What is quintessentially Missourian?
June 10, 2020 12:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing a character from a smallish town in Missouri (pop. under 50k). However, I've never actually visited Missouri! What types of texturizing details might a person actually from Missouri know that I might not know to look for on google? E.g., do Missourians have any special outlook on central AC versus external AC units (particularizing in many places)? Is there a state beer you see everywhere? What denomination of Christianity do most people practice? Were there any big trends in the early aughts? Culture that everyone was or is consuming (everyone I knew as a kid loved the Left Behind books)? Are there any Missourian attitudes or clichés (besides "show-me state") that only native Missourians know? What do Missourians who go other places get tired of hearing when they say they're from Missouri? What do they miss, what do they notice once they leave? I'm thinking this fictional place will be in the four-state area (Missouri, OK, Kansas, AR). Do people actually say "four state area"? Lol. Much appreciated!
posted by ennuisperminute to Society & Culture (75 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
If this were me, I would follow a bunch of midwestern/Missouri meme pages on social media and learn by osmosis.
posted by mekily at 12:30 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

The split between northern and southern Missouri is significant and the answers to your questions will be different depending on which. Near Stl, German Catholics "settled" most of the area and were joined later by more Catholic Italian and Eastern European immigrants. Religion, surnames, placenames, food, etc. reflect that. Also, note that these folks were largely abolitionists.

In Southern MO, where I grew up, this was turned in its head. Scots Irish, Protestant, pro-slavery, anti-Lincoln, etc.

If the person is in the north they will be excited about Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, if from the Ozarks their family will have a dubious claim to William Quantril lineage.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:31 PM on June 10, 2020 [12 favorites]

Also, Stl area folks talk kind of like Chicagoans but Ozarkers and SE Missouri and talk more like southerners.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:34 PM on June 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

I've lived in Missouri (Columbia) and Kansas (Lawrence), though it's been a long time. I've never heard "four state area." "Show me" is usually all people know about Missouri, so I'd expect people to get tired of hearing that when they leave. They might get tired of hearing about Mark Twain too. The blue laws were a big deal, but I don't know if they still exist or, if so, when they changed, so that would be something to look into. Gooey butter coffee cake is a thing. The University of Missouri is always called Mizzou. People argue about whether to say Missour-ee or Missour-uh, though maybe that wouldn't be the case in a single small town (I went to Mizzou for two years, where we had people from all over Missouri). The capital is called Jeff City. Pausing (not stopping) and going through at a stop sign is called a "St. Louis stop," though probably not in St. Louis.
posted by FencingGal at 12:37 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Something I noticed from your first sentence was the description of a ~50K population as a smallish town — you're vastly overestimating the population density of Missouri. In Missouri a municipality with a ~50K population would be in the neighborhood of the 10th largest city in Missouri.
posted by RichardP at 12:42 PM on June 10, 2020 [28 favorites]

My old roommate was from the St. Louis area and would wax poetic about Provel cheese.
posted by jabes at 12:51 PM on June 10, 2020 [8 favorites]

Going to up to Six Flags once a year and getting to stay in the Holiday Inn there and spend two whole days at the park!

And yeah a smallish town out in the Midwest is 900 people, not 50,000. There are only two bars in town and one gets to stay open later because the town's one police officer goes there. Every night at 7:30pm a siren goes off. You have to "go to town" 20 minutes over to get groceries or get a haircut. On the Welcome to sign coming into town there is a little sign celebrating Bobby Darnell, the state high school wrestling champion from 1994. Mizzou football. Cardinals baseball on KMOX with Mike Shannon and missing Jack Buck.

Toasted Ravioli and Imo's "pizza" and Ted Drewes are St. Louis things, very far away from southern Missouri in both distance and importance.
posted by cmm at 12:58 PM on June 10, 2020 [17 favorites]

** Depending on where your character lives, they may call the state Missouree (eastern half, generally) or Missourah (western). Some politicians hedge their bets and use both.

** Growing up in St. Louis, Anheuser Busch was a major point of civic pride. Coolers were filled with Bud or Busch or their various sublabels. (If your guy is a little fancier or from KC maybe he's drinking Boulevard, founded in 1989 and proud KC brand).

** StL and surrounds call it "soda" rather than Coke or pop.

** StL has a big chip on its shoulder about its old glory days. (They had the 1904 World's Fair and it was giant! They had the 1904 Olympics! They used to be bigger than Chicago!) They are very extremely proud of those things and you will hear about them still if you visit the city.

** StL is also proud of their local foods - gooey butter, Ted Drewes custard (they invented the "concrete," which was the direct inspiration for the DQ Blizzard), toasted ravioli, and most especially their St. Louis pizza with provel cheese.

** Missouri feels much less like a cohesive state and more like geographical clusters around the two major cities of KC and St. Louis and the smaller ones of Columbia, Springfield, Jefferson City, etc. If your character does not live adjacent to one of the big cities, they are not likely to feel any real kinship to or identification with them (except maybe their sports teams).

**If you are from KC area you definitely love the Chiefs and like the Royals. If you are from StL you love the Cardinals/Blues and in the early 2000s you were riding the crest of the Rams wave.

** The Ozarks or Table Rock Lake/Branson are definitely vacation spots.

** Mizzou is the one big state school in Columbia. They play in the SEC but were in the Big 12 until 2012.

** Other than the Show-Me State, the only other famous historical things are Mark Twain being from Hannibal and Harry Truman being from Independence.
posted by AgentRocket at 1:00 PM on June 10, 2020 [13 favorites]

I lived in a small town in northwest Missouri for a little while when I was younger. The main thing that I remember was how much everyone hated Kansas and Kansans. "They only grow two things in Kansas: sunflowers, and sons of bitches" was a joke I heard a bunch.

Also, it seemed like Sonic was the dominant fast food chain, although that might have changed since then.
posted by COBRA! at 1:02 PM on June 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

I grew up in south central Missouri, but left 30 years ago. (a town around 1,000 people at the time)

Seconding 'Jeff City.'

I was surprised when I moved to Illinois on a few things:

We never used the term 'Midwest' when I was growing up - our regional term was always the Ozarks. We ate food growing up that now seems more traditionally 'southern' to me.

In the Ozarks we said: Fireflies, not lightning bugs; kewpon, not coopon (coupon); you-uns, sometimes, instead of y'all.

We would never have called ourselves rednecks; rather, hillbillies.

Feel free to message me with specifics!
posted by Occula at 1:02 PM on June 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'm from Northwest Missouri and I was going to say what COBRA! just said. The University of Kansas Jayhawks in particular are our enemy. Also the Denver Broncos. Fuck the Broncos!

In the Kansas City area everyone says pop and in St Louis they say soda.
posted by something something at 1:05 PM on June 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

Depending on where your character lives, you might find this article about Little Dixie worthwhile reading.
posted by Fukiyama at 1:05 PM on June 10, 2020


We always reacted to an Arkansas license plate. "Crazy Arkansas drivers!"

Route was pronounced "rowte," not "root."
posted by Occula at 1:06 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

You might find some of these "you know you are from Missouri" lists helpful although some don't catch the regional differences.
posted by metahawk at 1:07 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

In addition to the mentioned north/south divide there is an east/west divide. St. Louisans are far more Eastern-looking; though they're the Gateway to the West, they consider themselves to be the last Eastern city, whereas denizens of Kansas City are far more Western in outlook.

Those St. Louisans tend to say things like "let's warsh our clothes". "How about that traffic on Highway Farty-far?" "I eat my carn with a fark." The local term for rednecks/hillbillies is hoosiers.

The Kansas City folk will tell you they're from Kansas City even if the town they're actually from is 90 miles away from Kansas City.

Tripling "Jeff City".
posted by riverlife at 1:07 PM on June 10, 2020 [7 favorites]

The Kansas City folk will tell you they're from Kansas City even if the town they're actually from is 90 miles away from Kansas City.

Ha. This is true. I'm from Kansas City! (but really St Joe)

In NW Missouri people are always going to the lake for recreation. Lake of the Ozarks or Table Rock, but also smaller regional lakes (Lake Viking and Smithville Lake near Kansas City, for example).

Those with the classical rural accent of that area also pronounce the days of the week as ending in -dee instead of -day. Tues-dee!
posted by something something at 1:14 PM on June 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

Here is a very specific Missouri fact germane to the late 90s and early 00's: its Baby Bell (AT&T subsidiary) is, oddly, Southwestern Bell. So they ran all the public phones and I think landline service. (I'm trying to remember how landline long distance worked and I have no idea offhand, were there competing carriers?) Naturally they published both the paper Yellow Pages (business) and the paper White Pages (residential).

We called the business directory "SWBYPs," or Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages. Swuh-BIPs. You heard it here first; it's not even captured in the extensive Wikipedia page.

I don't think the white pages had a special name. It would have been too hard to pronounce.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:25 PM on June 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

I need to be clear: this might only be a St. Louis suburbs thing! As others have observed, Missouri contains multitudes and maybe this wasn't a universal phenomenon.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:27 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah - Kansas/Missouri rivalry is real. Here's a joke I heard when I lived in Missouri: Why does the wind blow west across Missouri? Because Kansas sucks.
posted by FencingGal at 1:32 PM on June 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

I agree with everyone who says you're going to have to choose where your character is from. A lot of the examples you've been given only apply to certain parts of the state. I recognize some but not others.

Never heard "four-state area." Never thought of those states as forming an area, either.

The time period is also going to matter. For example, if you put them in the Ozarks area, that area has changed a lot in the last couple of decades (for the worse). Regional accents are less noticeable as well, especially in cities of the size you're describing.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:34 PM on June 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Honestly, if your character left Missouri - especially if they weren't from KC or STL - then they are already pretty non-Missouri, and may very well try to obscure that fact through more mainstream speech patterns and consider people who praise gooey butter cake trying to make too much of small things - gooey butter cake and Imo's pizza and toasted ravioli. I wonder if a person of color would feel ownership over those things?

For a whilte person - more likely in mind would be 1) economic hardship of entire family and fear for younger family members getting pregnant/married too soon, quitting college, etc; 2) influence of additction, and 3) total and complete classism of their new urban/suburban upper middle class white friends. While theoretical Missouri person may be white and benefit from structural privilege, if they are small-town then they have had to overcome barriers, too - things like 1st in family to go to college, no extra money for anything, having to travel by driving instead of flying ($$), not understanding really how to navigate professional society, student loans for undergrad - even in the 90's - etc. A person like this may feel a fish-out-of-water both in new social settings but also feel this way at home, too.

Another marker might be self-deprecation - can't get too big for your britches - that has to be unlearned. When I visit home I feel like everyone's number one goal is to take me down a notch, let me know they're not that impressed.

Also - my grandmother - born and raised in the bootheel region - has all my life said Missourah. I lived in Stl for years an I am from small town southern IL - not really any different than small town MO. I mindfully quit dropping my G's (walking and talking, not walkin and talkin). I very rarely miss the place, and if I do it's cured within about the first 4 hours of a visit.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 1:36 PM on June 10, 2020 [14 favorites]

Echoing... I grew up in a "small town" of fewer than 4,000 people. Which was way bigger than the population of Rosebud, MO where a good friend of mine was from - population 60, IIRC.

Are there any Missourian attitudes or clichés (besides "show-me state") that only native Missourians know?

Collectively, I think we're sick of "the show-me state" thing.

You need to drill down what region of Missouri you're looking to. Small towns up near Iowa and small towns near Arkansas aren't going to the same character, for example.

What do Missourians who go other places get tired of hearing when they say they're from Missouri?

"Are you from misery? heh heh heh."

"I thought you'd have a southern accent" or "you don't sound southern."

What do they miss, what do they notice once they leave?

Again, depends a lot on where they're from (and when they left!), and where they went. And why they left!

I can tell you - I moved from MO in 1999 to Denver, CO. I missed thunderstorms. Proper thunderstorms. Living in NC now, I miss snow and cold. I also missed easy access to a river and fishing, even though we didn't actually go much it was an easy option.

I noticed - no trailer parks. Different restaurants, more "local" restaurants and snobbiness about not eating at chain restaurants. Fewer people smoked. Traffic was way worse.

They might notice that the demographics are different. My small town was predominantly white. There were no non-Christian churches / houses of worship.

I'm thinking this fictional place will be in the four-state area (Missouri, OK, Kansas, AR). Do people actually say "four state area"? Lol. Much appreciated!

Nobody says four-state area I'm aware of. And yes, the Kansas/Missouri thing is real.

"While theoretical Missouri person may be white and benefit from structural privilege, if they are small-town then they have had to overcome barriers, too"

Sooooo much agreement here. All of that. Good chance if you're coming from small town MO you're familiar with being broke. Maybe not "poor" but likely broke.
posted by jzb at 1:50 PM on June 10, 2020 [8 favorites]

I grew up in NE Oklahoma and vacationed in SW Missouri a ton (mostly Branson/Silver Dollar City/Table Rock Lake) and have lived in St. Louis for the past six and half years, so...

Reiterating that there's a huge difference between STL/KC (from each other) and both from that region. Down there, the nearest city, depending on where your character is located, would be either Joplin or Springfield. Also, having split my adult life between three of the states that border Arkansas, their drivers are universally loathed (I'm not going to say whether that's warranted or not, but it totally is).

A couple of particulars I haven't seen mentioned yet:

- There's a restaurant between Springfield and Branson right off the highway called Lambert's that is pretty infamous. It's known as the home of "Throwed Rolls". They have staff wandering around with baskets of bread and if you raise your hand from your table they'll wing one over to you. Their meals are also gargantuan. It's like a Cracker Barrel taken up about five notches.

- Culturally, Route 66 is still kind of a thing/point of pride, if acknowledged as an old school thing. There are often classic car/motorcycle rallies/shows.

- One of the most distinct things is heading east on I-44 out of Springfield (or if you're coming West, entering Springfield) where you pass by the French's factory, where they make the fried onions that come in a can that folks use as casserole toppings and you can smell it from miles away.

- There's also the super, super weird Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage.
posted by Ufez Jones at 1:54 PM on June 10, 2020 [17 favorites]

My parents are both from southern Missouri, dad from SE MO, mom from SW. I spent several summers on my dad's parents' farm in Mountain Grove and spent one semester at (then) Southwest Missouri State University.

I always heard Misouree.

Southern Missouri is below the sweet tea line.

On one visit the low population of African Americans in Springfield came up. Turns out that three men were lynched (not graphic) in the town square in 1960. "Not only did the percentage drop, from 10% of the population to under 2% in the 1980s; the absolute number of black citizens dropped. There were fewer blacks in Springfield in the early 1980s than there were in 1905."

I visited Branson several times before it became "like Vegas if it were run by Ned Flanders." Branson’s Famous Baldknobbers is is a country music and comedy variety show.

"Ozark religion, like that of Appalachia, was predominantly Baptist and Methodist during periods of early settlement; it tends to the conservative or individualistic, with Episcopalians, Assemblies of God, Baptists including Southern Baptists, Church of Christ, Pentecostals, and other Protestant denominations present, as well as Catholics."

Jesse James is more popular in southwest Missouri than his actual history suggests.

My favorite uncle and his sons love to bass fish on lakes like Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock. He would say his car had 255 air conditioning. "Two windows down, 55 miles an hour."
posted by kirkaracha at 2:11 PM on June 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I don't know how much new stuff I'll be adding, but:

-In my experience (lived in STL for a bit, family in central Missouri), Missour-uh is more common than Missour-ee. Also, people who say Missour-uh seem to hold that as an identity more so than people who say Missour-ee, and will be more adamant about correcting your pronunciation.

-The university is always Mizzou. I don't think I've ever even heard it called "the University of Missouri", let alone just "Missouri". The football team got really good (like, top five in the country) in the mid-aughts. Usually pretty good at basketball, too.

-Tornadoes, especially if you do set it in the southwest.

-The "show me" thing has gotten so old that it's kind of come full circle.

-The early aughts were the prime of Nelly. He was still a pretty big deal when I lived in STL in 2010, even though he hadn't been nationally relevant for years.

-Agreed that Sonic seems unusually prominent there. Not like Dunkin Donuts in New England level of prominence, but there do seem to be more Sonics than in other places.

-STL is kind of its own little world. It has a lot of quirks that aren't found anywhere else. It's also famously unwelcoming to non-natives. Maybe not the best place to set your story. No amount of talking about Provel cheese or the Hill will convince an STL native that you understand the city; it'll all sound fake. And nobody outside of STL cares.

-If you don't get all you need here, there's a really good book called "Heartland" by Sarah Smarsh, a memoir about growing up poor in southeastern Kansas. Not exactly the same, but should provide some color. Also, just a good read in general.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:13 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

No one's mentioned Rush Limbaugh. My preference, too, generally, but he is a scion of a prominent [southern] Missouri family.
posted by Glomar response at 2:17 PM on June 10, 2020

One more thing - it's not small town, but it is Stl - the comment about famously unwelcoming somehow reminded me - the gendered catholic high schools seem unique to me. Lots of middle/upper-middle class white kids go to all-boys / all-girls catholic high schools. It may also be true of other similar catholic-heavy rust belt cities (like Milkwaukee or something). Anyways - it's why people ask where you went to school - meaning high school - another class marker and who-do-we-know-in-common kind of thing. Seriously - at least a decade ago people actually ask that - Since I'm not from stl nor am catholic, i'm not really that in that social world - I have no idea which schools are supposed to mean what. But it's ceratinly A Thing.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 2:26 PM on June 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

Never lived there but grew up just across the state line in Kansas and spent a lot of time there in the Ozarks. My impression is that it’s going to depend on whether you live city, suburb, or country and quite a bit on which side of the Osage river.
posted by sjswitzer at 2:32 PM on June 10, 2020

Hello, I live in Missouri and I am also from Missouri, outside of St. Louis. I was a high school student in the early aughts. I agree that much of this is regional...the town I live in, much of our "stuff" comes from StL. For example, I remember Nelly being a HUGE deal at this time, kids at my high school touting any small connection they had to anyone that might vaguely know him or someone in his entourage. I assume that wouldn't hold nearly as much weight in the western or southern parts of the state. MO can feel very, not coherent in a lot of ways. People's accents are quite different in different parts of the state, a lot of the rural areas feel very different from StL and KC, etc. St Louis is kind of its own thing altogether. And a lot of general Missouri culture just tracks to the rest of midwestern culture.

One thing I think of as pretty true state-wide (although this is probably region-wide) is people standing outside on their porches to watch tornadoes and thunderstorms rolling in. We get some great storms.
posted by cpatterson at 2:39 PM on June 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

Oh that whole thing about rural white poverty, and never really fitting in after you go away to college (as the first in your family) hit home pretty hard.

I saw people recommending some books, etc., and I remembered - when I saw Winter's Bone (haven't read it), I was absolutely dumbstruck by the total familiarity of EVERYTHING. I grew up before meth had really become the thing - lots of pot growing, though - but the clothes, the homes, the woods, the dirt roads, the whole atmosphere was just completely overwhelming, as someone who grew up in a culture that's not depicted much. It's really the first time I felt that. The very rural white Ozarks isn't quite like the south, or Appalachia, or southern Illinois - it's a pretty distinct culture, and I really feel like a time traveler at times.
posted by Occula at 2:39 PM on June 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

Seconding the thunderstorms. You pretty much have to have a proper thunderstorm in there somewhere. Also, when reading Twain I saw something about fields of wild strawberries and I can confirm they were spectacular (Ozark area) and I could come back from the woods with a bucketful in under an hour.
posted by sjswitzer at 2:42 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

I haven't heard of the "four state area" but it rang a bell from my time in Southern Illinois and it turns out there is a "five state area" (though I'm sure there's a more proper term for it that I can't recall) comprised of Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Here is a link to a random bus company that services the "five state area".
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 3:35 PM on June 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

A singular detail that might be interesting:

The Lexington Bridge over the Missouri not too far east of Kansas City. This bridge and others like it used to be fairly common, but have largely been demolished by now. This bridge in particular was replaced in 2005. What makes it special is that its road deck was infamous for being narrow and not well maintained. Crossing the bridge was a rather scary experience. In this video, there is a point where a dump truck passes. Notice how far over the center line it is. Now imagine being out over the river.
posted by Fukiyama at 3:38 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

In eastern Mo, small towns along the interstate will often have lots of billboards. It's the usual McDonalds and truck stop billboards, of course, but also a weird concentration of billboards celebrating Jesus Is King, billboards urging people to save the unborn, etc. and they're always next to lurid billboards heralding the many strip clubs available off the highway.
posted by mochapickle at 4:15 PM on June 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'm not actually from Missouri so I can't add anymore than agreement on population numbers. Wanted to echo that, yeah 50k is a small city where I'm from. That was the population of Iowa City when I was growing up there, which my cousins (who lived in Missouri) said made me a city kid. My wife grew up in a town with less than 400 people in southern Iowa near the Missouri boarder, for comparison. Our experiences growing up were incredibly different.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 5:06 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sorry, piggybacking on your question, but maybe some responses would be helpful to you...

I'd be interested to know what the view of Wash. U and St. Louis University is for the rest of the state. I feel like everyone (sports fans, at least) know that it's "Mizzou," but I wonder what regular Missourians feel about those two schools. They are both prestigious and nationally known (public health, medicine, law, etc.).
posted by Pax at 6:14 PM on June 10, 2020

Born and raised in STL. Everyone wants to know where you went to high school, not college. Neighborhoods were very distinct and where you went to high school was very telling. Why has no one mentioned the Arch?!?!
posted by XtineHutch at 6:26 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I lived in St Louis for 4 years in late 80s/early 90s. Being from Los Angeles, it was an interesting experience. I can only add a few things.

I worked in a factory in a St Louis county city (there was a great distinction made between St Louis city and St Louis county), and found it amusing that people used the word, "hoosier" to refer derisively to someone acting like/being a hick, low class, or unsophisticated.

I also remember an African American co worker being asked if he ever visited a town whose name I forget, but ended in -ville. He replied, half joking, he doesn't go there, "klan there in all those 'villes. If the bus doesn't go there, I don't go there neither."

Yes, race relations were touchy.

I found the bootheel region seemed to have a pretty notorious reputation among the city slickers, and anecdotally, found it somewhat less than friendly. Aside from the restaurant/tourist trap Lambert's, it was best for someone with dark skin like me to not linger.

Not being African American, and having dark skin, I found most St Louisans pretty friendly at least out of curiosity. Apparently, Latinos were a rare sight back then.

Despite being a respectable metropolitan area, I found St Louis having a pretty intimate group of people I saw often, at events, bars and restaurants, most of whom I was acquainted with only by sight. It felt smaller.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:33 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

“ I'd be interested to know what the view of Wash. U and St. Louis University is for the rest of the state.”

I’m not sure the rest of the state has a view of either. The reason I lived in STL was because my girlfriend at the time was in grad school at Wash U, and I don’t believe I met a single Missourian at the school. Students are generally outsiders, kind of like how most Notre Dame students aren’t from Indiana. There is an anti-Semitic nickname for the school that I’m not going to repeat, but perhaps that gives you an idea of some people’s view.

SLU seems to be essential for people interested in STL city politics, and completely forgettable for everything else. I get the impression it’s largely a continuation of the Catholic high school experience someone mentioned, which, yes, is a huge thing in STL. SLU High (the prep school associated with the college) seems to be a bigger deal. Sacajawea’s kid went there.

I’ve never gotten the impression that either was particularly attractive to people from other parts of Missouri. I have a hard time picturing my cousins who live north of Columbia being interested in either. I could think of about 40 schools they’d be more likely to go to, and that’s only because I’m not counting random ones like the University of Idaho.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:09 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I lived in Missouri from 2009-2011. For two weeks I lived in Ozark, which is just south of Nixa, where Brad Pitt is from!

The thunderstorms are incredible, and I admit I’ve never been the same since a tornado came through our neighborhood. Along I-44 there were lot of churches located across the street/highway from porn shops. Perhaps they shared a common clientele base. Billboards for $99 dentures are something I won’t forget. Randomly I’d encounter a cashier who had ghoulish teeth, signs of meth addiction, I think. There was a chain of gas stations called Kum & Go. On NPR, they said Missourah.

All the wildlife was bigger there. Beautiful butterflies the size of birds, gigantic walking sticks and beetles. Humongous groundhogs. Even the onions at the supermarket were the largest I’ve ever seen.
posted by GliblyKronor at 7:10 PM on June 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

I LOVE this question and thread. Thank you all.

MetaTalk: Local knowledge(s), histories, and storytelling
posted by Ahmad Khani at 7:50 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

** Other than the Show-Me State, the only other famous historical things are Mark Twain being from Hannibal and Harry Truman being from Independence.

Hey, now! JC Penney was from Hamilton, Missour-uh, where they say Missour-uh. (I know this because he handed out the diplomas at my uncle's high school graduation.) And the extremely famous Missouri Star Quilt Company has been putting it back on the map for 10 years now!
posted by SLC Mom at 8:28 PM on June 10, 2020

I lived in Kirksville (~equidistant from StL, KC, -and- Des Moines!, around 25k people during the school year) for several years and want to point out something that a bunch of answers have hinted at: everyone that I met, unless they were from KC or St Louis City (not County), knew the population of their hometown and volunteered the stat in casual conversation pretty routinely. Many were puzzled that I didn’t know my own town’s stats or consider it useful/relevant info. Similarly people seemed to have a casual fluency with the highway system that I found startling.

I can nth the St Louis white person obsession with high school pedigree, especially especially the Catholic gender-specific schools. In the small towns, high school sports was a big deal (attendance, news coverage, billboards).

I associate I-70, maybe with a dip down to Jeff City, as the loose dividing line between Missouree and missourah (north = ee) although it seems other MeFites break that differently.

Both big cities share ‘warsh’ in the dialect, but often StL folk in my acquaintance code-switched into a very neutral newsreaders Bob Costas sound. I haven’t noticed this as much in KC, where I have spent time more recently.

Oh! Another thing that jumped out at me from the east coast was that, in general, yards weren’t fenced, at least not out front. Your lawn would just butt up to the neighbors with mayyyybe a side-boundary fenced but a fence or wall out front - I maybe never saw it? Not the outer boundary fence near the sidewalk, and definitely never an inner fence separating the house from the yard.
posted by janell at 9:18 PM on June 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

posted by sacrifix at 9:52 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

My fam is from Stl. Gooey butter cake +1. I have my grandma's recipe. St. Louis pizza is not like anything else you'd call pizza, but I love it. You drink Bud, or you're a traitor.

I went to Mizzou for 2 years. The sky gets overcast in October and stays that way until May.

I think the people in the Midwest are generally nicer than those anywhere else in the US I've lived. (same sociological problems as everywhere).
posted by j_curiouser at 9:59 PM on June 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you want a 50,000-ish city in far SWMO in the MO-KS-AR-OK region, then what you're looking at is Joplin. So that would be a good place to start. But Joplin definitely is not a small town. It's more of a small-ish city and definitely the central hub of the region. It's a so-called "micropolitan area" with a regional population of about 200,000.

So, living in a place like Joplin is kind of an interesting blend. It has a lot of suburban and even small-town elements, such as quiet neighborhoods and plenty of side streets where you could pretty much play ball or whatever. But the city center and downtown area is pretty vigorous (remember it's the shopping/dining/hospitality/commercial/banking/employment/industrial etc center for a 200,000 region plus maybe 100,000-200,000 more surrounding that). Some of the major streets are full of big/fast traffic and pretty much the polar opposite of the quiet neighborhood street that might be just 3-4 blocks away. And imagine the commercial/employment center of a 300-400K metro area but at 5pm everybody goes home for the night and now it's a pretty quiet little town of 50K.

- If you want a town notch smaller than Joplin, maybe look at Carthage or Neosho.

- If you want a really small town just look at the map of the area; and find any one of dozens, ranging from population 20 to 500 to 5K or 10K.

- Many parts of Missouri such as the Joplin area/far SWMO are sparsely but almost completely populated. By that I mean, that you'll find say one regional center (Joplin, 50K), a few smaller cities around it in the region (say 5-30K), then a whole bunch of smaller towns around all of those (1-5K) and then a bunch of really small towns around those (<1>Google Satellite View of the area. Note the almost 100% complete rectangular road grid throughout the entire countryside. The roads will be (mostly) county roads, some paved but most gravel, and the roads will all be along quarter-section lines. So if you were drive along any one of those at random, you would see farm after farm, usually with a farmhouse or other residence, maybe every 1/4 to 1/2 mile. Point is, it's almost completely but thinly populated. There are few or no really unpopulated areas.

Part of my point there is the distribution of population among the larger cities (Joplin, 50K), next smaller cities, small towns, really small towns, and then "county" residents is much, much more even or even tilted towards the smaller towns & rural "county" areas than is typical in most of the U.S.

- Related, almost all the land is privately owned. You'll find very little in the way of public lands (in distinction to, say, much of the west where an area like this would have vast tracts of BLM land, national forest, etc.). There is the occasional State Park and a nice system of Conservation Areas in Missouri--but if you look at the map, they are more of a sprinkling of relatively small areas.

- Did I mention that hunting & fishing are big, big deals. The more so the further you get out into smaller towns & rural areas.

- Above you've heard a lot about St Louis, Kirksville, Columbia, whatever. But those are all going to be quite different and have a different identity than the far SWMO, say Joplin and surrounding counties, area. And if you're from a small town 20 or 50 miles off you've got a very distinct identity and lifestyle from even Joplin; you're not going to happy to be lumped together with even Joplin let alone Columbia or St Louis (St What?) or Kirksville or whatever. Or even (or perhaps especially) Springfield. Springfield, or say Branson, are very, very different and distinct area from the far SWMO four-states area you are talking about in the OP.

- Very religious, bible belt, many different churches & denominations. This will vary a fair bit even city to city or town to town but google any particular city or town you're interested in to get a flavor. A good number of (usually fairly small) christian/evangelical/Pentecostal colleges and universities. These often have a fairly hefty cultural impact.

- Don't forget the Precious Moments Chapel. That sums up a lot.

- Route 66

- Very conservative, Republican, "red" or whatever you want to call it. It definitely has a different and more conservative flavor here than in other parts of the state. Probably among the reddest of anywhere in the country. More of a religious angle to it. Cities are going to be more liberal/blue/democratic and the bigger the city the more so. So you'll see that for example Springfield has a couple of Blue state representative districts but then (much smaller) Joplin can't even break one blue district. Though you will find the central core of Joplin would be noticeably more liberal/blue than the surrounding areas.

Here are some maps to chew on re: red v blue split: 1 2 3.

- Despite that there is a quite a strong attitude of live and let live, particularly among the small town and rural population. What you're doing on your own time and on your own property is your own business. I'll keep my nose out of it. Though if you come snooping into my business on my property you're likely to find your snoopy nose faced by the business end of a shotgun. You see the occasional religious or other similar commune pop up around, and as long as they mind their own business, OK. You won't find much in the way of building codes here, and especially not out in the county. And zoning or planning type things? Maybe in places like Joplin, probably starting quite recently, but definitely no way out in any of the counties.

- The Civil War & aftermath impacted Missouri in a big, big way. I would say the impact is even more alive in small towns & rural areas, where a large proportion of the population are direct descendants of Civil War participants, than it is in the bigger cities & metros. (In fact one fact of small town & rural life is that you'll generally have a large proportion of the population that are direct descendants of the first European settlers of the area, and they're still there where they settled in the 1840s or 50s or whatever. So, all the dynamics that go with that, plus there is the 20% or 50% or whatever of the population that are "newcomers"--maybe 50 years-long newcomers but still definitely newcomers and outsiders and not really 100% trusted.)

You have to understand that you probably learned in junior high history class that Missouri stayed with the Union in the Civil War, but no. Missouri literally split in two, and not north & south or some other way but community v. neighboring community and neighbor vs. neighbor and sometimes even family members splitting against each other. And it wasn't North v. South, either, but Union in pretty much every county v Confederate in all the same counties v. various guerrilla bands more or less on one side or the other v. just plain outlaws v. maybe you have a grudge against Neighbor X and now would be good time to take care of that problem, and then Union Armies came sweeping through clearing out everything in their path and then a few days later, along comes the Confederate Army doing pretty much the same thing. And both armies made up in goodly part of Missouri recruits.

Then after the war we've got all sorts of KKK and other local sort of ad-hoc militias or whatever you call secret groups that ride around all night terrorizing the region and/or try to defend it from being terrorized by other similar groups whilst terrorizing nearby regions they guess are behind the attacks. And then don't forget that Missouri was a slave state but then some people had quite a few slaves and others had none and were dead-set against it, and often those divides ran according to the immigration ancestry or which part of the U.S. you moved in from, and those divisions tended to run community by community or area by area. I've run into more than one person and/or community who weren't shy about letting everyone know how butt-hurt they still are because their slaves were taken away at the end of the Civil War. Ah, yeah. But not everyone, because the folks in the next town over were literally John-Brown-style abolitionists.

So maybe one town is settled by German immigrants (Lutheran/Reform, anti-slavery), another by Irish (different religion, different etc), another by people who had moved from the American South, bringing their slaves, and another more from New England and they were dead set against slavery. Then you had the abolitionists flooding Kansas (which opened for European settlement much later) and a few decades of border war and raids leading up to the Civil War based on those divisions (people mentioned the MO/KS rivalry that very much still exists; here is the source of it). And so some strong and very, very local allegiances and rivalries and feuds developed.

And did a mention that many, many of the direct descendants of those people are still living on the same land or in the same town?

- This brings up one thing I've really noticed, that rivalries between adjacent small towns, even downright hatred, is way more common than I would have thought. Like you sort of imagine the bucolic small towns where everybody in the whole area sticks together and shows up to help neighbors around the entire county raise their barn and gossip about what idiots city folk are.
But, no. What you actually have are towns that were settled by different groups who didn't like each other in the 1840s and even more so in the 1860s, and still on into the 1880s, and still on to today. This is a really prominent characteristic to me. Rivalry bordering on hatred of nearby towns, and thus a far lower level of rural/small-town regional cooperation than you would imagine, on any matters from tourism to economic development or just anything.

Like I mentioned nobody in the Ozarks region would like to be mixed up with say, people from Kirksville but let's say Southwest City is trying to get their Chamber of Commerce up and running so they bring someone from the Anderson Chamber of Commerce--a whopping 15 miles away--who has been doing just that for the past 5 years. So Anderson Chamber of Commerce leader is viewed with vast, vast suspicion by everyone in Southwest City because she is an "outsider".

Now multiply that by 10X if the outsider is coming from Joplin or Bentonville and 1000X if from Kansas City or St Louis.

(This is actually a real story though the names of the towns have been changed to protect the guilty.)

- Missour-ee vs Missour-ah really is more of dialect thing than regional (except for the fact that dialects often run somewhat by region). But Missour-ah is a bit more southern and "low" dialect whereas Missour-ee is more northern and "high" or educated dialect. So you get out in the countryside, almost anywhere in the state, and you're probably a lot more likely to hear Missour-ah. But even there it's not always 100% universal. But let's say in Joplin you might find say a college educated profession on a conference call with colleagues from across the country and it's more likely to come out Missouri-ee but later that even when they're kicking back some beers with friends you might more likely hear Missouri-ah. And then some people, politicians particularly, will affect the "Missouri-ah" at all times and places because it's more "authentic". Though in reality I've heard pretty much 50/50 ee/ah split all across the state, depending on who exactly your talking to and how formal the occasion.

- I agree if you're anywhere in SWMO "Ozarks" is the most-often used term for the entire region. The far SWMO area like Joplin is more on the edge of the Ozarks but will definitely still claim it. Look at this, for instance.

- On the flip side, "Four States" "Four States Area" and such are very definitely indeed terms you will hear in the very far SW corner of Missouri, say Joplin, Neosho, Anderson, Pineville, Southwest City, etc. Definitely you will *****NOT***** hear this in Springfield or Branson. That is a very different region (or to be specific, two different regions) and they are not really aware of (for example) Kansas or Oklahoma there. Branson is aware of Arkansas but Springfield, not so much. But in Carthage-Joplin-Neosho-Pineville type areas, they are much more aware of all four nearby states. There it fits.

If you do a google search for say Joplin "four states" you'll see all sorts of hits. Though . . . there is a media group, a TV station in particular, that makes heavy use of the "Four States" moniker because it is their broadcast area. So I'm not 100% sure how much it is used "ground up" in everyday speech vs how much it is a bit of a media construction. But you'll find dentist offices, real estate, whatever named after Four States and I've seen it crop up naturally with my friends from the area.
posted by flug at 11:16 PM on June 10, 2020 [22 favorites]

I mentioned Route 66 but forgot to mention the Jefferson Highway. Someone above mentioned the importance of highways, and you'll notice that even the Joplin Visitor's Bureau prominently mentions the major crossroads that make the city what it is.

Nowadays we would say I-49 and I-44 rather than Route 66 & Jefferson Highway, but it amounts to the same thing. Your cities & towns are going to be defined by those major routes, and then whether they are right on them or off, and if off, then by how far.

Cities like Pineville or Anderson (right on I-49) are going to be vastly different from say nearby Noel or Southwest City for that reason alone.
posted by flug at 11:32 PM on June 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

- People from the U.S. eastern seaboard think that Missouri is in the "west" whereas anyone in the actual western part of the U.S. thinks that Missouri is "back east". Missouri is definitely not in either of those places. It's a good 1000 miles from either.

- People from other countries often don't know anything about Missouri at all, or where it is. Often they have barely heard of it. You are reduced to trying to explain where it lies in relation to, say, New York, California ("Hollywood"), and maybe Texas.

- On the other hand, it is true that Missouri being pretty much smack in the middle of the country has elements of a lot of other regions of the country more or less smashed together. Not really mixed together--that would be taking it too far--but more just shoved together and left there.

As mentioned above, St Louis in particular has more flavor of the east and a lot of connections to Chicago. So, much more of a "big city" feel. In other parts of Missouri, there is more than a little southern influence particular in the south and southeast parts of the state. You'll hear dialects that have a lot in common with Southern American English and many other similarities that go along.

And there is a strong connection to the West--Kansas City is known as "Cowtown," cattle ranching is still a big thing in some areas, and the western border of the Missouri was for decades the western border of the U.S. And more than that, the area was literally the conduit to the West for many decades--via the Santa Fe Trail & Oregon/California/Mormon trails. A little of the real West inevitably rubs off when it keeps passing through.

Previous to that, Missouri spent a good century under the rule of the French and Spanish--part of Upper Louisana. Yes, we bowed down to Louis XIV, Louis XV, Charles III & IV, and were sold by Napoleon for a mess of pottage. It sounds like a joke, but it wasn't: French influence is still obvious, particularly along the Mississippi River, and there is even a Missouri French dialect--Pawpaw French--that is still spoken in a few areas.

And Missouri definitely has a bit of a Great Plains and a Midwest feel (but don't tell them that in St Louis, or the Ozarks, or the Bootheel). Those are two different things but they do kind of go together at times. And don't forget the hillbillies. Or the Missouri version of the Las Vegas Strip and Disneyland, as well as the real-life inspiration for Main Street USA at Disneyland. (Of course, Walt Disney was born in Missouri and Mickey Mouse was created in Disney's studio in Missouri.) For many years, Missouri voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election--though that has changed in recent years as Missouri as veered a bit more to the right. Etc etc etc.

- No one outside of KS/MO can understand why Kansas City is in Missouri and if you tell them you live in Kansas City, Missouri (see above, the term "Kansas City" refers to the entire 2 million metro area, including something like 7 counties, 120 cities & towns, and parts of two states--with about 60% of the population on the Missouri side) they will just remember that you live in Kansas and that is that.

See above re: how Missourians feel about Kansas. Nothing could possibly be more insulting than thinking that a Missourian lives in Kansas. Yet, you can't get people off of this. Because Kansas City of course must be in Kansas.

I've lived here only 25 years and have absolutely no dog in the MO/KS fight and no relatives who lived anywhere in the area back in Civil War times when the rivalry was at its fiercest, or at any time since. And if you asked me I would say of course I bear no ill will whatsoever towards Kansas or Kansans. I didn't even know the slightest thing about this feud until I moved here. In the beginning, we moved to the Missouri side rather than the Kansas side mostly by chance. And I would be happy to make a bit of fun of long-time MO/KS natives who seem really invested in keeping the whole 150-year-old rivalry going strong when all it does is hold back the whole region and both states for no real reason.

The whole thing is silly.

Nevertheless, if someone mistakenly believes I'm a Kansan, it really cuts.
posted by flug at 12:45 AM on June 11, 2020 [10 favorites]

When I was a kid in St Louis we went sailing a Lightning on a lake - a drowned valley, with treetops just visible in dry years and ghost stories about the steeples of drowned churches and the graveyards near them.

Lots of urban neighborhoods of StL were privately owned since construction, managing more of their own infrastructure than seems common elsewhere. Less coöperation between neighborhoods than should have been, from my parents’ coffee talks with neighbors.
posted by clew at 12:48 AM on June 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Two things that I haven't seen mentioned that perhaps some knowledgeable could comment on: 1) a common thing in small town America is the importance of the high school in, and by extension high school sports teams, as a center of community life. 2) laws concerning alcohol. I know Kansas was, and maybe is, pretty unique in laws about booze, and maybe Missouri is too.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:16 AM on June 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have family in rural Missouri, on the slightly more northwestern end. It's definitely Missourah. There are 350ish people in town. They're truckers and soybean farmers, they hunt deer for meat, and taught me how to crack a bullwhip and ride ATVs. Last time I was in the farm was for my cousin's birthday. I overdressed for the wedding, which was in their Methodist church basement with punch and cake afterwards. Then we went back to the farm for a catfish fry and ate hush puppies and crescent rolls straight from the deep fryer. They have a catfish pond and every morning my uncle goes down and feeds the catfish with some dog food.

They don't own the farmland anymore, now they lease it. All three of my surviving cousins joined the National Guard and one of them was deployed to Iraq. They are all deeply conservative. Opioids decimated an already pretty poor and struggling set of small towns.

The thing I most associate with visiting family out in that part of the state is when I was a kid and we'd stay at my great grandparents' farm, and I'd get woken up a few times each night by the coyotes (ki-oats) and the train that ran alongside the tracks, and when my great grandma would cook a pound of bacon with breakfast for five, and when my great grandfather was looking through my mom's bird book telling you how many of each kind you'd need to make a good meal, and going out on the semi with my uncle and seeing how many gears there were!

I went to school at Wash U, and it was like an entirely different world from that part of Missouri. My dad, who grew up outside of Kansas City but not quite on the farm, was horrified that I'd choose to go to Missouri, but I loved my three years in St. Louis.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:29 AM on June 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

A sizable chunk of my family is in/from the 4-state region around Joplin, though mostly on the Kansas/Oklahoma side, and a noteworthy thing to me is that going by first name, middle name was very common, even typical: Jo Ann, Jim Bob, etc. That might not extend all the way to Joplin (I dunno since my Joplin relatives migrated there from NE Ok), but it bears confirmation. Anyone? Where I lived, in the KC metro area it was rare to do so. My grandmother was the only one to ever call me first-middle.
posted by sjswitzer at 5:36 AM on June 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

some time ago a woman on npr described how she lived above the grit line but was still in the biscuit.
posted by brujita at 5:45 AM on June 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

I've been in KC for eight years. I'm mostly culturally ignorant of this area because I rarely get out of the house. Understanding how Kansas was central to the impetus of the Civil War and the cross-border raids in this area during the war made a lot of things make sense to me that hadn't. Lawrence, Kansaa isn't jyst liberal because it's a college town (KU), it's always been liberal — it was the center of the abolitionist settlers in the Kansas Territory. Meanwhile, Missouri was a slave state, though remained in the Union, and so the Missouri side of the KS/MO border around KC became a hotbed of slavery supporters. The southern Ozark part of the state is really more like Arkansas and southern; but because of the Kansas stuff a lot of the confederacy supporters gathered up here. Even though northern Missouri borders Iowa and Iowa is very midwestern.

I see confederate flags around here, which surprised me when I first moved here. To me, being from New Mexico and Texas, Missouri was the midwest, if not the east. My mother says she's seen more explicit racism here in the (northern) KC suburbs than she saw in Amarillo, Texas. Speaking from experience living a couple of years there, that's... not good.

I'm used to SW cities that have grown rapidly during the last fifty years, where most people you meet are not natives. Practically everyone I've met here has been from here and I've found this reflected in a surprising amount of parochialism/and insularity for a large metropolitan city.

The above question about Washington University was interesting to me because, without knowing the answer, I guessed it. A childhood and lifelong friend was accepted into and made it through their MD/PhD program, the most selective in the US (at that time, anyway). Whenever I've mentioned this to people here because, you know, it's in Missouri, they don't recognize the university. I'm sure this isn't true for STL people, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's true for the rest of the state.

I don't at all understand how KC people think about the Kansas and the Missouri parts of the metro area. There's a KC, MO and a KC, KS. And it's not as if they're mostly on oppisite sides of the river. In fact, they're on the opposite sides of a busy street in a fairly densely populated part of the metro area. I have a hard time getting my head around caring very much about which state some part of the metro area is in, but it does seem to matter to some people.

I don't hear southern accents here in KC. But that's the ear of the beholder.

I don't know if it was here already by the early 00s, but meth. I'm one family degree of separation away from a middle-class couple who served time for meth production. Meth is, as I understand it, all over rural Missouri.

To me, Missouri is a strange place. As someone emphasized above, it's not a homogenized mix of the industrial great-lakes midwest, the prairie midwest, the (Ozarks) south, and the almost W/SW of Kansas. It's a smorgasbord of these things. A patchwork.

One thing I will say with some actual authority — in the US of the last forty years, the biggest cultural division is urban and small-towns/rural. As you move east across the US, the average population density over large area increase, but that doesn't mean it's more and more urban, in general. It means that the small towns get closer togetjer and, as they do so, counterintuitively often become smaller. So "small town" can mean greatly differing absolute population. But what it doesn't differ, for the most part, is cultures. I grew up in a small town andvI rarely, rarely feel like novels and TV/film gets the culture right. Usually, it's based upon the stereotypes than city people are familiar with — some of which is true! But it's true in more complicated ways. For example, small towns are usually pretty stiflingly comformative... but, counterintuitively, almost always carve out exceptions for some very eccentric people, who are accepted as one of their own. Like, non-gender-conforming people and such. Or whatever.

If I were to (well, when I do) read a book set in a small town, I'd be more sensitive to the portrayal of the small town culture than I would the regional culture.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:53 AM on June 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

I went to Mizzou and lived in Columbia from the early nineties to mid-aughts, and some of my family are from NE Arkansas and now live in the Bootheel. What you're being told about regional differences is definitely correct.

First the good. There is a period in mid-Spring in mid-Missouri where blooming overlaps. Forsythia, tulip trees, redbuds, dogwoods and Bradford pears. I'm lucky enough to have seen a lot of the world, and I'll put a mid-Missouri spring as one of the most beautiful things on the planet. The Missouri Botanical Garden is, iirc, one of the top three in the world.

Related: Smells. I could perfume my whole house with a single lilac branch or a peony. Here in the arid West, nothing smells. I don't sniff lilac bushes anymore, because it just makes me sad.

"Floating" is a big thing in Missouri. The Ozarks have some beautiful rivers. Canoe trips with friends and family are popular. I heard they outlawed Jell-o shots on the river, which is a travesty. Lake of the Ozarks is also popular. Google "party cove."

Mizzou grads will happily point out that you can't spell "SUCKS" without "KU." Riverboat casinos are a thing. They are not actually boats.

A lot of people in rural areas won't/don't go to St Louis because some lady from church had her purse stolen at a mall fifteen years ago. (It was a black guy, duh.) On the other hand, almost everyone will take their kids to Columbia for some school thing (state debate competition, sports) at some time or another. They will eat at Shakespeare's Pizza if they're lucky or at shitty chain restaurants if they're not.

Missouri has the laxest billboard laws in the country (also very lax on puppy mills/exotic animal trade) so otherwise pretty scenery on the I-70 is obscured and basically the whole state is littered with them. As mentioned above, there are a ton of anti-choice billboards and all the babies are white. And while there may be no such thing as an ugly baby, some of these poor kids.... Well.

Southeast Missouri (the Bootheel) has a large population of miserable people who are just HATEFUL and jealous/suspicious of outsiders and anyone who "thinks they're too good." Thinking you're too good may involve travel, education, maintaining a healthy weight, not being an open Nazi—the list is long. I have visited family after returning from Baghdad, Tibet and frickin' Timbuktu (literally) and not been asked a single question ... not one ... about any of these places.

Imo's is not actually pizza, but I still crave it about once a year.
posted by cyndigo at 5:53 AM on June 11, 2020 [14 favorites]

So, I spent about 12 years in St. Louis suburbs, St. Louis proper, as well as a sordid assortment of rural MO college towns. Definitely part of the "never looked back" crowd, but here are some things I miss :

* Really good BBQ. St. Louis is known for its particular cut of babyback ribs (they have like a fat cap and an extra bit of meat on top), and a sweet, tomato-y BBQ sauce. It's really really good!
* Thunderstorms. Real thunderstorms. Somebody mentioned it above, but MO has some real-ass thunderstorms. Shake-the-house kind of thunder, and driving rain that'll make you pull over to the side of the road because you can't see.
* Availability of real actual fireworks. In the month around July 4th, Molly Browns and a few other operators would set up tents by the highway where a 14-year-old boy could walk in with $20 and walk out with a basket full of high explosives. Not sure if this has changed at all.
* Float trips! Southern Missouri is full of these cold, clear, slow-moving rivers. Thing you'd do is get a raft and some beer and sammiches, and a boombox to play the local classic rock radio station, and spend the day floating down it with your friends. Everywhere else in the country they do tubing or canoeing, but in MO the thing to do is floating. This is a staple of the Missourian summer.

Some other Missourian trivia :
* That little piece in the southeastern corner that sorta hangs down into some other states? They call that the "bootheel", and that part of the state you might as well be in Mississippi. Pretty southern.
* St. Louis is the biggest city, and I suppose the most "liberal", but for city, it's still pretty dang conservative. I remember seeing a lot of "it's a child not a choice" bumper stickers, but that could just be because STL has a large Catholic population.
* This is fact slightly better known now because of Ferguson, but St. Louis has a pretty odd situation where most of the "city" isn't actually part of the city of all, but is part of a weird patchwork of municipalities that surround the city. The actual city of St. Louis is pretty small and doesn't include some of its wealthiest areas. This causes All Kinds of Problems.
* Shocking levels of grandpa-caliber racism, basically everywhere. The segregation and wealth disparity in STL would just make your hair stand on end if you come to it from a city like NYC. And that's not to say NYC is any great shakes in the racism department. But still.
* The rivalry between Mizzou and KU has a bitter tinge to it, far worse than most good-natured collegiate rivalries. This is because the conflict goes back to the civil war. And unfortunately, the Missourians were on the wrong side of it.
* The cost of living in MO is ridiculously cheap. You could even live in one of the trendier parts of STL and like have the bottom floor of a building to yourself for practically nothing.

Agreed with the expressed sentiment that MO isn't so much a state but a loose confederation of regions that have fairly distinctive flavors. St. Louis is kinda like what would happen if Chicago and New Orleans tried to find a compromise and all they could agree on was the racism. Never spent much time in KC, but I always had the impression they were more "western" and identified more with the culture of the prairie states. Southeastern Missouri is southern, as is "Little Dixie" (mid-Missouri), Southern Missouri / Ozark Region is fairly Appalachian in culture -- not southern (think hillbilly, not redneck). Dunno much about the Northern part of the state, but I have the impression it's a lot more "midwestern" in the sense of being closer to Iowa culturally. Apparently they've got a lot of large corporate hogfarms?

Anyways, I hope it doesn't come off that I'm too down on MO. It's really not a terrible place. I guess one positive thing I remember about being a teenager in St. Louis in the mid-90s was taking the bus down to the Loop and South Grand and being part of the "counterculture." Lots of good, creative people there -- students, artists, LGBT people, general work-class folks who just kinda grew up there, and other random misfits. And they all kinda hung out together because there weren't enough misfits to where you could effectively balkanize and shut out other subcultures. Which kinda brings me to my final point,

* St. Louis is a city that is effectively a small town. It has a lot of trappings of a city, but it's small enough that everybody still knows everybody within a few degrees of separation. The "St. Louis Question", the question everybody asks you -- and it doesn't matter if you're in STL or Barcelona or Costa Rica or Burning Man -- is, "Where did you go to high school?" If your family isn't from there, even if you grew up there, people still think of you as a newcomer.

For insight, you may be interested to read Jonathan Franzen's 27th City. It actually gives you a pretty good picture of STL and its history. Also, I think in The Corrections, the family is from St. Jude, which is a pretty obvious stand-in for STL.
posted by panama joe at 6:26 AM on June 11, 2020 [7 favorites]

"St. Louis is kinda like what would happen if Chicago and New Orleans tried to find a compromise and all they could agree on was the racism"

Oh my God, yes.

"Availability of real actual fireworks"

I forgot about this! My uncle used to run one of these. It was literally just a tent in some grass. People would just pull their cars to the side of the road and buy fireworks. Occasionally they'd be smoking as they shopped, which kind of terrified me. He made enough money from two weeks of work before the Fourth of July that he didn't work the rest of the year.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:44 AM on June 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

I grew up in Springfield and flug's comment above is a great description. Seconding that "Missour-ee" vs. "Missour-ah" is more about education than region. Also seconding that MO is a patchwork, and Springfield/Branson/everything below them is the South, NOT the Midwest.
posted by daisystomper at 7:39 AM on June 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

One more thing about eastern Missouri: Dirt Cheap Cigarettes and Liquor. If you know, you know, and if you don't, you should definitely visit their website and find out why it's always a lot of fun at Dirt Cheap (tm). (Spoiler: it's the inexpensive cigarettes and liquor.) Bonus: learn about the Dirt Cheap response to Covid-19, whether you had ever wondered about it or not.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:02 AM on June 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

ms scruss is Missourian, and her mum still lives in a (formerly small) college town NE of the city. Half the family's from Independence (yeah, of Oregon Trail fame), the other half's from very NE Missouri: tiny towns like Memphis, Gorin and Wyaconda.

The MS/MO antipathy is strong and mutual. Apparently my late father-in-law did his best to ensure his son's first words were "KU, pee-yew!". Conversely, a friend living in Troostwood but working in Johnson County gets unsubtle hints and realtors' business cards left on her desk by colleagues.

Football dominates, though any kind of high school or college sports prowess is celebrated for life.

Important KC question: Bryant's or Gates? Don't get smart now and say anywhere else.

Meramec Caverns signs on barns by the highway. I think there's a state law requiring them.

Hunting is a BFD in the south of the state. A friend's an attorney in "Winter's Bone" country, and he's been paid in meat before.

In some places, the Baptist church is effectively established. If a college had a Baptist endowment, there's no dancing still (though "foot functions" may happen at off-campus buildings). You might even be able to register "no alcohol" on title. There are still some shopping developments around Independence that are on former relatives' farmland, and they're oddly devoid of any licensed premises even 50 years after first sale.

Don't get into an argument about pollution with folks from the lead belt.

"The World's Largest ____" is probably in Missouri. Doesn't matter what the ____, it's probably there.

Heart-stoppingly large skies. I have seen skies so large even on the gently-rolling run of Hwy 36 between Macon and Chillicothe that I could not fill my eyes. Then there's that mad curve on the climb up the Ozark Mountain Highroad coming into Silver Dollar City (cheesy, yet strangely enjoyable) that almost seems to form a loop of impossible sky.

NW Missouri used to have a large tobacco industry. You'll still be surprised by rural diners with larger smoking sections than not, but I think the place we ate in Weston that was 100% smoking section's probably changed.

Humidity. Oh ffs, the humidity.

n'thing StL's segregation and racism. I've had a well-to-do Claytonite try to explain to me that "StL doesn't have a race problem, it has a crime problem". Yeah, fuck that guy entirely.
posted by scruss at 10:21 AM on June 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm a 6th generation native Missourian. I currently live in Columbia. I'm from small towns all over northwest and north central Missouri. I have dated people from St. Louis. I currently travel through the Springfield/Joplin/Ozarks area on a regular basis as my in-laws live in Tulsa.

Missouri is easy to mess up. There are a lot of different regions in the state and we know the difference between them. The state of Missouri is larger in area than New England. And a ton of these answers are about eastern Missouri or St Louis, and those are very specific regions that do not translate to southwestern Missouri (Joplin, etc.) unless the person in question has family from St. Louis and therefore knows about gooey butter cake, Imo's pizza, and the like. Following Cardinals baseball is not state-wide; we have another MLB team in the state! These different regions vary in accents, in geology/geography, in terms of basic world view. And we know the difference.

The area you're describing is the Ozarks. If you're interested in portraying someone from the Ozarks, I would take a look at this YouTube series of lectures in the Introduction to Ozark Studies class by Dr. Blevins of Missouri State University. Here's the first one. One thing he points out early on is that no one really thinks they're from the Ozarks. Even if from all outside appearances the person is clearly from the Ozarks, they will not agree that they're from the Ozarks. And yet I can tell you almost exactly where the dividing line occurs when I'm traveling from Columbia to Tulsa- you turn a corner on the highway and suddenly you're in a different part of the state. It's very specific.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:21 AM on June 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

*sorry, I didn't mean to say that absolutely nobody thinks they're from the Ozarks. More that the Ozarks means a lot of different things and there are a lot of ways to define it, and it's also not necessarily a positive way to describe yourself. I hope that makes sense.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:37 AM on June 11, 2020

The romanticization of this state is baffling. It’s also racist as hell, and the discrepancies in terms of public services between city and suburbs in KC and StL are beyond shameful. Take some time reading about public education in both places. Mosque in my town was set on fire twice, and they now require full-time security. But also I’m not from white “hillbilly” stock, so my perspective is different.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 10:47 AM on June 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

I've lived in KC about 12 years, and everyone above has documented most of what I would have said.

I've only noticed one other thing that could be helpful to a writer, which is that most people I meet who are native Kansas Citians or are from anywhere within a few hundred miles north and west of here have a very neutral, Midwest accent, with the exception of one word: "across." People often pronounce it as "acrost," which always strikes me as strange when juxtaposed with the rest of their "broadcaster" accent. I still notice it every time even though I've been here more than a decade.
posted by slenderloris at 11:05 AM on June 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

when I went to a lamberts I held out my hands to catch the roll and the douchebro deliberately threw it at my face.
posted by brujita at 12:58 PM on June 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is really only a bit relevant, but in the spirit of "outsiders sometimes see cultural norms more clearly than insiders":

I (a white, passing-for-straight, passing-for-American, queer immigrant woman raised on the coasts) interviewed for a curatorial position at the St. Louis Art Museum in 2005, and three things stood out to me: first, I was introduced to the only black person on staff, apparently because my dissertation research was about race and American modernism, even though her job was totally irrelevant to what mine would have been; second, in response to something I said about how I'd heard the city was very segregated, I was told by my potential future supervisor with enthusiasm, "but we get to meet the black people who like art!"; and third, on the tour I was taken on around town, a neighborhood was pointed out to me by the same potential supervisor with the comment, "and that's where the gays live."

I did not take that job. I now work in rural Oklahoma, and it is way less fucking awful than St. Louis.

Also, to help answer another bit of the OP's question: I've never heard anyone in Oklahoma say "four-state area," but I imagine that up near the corner where they all collide, people might. No one I know from Oklahoma talks about any parts of Missouri except, in descending order, Branson, Kansas City, and St. Louis. They mostly seem to visit the first two.
posted by obliquicity at 4:24 PM on June 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

May I recommend Daniel Woodrell and his collection of "country noir" stories? I cannot speak to their authenticity, but they are a good read for a type of gritty, rural prose.
Winter's Bone (2010) is his most famous film adaption. Other films include Ride With the Devil (1999) (adapted from the novel Woe to Live On) and Tomato Red (2017).
I have also read several of his books, including The Bayou Trilogy (Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do), and his short story collection, The Outlaw Album.
His stories stay with you.
posted by TrishaU at 8:27 PM on June 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

Cardinals baseball can be found throughout the state on radio, so lots of people are Cards fans even when they are geographically closer to KC. Football isn't the same, so I would suggest for sports making them Cardinals fans for baseball and Chiefs fans for football.

Also, in the mid to late 90s, the women's basketball team at was then Southwest Missouri State in Springfield was a big deal. I'm told the crowds were bigger than the men's team. This seemed to have trickled down to the high school level, at least in my high school.

In that area, people go to Silver Dollar City in Branson more than six flags in st Louis.

In high school, Battlefield Mall in Springfield was the place to go, especially as someone from a small town.

Also, cruising, which is teens just kind of driving up and down the main drag, and muddin', which is taking your truck or jeep out into a muddy creek until it gets really dirty. I never did that one myself, but I saw the after effects.
posted by bubonicpeg at 8:55 PM on June 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

A lot of this thread resonates for me, being someone who moved to STL from elsewhere. Both my spouse and I are from outside STL, and in 2005, we made separate moves from Chicago to STL (as we were just dating at the time). I'm originally from the Chicago area, whereas she's originally from southern New Hampshire; we both nod vigorously in agreement with discussions about STL being outsider-unfriendly. After 15 years, we've reached detente with STL being its own insular thing, and while it's fun sometimes to speculate on why--constant reminders of past glories from past centuries, the disdain for cooperation that's fueled one part of suburban growth, the blatant racism that's fueled the other part, the relative ignorance of most of Missouri while constantly yelling "senpai notice me" to Chicago--these are ultimately parlor discussions that aren't going to change STL in any way.

Within the last few years, we have made more of an effort to explore other parts of Missouri. I'll admit that the insularity of STL, plus the pulls I have toward Chicago, made it hard to look westward. We have made a few trips to Kansas City and eastern Kansas, and I'll be honest: if I could do it all over again, I'd move there. My spouse and I both attended college in rural Iowa (hers, mine), and we feel that the overlap between Kansas and Iowa is pretty high. Lawrence reminds me a lot of Iowa City (a college town I really like), whereas Columbia reminds me more of Champaign-Urbana (college towns that are, at best, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). KC also feels more like a city where civic identity is high, whereas STL's civic identity is almost entirely sports-based. The layout of KC also is more reminiscent of Chicago, whereas STL will eternally be ensnared in the City/County drama that's frankly dull and played out--the real drama is county vs. county and patchwork suburbia vs. mega-burb, but that's for another thread. And finally, STL is a horrible place if you have airborne mold or mildew allergies, whereas KC and eastern KS allow me to breathe more regularly without the aid of medication.
posted by stannate at 12:12 PM on June 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I know Kansas was, and maybe is, pretty unique in laws about booze, and maybe Missouri is too

I went to one semester at then-SMSU in Springfield in the fall of 1983. The drinking age in Missouri was 21 and 18 in Kansas, so every weekend there was a major caravan from Springfield due east to Galena, Kansas.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:48 PM on June 12, 2020

Several people have kind of hinted at this, but if you’re going to set a story in Southwest Missouri in the early aughts, you should probably be aware that the university in Springfield changed its name in 2005 from Southwest Missouri State to just Missouri State.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:34 PM on June 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

SMSU/Missouri State alumni of note include John Goodman, Tess Harper, Crystal Methyd, and Kathleen Turner.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:10 PM on June 12, 2020

Flug's comments are spot on!

One more thing that seems obvious but people might not realize: It's a LONG WAY to any services. Like, my hometown had one family doctor, but no dentists, no eye care, no hospitals, no state services, no chain restaurants. You can imagine what a big deal it was when Casey's gas station came to town and we could actually get pizza without driving half an hour.

I digress. So like it's a big deal to get health care. For instance, my whole family - two parents, three kids - would all go for our annual dental checkup on the same day, because it was a hassle. A fairly lengthy drive over back roads (on which I always experienced motion sickness). Interminable waits because everyone had an appointment with the same guy. To this day I remember one of the books in the waiting room, because I read it so many times. None of we kids were 'born' in our hometown - one in a hospital some 35 miles away in one direction, me in one about 30 miles the other way, and the other one, I dunno. You'd have to go those 30 miles to the county seat to a Wal-mart (except on Sundays, when they were closed), a Pizza Hut, a drivers license facility, anything.
posted by Occula at 1:11 PM on June 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm originally from Joplin, and I whole-heartedly endorse flug's thorough comment! "Four-state area" is definitely a concept that I see everywhere and would understand immediately, but in my experience it's a term used by businesses and local media, not really in everyday conversation. I have never spent any time in St. Louis, and it feels like it might as well be the moon - I think most Southwest Missourians feel a lot more cultural affinity for, e.g. Wichita, Tulsa, or Bentonville in the surrounding states than St. Louis (sure, there's a rivalry with Kansas, as described so well by flug above, but the reality is that there are a lot of people who cross back and forth every day). Things that the region calls to mind for me: Silver Dollar City and Branson, Braum's ice cream, tornadoes, roadside fireworks stands, the absolutely bonkers Precious Moments chapel (mentioned above a few times - I have been, but only when I was not quite old enough to fully marvel at its bonkersness), churches everywhere, Kansas City sports teams, identifying as being from "the Ozarks" even though Joplin itself isn't actually in the mountains, giraffe stone houses, and the McDonald's that goes over the highway (it's in Oklahoma, but when I'm driving east on I-44 that's how I know I'm getting close to home).

More generally, being from Missouri is all about everyone else from the South telling you that Missouri is the Midwest, and everyone else from the Midwest telling you that Missouri is the South.
posted by naoko at 1:08 PM on June 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

One Missouri thing I don't see mentioned here is the prevalence of Mormonism. I grew up west of St. Louis in a suburb and about 25% of my high school was Mormon. Joseph Smith believed Jesus was going to return to Independence, MO, which is on the west side of the state so may be relevant if you go with Joplin area. Also, Southern Baptists are very prevalent in SW Missouri. The SBC is strong. Big hair, lots of makeup too.

As others noted, if you leave the state for any reason you now think you are "too good" for everyone, your "shit doesn't stink", etc.

I've lived out of state for 14 of my 20 post-college years, now in Denver for the past 8 and am so annoyed when people refer to Missouri as misery, as in "Oh...you're from Misery?" Ha ha.
posted by fyrebelley at 12:43 PM on June 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

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