Thursday, February 26, 2009

weird cincinnati things: "where did you go to high school?"

ok, we have skirted around this issue long enough so let's just put it out there. we, and by "we" i mean "i," think it is weird that people from cincinnati always want to know where you went to high school.

i moved here from new york where nobody went to high school there and even if they did, you wouldn't have heard of it. but in michigan, where i lived before that, nobody ever asked me where i went to high school unless they had first asked me what city or part of the state i was from first. it was not assumed that you were necessarily born and raised in that area.

things are different here. before, i always thought the questions were supposed to go like this:
  • what's your name?
  • where are you from?
  • oh really? where in _______?
  • no way, me too! where did you go to high school?
but the assumption here in cincinnati is that the middle questions are unnecessary. it is just a given that you are from here. i don't blame cincinnatians, this is what they are used to. but on a general level, i really think it reflects the insular nature of the city. no wonder so many people aren't that welcoming to newcomers to the city... they don't even realize there are any!

my weirdest "where did you go to high school" experience happened a few weeks ago. i was out with my friend beth and some of her friends. beth's friend matt is from dayton. as in, not cincinnati. here is how the conversation went:

matt: hi, i'm matt.
liz: hey, i'm liz.
matt: where did you go to high school?
liz: uhh... farmington.
matt: where?
liz: it's in michigan.
matt: oh.
beth: matt, what the hell? you aren't even from cincinnati!

poor matt has clearly fallen victim to cincinnati syndrome. he wanted to know where i went to high school, even though i would not have gone to his high school even if i was from here! it was hilarious.

my question: is this just a cincinnati thing? or do people do this in other places and i just don't know about it? if so, how do those places compare to cincinnati in terms of their general openness to outsiders?


Anonymous said...

I was just reading on another site that they do this in Louisville, Kentucky, too.

Anonymous said...

I currently live in Saint Louis, MO and will be moving to Cincy this summer. The high school question is a matter of great pride to people here in Saint Louis. Just like Cincinnati, private high schools are like a status symbol. Maybe it's a medium-sized city thing?

Eli said...

Dude, I caught myself about to ask the high school question today. Eek.

Lauren Bishop said...

For some reason I haven't gotten this question very much, compared to most people I know here. (Maybe people who know I work for the paper don't automatically assume that I'm from here?) People more frequently ask "Are you local?" or "Are you from here?" When I explain that I'm not, they usually say, "So what do you think of Cincinnati?" and sort of wince as they wait for my response, which usually ends up being much more positive than negative.

I did have a weird experience at an event at the zoo last year though. I had gone there for the first time and had the worst time finding the place due to classic terrible Cincinnati traffic patterns and signage, plus construction. I was super cranky by the time I got there and was complaining to some random guy about it, and he said, "You mean you've lived here all your life and you've never been to the zoo?" I then proceeded to snap, "What makes you think I've lived here all my life?" A little uncalled for, maybe, but his question was annoying nonetheless. I can't stand it when people assume things.

I just realized I didn't answer Liz's question. I guess I haven't lived in enough cities to know. The last place I lived (Ithaca, NY) was a tiny college town, so almost no one went to high school there. I'm guessing the high school question probably isn't just a Cincinnati thing, but it does seem like Cincinnatians enjoy claiming that quirk as their own.

Rich said...

I think the high school question is ridiculous! I have lived all over, LA, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and this is the first city I have had the "where did you go to school" question refer to my high school.

The people who ask that question need to grow up. Maybe it is a small town thing for people who have never left Cincinnati. After all, I was told when I moved here that this is a great place to live because if the world were coming to and end, we would be the last to hear about it.

Nice place with some interesting things to do. Very hard to break into the adult high school clicks.

Quim said...

I never got this in Cincinnati. I was frequently introduced as being from out of town, tho, and frequently insulted for it.....
Ms Bishop - that's what you get talking to strangers.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Cincinnati lifer and the high school question is usually more about finding more ways that you are connected to that person; it gives you something to break the ice and talk about. For instance, I meet somebody new who is from Cincinnati so I ask where they went to high school because it is likely I knew somebody they went to high school with and we can then talk about our mutual acquaintance before jumping into something deeper.

I would agree, however, that it's pretty awkward not to make sure first that the person you're talking to is from Cincinnati before asking the high school question.

The Running Buckeye said...

They usually ask "what school did you go to?" and everytime I automatically answer - Ohio State. But, honestly I don't get this question that often. I think people talk about this question more than it is actually asked.

The thing that kills me is "Please." Uggh!

Anonymous said...

I'll second the St. Louis post. They think it's a "St. Louis thing" to ask. I think it's just a way of finding something in common quickly. Once I was at a gas station in St. Louis, driving a car with South Dakota plates. A man stopped and asked me where in South Dakota I was from and when I said "Sioux Falls" he said "me too! What high school?". And the conversation continued from there. It's just a way of finding a common denominator.

Rude_Logic said...

Hey I read the Article and Have just started blogging on your page this is my second stint in Cincy been here a year now looking to stay longer if my social life would improve!!!!!!! I have never seen such introverted people in my life I thought I was crazy Thanks for starting a group I am very much looking forward to meeting you all at an event soon.

Thanks again,
Matthew M. Linton

Donald said...

I think there's a particularly apt comparison between this Cincinnati greeting ritual and dogs sniffing each others' butts....both tell the examiner where the other has been, and both have about the same level of subtlety.

Anonymous said...

I recently moved to Cincinnati from Columbus. I usually introduce myself as from Columbus and still get asked where I went to high school as many people are aware of the bigger schools in the region. But I never care to ask where anyone went to high school here because frankly I don't care, in Columbus people automatically assume you went to Ohio State and never really ask. But, my parents grew up in St.Louis and I will second the comments about the similarity to Cincinnati. Who knows? Cincinnati is wierd.

Anonymous said...

When I meet someone new I always wonder whether I'll be asked the High School question or the University question! It gives me a laugh. I actually prefer these questions to the awful "lets get together soon". Since I've lived here (4 years), I get it every time I say goodbye. It never happens. Why say it? Is it a Cincinnati thing or an American thing?

Anonymous said...

I have never been on the receiving end of that question in the 5+ years I've been here. More common are the references to "the question," replete with the eyerolls and "that's so Cincinnati"-style derision (always from natives, I might add).

I think there's a lot of hype around it, usually by insecure natives looking to disavow what they perceive to be a non-native's preconceived notions. Like I said, I wouldn't have heard about it if a native didn't first bring it up in order to disavow it.

I'm getting dizzy...better sit down now.


oddcincy said...

I think it's a West Side thing. That half of town is older neighborhoods where most residents have lived there their entire lives, and so know all the high schools there like the back of their hands.

People in the East Side, having a higher import population, do start by asking your neighborhood.

Allison said...

I get this question too! What the hell difference does it make which high school anybody went to? Is there some secret meaning behind it all that we don't understand? I don't care what high school anybody went to, unless it was on another planet. That might be interesting. Otherwise, not.

Alex said...

Just an example of how some conversations go (mostly in my dreams) with Cincinnatians:

* what's your name?

* where are you from?

* oh really?
Yeah, who couldn't love Pittsburgh?

* no way, me too! where did you go to high school?
WFT does it matter where I went to HS? I went to Penn State!

Anonymous said...

Social shorthand. Knowing where you went to high school tells someone where you're from, and if in this area (and let's face it, most people don't stray, newcomers are in the minority to 3rd and 4th generation people living in the same neighborhoods), it tells us who you probably know. When that common denominator is reached, (oh, you know so-and-so?) how they react to so-and-so generally says a lot about their personality.

We read a lot of what is unsaid. Where it trips us up for out of towners is that we are then scrambling to find another way in which to find common ground; often that comes off as silence or unfriendliness. Really, it's just people trying to remember all the other social niceties they've long since stopped using.

And really, that said, the question isn't THAT prevalent. After all, we don't have to ask it that much, since we already know where our friends went to high school-- that's where we met them. :)

liz said...

haha! great insights, anonymous!

Brendan said...

I Don't Care Where You Went To High School - Printed in Cin Weekly a few years ago

I think this sums it up pretty well. I moved here from Maryland and it took me the longest time to figure it out. It really does have to do with the insular nature of this town. My out-of-towner friends and I all describe Cincinnati as a black hole; whether you were born and raised here or are a transplant, there's just enough of everything (opportunity, low cost of living, friendliness, lack of traffic, whatever) to keep you here, or to suck you back in if you manage to escape. It's pretty infuriating.

I don't mind Graeter's though...

I just found the blog, and I love it. I'll try and make it to an event soon.

Anonymous said...

I am with you. I went to high school in the Cleveland-Akron area, but lived in Tennessee and Michigan before that. I also lived in Michigan after that (and I know exactly where Farmington is- I worked in Farmington Hills) and moved a few more places before I wound up in Cincinnati. It is a strange phenomena, no one asked that in Michigan, Cleveland, Toledo, New York or California.

My grandfather's brother was estranged from the rest of the family, so I never met him or his children, but they settled here around 60 years ago. Lately I have been recognized for my last named, and asked what high school I went to.

Tristan Michaels said...

Cincinnati is the worst town I have ever lived in.There is nothing remotely nice about it. The people are beyond clicky. If you went to a certain High School all your friends went to that high school. If you don't have any friends from high school--cause your parents made you go to an all girl school--then something is wrong with you.I have lived here all my life and ALL my friends are in sane towns outside of cincinnati. THANK GOD!!!! Stay away if you can!!! Go to Kentucky!!! go anywhere but here. Don't get sucked into the hype this town is good. Look at the football team for an example. RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!!!!

Tristan Michaels said...

I live in cincinnati and their is nothing like being i a town you hate. Where did you go to high school? who the f n a cares? Grow up. High school sucked. It was nasty now and is still the same way. Pay attention folks. It's is as clicky now as it was then. Worse actually. You don't click then you don't click now. You MUST assimilate otherwise your a loser.
This whole town is clicky. GOD I can't stand it.
Every one of my friends is from another state or as far away as they can get from here. and none of them visit we go see them.They hate this town to.

Sydnee Anders said...

It's because all the people that were born and raised there are sill there