and Michigan State University are probably the most well-known of those. They also have a huge rivalry with passionate fans on both sides. When someone says they’re rooting for Michigan, they always mean The U of M, never Michigan State. When we mean Michigan State, we say Michigan State or sometimes just State. You need to know this in order to protect your own personal safety during football season. Saying the wrong name in the wrong place could be detrimental to your health.
Canada is south of Michigan – Right now you’re picturing a map of North America in your head, and you’re pretty sure Canada is north of Michigan. And it is. Well, most of it anyway. There’s actually a small portion of Canada that dips down along Lake Erie. There’s a border crossing there at Windsor, Ontario where you drive south from Detroit to enter Canada. There you go! Mind. Blown.
Lake Effect Snow – The Great Lakes are so big they create their own weather. Which means there can be a blizzard going on near the shoreline, meanwhile a few miles down the road it’s a bright, sunny day. It all has to do with which direction the wind blows and how hard. This type of snow also comes and goes, so it can be a whiteout where you are one minute and perfectly clear the next.
Pasty – If you visit Michigan, especially the Upper Peninsula, someone will probably tell you that you have to try a pasty. No, they’re not something burlesque dancers wear, and there’s no paste involved in the making of them. They’re pronounced pah-stee, with a short “a” sound. A pasty is a delicious, savory hand pie. Traditionally the filling is made from beef and root vegetables.