Could non Mormons enjoy living in SLC?
February 2, 2007 3:12 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I are considering an opportunity to relocate to Salt Lake City, Utah. We currently live in Tucson, Arizona; I spent 12 years in the SF Bay Area, my husband lived in San Francisco and Milan; and we are religious only about food and wine: could we enjoy living in SLC?

What are the progressive, architecturally interesting, or historic neighbourhoods?

How about the arts or a music scene?

How pervasive is the LDS in everyday, normal life?

We love the outdoors and are expecting a kiddo, so we have at least two things in common with our potential fellow citizens.

I would appreciate hearing from similar, non religious people who live(d) in SLC and enjoy(ed) it.
posted by mollykiely to Society & Culture (41 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
My mother lived in SLC for a year as a middle aged single woman and her experiences were not positive. She said she felt like he house was put 'on the list' of non-mormans to be targeted by missionaries in training; I think she grew to enjoy debating / testing the ill-equipped teenagers who would come to her door.
Her working experiences were more negative as she faced a 'boys club' of sexism and a 'shouldn't you be home with the kids' / 'stocking the larder' mentality.
Also as lovers of food and wine, know that alcohol sales are handled differently then in many parts of the country.
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 4:17 PM on February 2, 2007

I lived in Tucson for 7 years (grad school), and have been living in San Francisco for the last 9 years or so; between those two I lived a few years in Pocatello, two hours north of SLC. I consider myself a devout atheist, skeptic, and Man of Science. And I'm a jazz fan, I play trumpet.

I always liked hanging out in the coffee shops downtown and around the university. There was decent live music but not many big names (which was fine by me, because I like listening to local amateurs). There are good restaurants and excellent brew pubs. (Of course you have to put up with the outlandish liquor laws.) And I'm told it's a great place to raise kids.

As soon as you leave SLC it's an LDS hell-hole. I got the feeling the Mormons go to the temple and then get the hell out of SLC.

And the outdoors! The Wasatch Range (and various plateaus) are so close and accessible. If you like winter sports at all, Utah is pretty close to ideal. The snow is beyond description. In the summer the hiking and off-road biking is spectacular. (The Utah backcountry is my favourite piece of the planet.)

I would move to SLC in a flash, except that my partner has a snow aversion and any place with winter is out of the question.
posted by phliar at 4:35 PM on February 2, 2007

Three weeks after I graduated from high school outside of Chicago, my parents relocated the family to outside of Salt Lake City. I could have killed them.

Nearly 10 years later, my opinion has changed. Speaking as a non-Mormon, there's many wonderful things about SLC. For one, there's the scenery ('cept when the inversion covers the valley, but you'll learn about that soon enuff). If you like to hike or bike or snowboard, you'll be very happy.

Yeah, yeah, there's a lot of Mormons in SLC, but the city is also led by one of the nation's most outspoken (for better or worse, guess it depends) mayors, Rocky Anderson (Here's a cover story about him that recently ran in The Nation).

Yes, you can find fine dining and wine in SLC. Just check a SL Weekly or the Trib for suggestions. So you have to go to a State Liquor Store (or take a trip to Evanston, WY) to get yr beer and wine -- Big deal.

Culturally, there's a few fine art house theatres (like the Tower), Ballet West, etc. I'm currently work for an indie record label in Chicago, and I see more and more our bands being routed through SLC into newer venues. That's a good thing.

Neighborhood-wise, there's Sugar House (which may have changed a bit since I've last been back), the 9th and 9th neighborhood and the areas surrounding the "U," which are younger and more bohemian.

I guess in short, I really ended up loving SLC, when I thought I would hate it. We were embraced by our neighbors even though we weren't LDS (and they never pressured us about it) and that's always a very comforting thing to find when you move to a new place -- that you can find a home, and not just a new house.

(Basically, what phliar said)
posted by pfafflin at 4:37 PM on February 2, 2007

Even 20-30 years ago, when I was growing up there, Salt Lake was more, um, cosmopolitan than you'd expect given it's size and dominant religion. The university is part of it, and I think the missionary work of the mormon church brought international converts to the city who were followed by their unconverted family. Plus, I think the friction between "gentiles" and latter day saint culture was a source of artistic inspiration.

Today I think Salt Lake City proper is, at most, 50% LDS, and a lot of vaguely liberal-progressive people are moving therefrom the coasts in search of cheaper housing & outdoor opportunities. The city has long elected democratic mayors, but the latest one sounds a bit more left/progressive than those in the past.

I've had a lot of good meals in SLC. There are a variety of ethnic restaurants, and there is enough money in the city that there are a variety of fine dining establishments. My info is a bit dated, but I don't think it's really established it's own culinary identity, other than in Ice Cream Sundaes.

I liked growing up there, and was happier still to go away to school. I don't know that I'd move back, but with the changing political demographics, I might think about it.

There is a memoir called "A Kings English" by Betsy Burton, a woman who ran one of the good bookstores in town, that might give you another view into the cultural life there.
posted by Good Brain at 4:40 PM on February 2, 2007

I should also add, to my first paragraph, that the Mormons aren't exactly a uniform cultural mass either.
posted by Good Brain at 4:46 PM on February 2, 2007

To echo what GoodBrain and pfafflin said, the Mormons in SLC (and Utah and southern Idaho) are really nice people. Probably because they've got the power so they're not all stressed out about the moral decay and all that crapitude that the Christianists get so bent about.

And since Mormons are not allowed caffeine or alcohol, they've elevated ice cream to an art form.
posted by phliar at 5:01 PM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you ask this question on this forum, the members will probably provide great (and surprisingly unbiased) feedback.
posted by necessitas at 5:17 PM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

You should visit SLC before considering this job.

It's a planned city, that was designed to be the showpiece and world headquarters of the Mormons. Grand cities have big boulevards, right? So SLC has streets that are dozens of miles *wide*. Buildings on the opposite side of the street are visible only as a faint glimmer on a clear day. You can see a restaurant on the far side of the street, cross the street to eat there, and discover that it has closed down and been converted into a dental office while you were crossing the street. There are shoe repair guys on the medians of most major streets who will resole your shoes so that you can cross the second lane of the street. Some intersections even have gas stations for cars which run out of gas in the middle of the intersection.

It is the least pedestrian-friendly city I've ever been in. There are no close-knit neighborhoods like in older American or European cities, because even your neighbors across the street are out of walking distance.

Architecture? Well, there's the Temple. You can't actually go inside, as a non-Mormon, but you can look at it from the outside.

How pervasive is the LDS? You will hear about the LDS in every news story, in every article, in every conversation. When you order a drink and realize you're being charged $10 for near-beer or a virgin daiquiri, you'll think about them. When the young men ring your doorbell every day, you'll think of them.
posted by jellicle at 5:42 PM on February 2, 2007 [7 favorites]

Salt Lake was planned as an agrarian community. The main blocks are huge because they were supposed to be big enough for a family farm. The streets are wide because they were built for ox-teams, not automobiles. It's true, it's not so good for a modern city. On the upside, you can usually execute a left turn when the light changes before oncoming cars are anywhere close to you.

I grew up there, I think we had missionaries knock on our door twice. If you think about it, it's not exactly the best place to do mormon missionary work.

I should say that growing up there was not without it's problems. I did not like everyone assuming I must belong to some ward or another, but it did teach me a valuable lesson about assuming everyone thinks like you do.
posted by Good Brain at 5:50 PM on February 2, 2007

SLC and Utah County are the highest baptizing missions in the church, according to my neighbor who was an elderly full-time missionary. The only problem with indie/boho culture in SLC is that it wastes too much energy reacting against the local culture rather than focusing on doing something different, if that makes any sense. The opposite probably holds true as well. Salt Lake is still affordable and relatively undiscovered. Soon it will be overpriced and self-parodying, like Portland, Oregon has become.
posted by craniac at 6:52 PM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I lived there for a year and loved it. The outdoors are amazing, and personally I never really even noticed the Mormon influence that much. As for neighborhoods there's a neighborhood called "The Avenues" on a hill below the University that is really nice. Old classic homes, beautiful architecture, etc.

I think the Mormon population in SLC is something like 38%. If I had a job there I'd move there in a heartbeat.
posted by crapples at 7:13 PM on February 2, 2007

I worked for American Mormons for 18 months or so about ten years ago in Japan. They all came to Japan via BYU in Provo, and they were all nice, sweet and made of plastic. I actually lived with a family for a while before they went back to the States. They left all sorts of LDS literature behind, especially books and magazines for the kids. One of the magazines instructed children on "what to do when your friends don't belong to the church."

Anyway, it was a strange experience, but I somehow learned about Utah through osmosis. One thing I learned is the SLC is pretty secular and cosmopolitan, like any American big city (watch out for Samoan gangs). It's because it is populated with knowledge workers like you who work in government and at the university.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:57 PM on February 2, 2007

As a pretty liberal Mormon who does not live in Utah (though I have lived there in the past), I think the Avenues is your best bet. Avoid at all costs the suburbs in the southern part of the valley. In fact, if you're concerned with a pervasive Mormon culture, avoid the suburbs altogether. The closer to the University of Utah you can locate yourself, the lesser the Mormon influence you'll likely feel.

That said, I know folks who have had both good and bad experiences as gentiles living among the saints (yes, that's the way we say it. Or rather, the way Mormons said it 15+ years ago. The "gentiles" terminology has fallen out of fashion). If you get lucky, you'll discover that your Mormon neighbors are kind, helpful, very community-minded, and respectful of your differences in belief. But you also might discover that you're the neighborhood project -- and there's nothing you can do to make it stop. Literally nothing.

1. Have a belief system of your own. Make it clear that you have a belief system that makes you happy.

2. Be willing to engage in thoughtful discussion of religion. By "thoughtful" I don't mean to imply that you need to consider conversion. But act intelligently interested and be polite. Know in advance that your Mormon neighbors want to talk about religion not because they see you as prey, but because it is important to them. They mean it kindly. If you are open, "Hey, that's really fascinating! My belief system is so different: isn't that interesting!"

3. Participate in ward activities. You'll be invited to the ward Christmas party, and the Fourth of July celebration, and probably something on Pioneer Day (July 24). And Halloween. The local ward might have a few others as well. For Utah Mormons, the ward and the neighborhood are the same thing. You are being invited both as a neighbor, and as a missionary possibility (the logic being that you'll see how much fun your Mormon neighbors are having and want to join in more frequently). Even if you are not interested in conversion, the neighbor-element factors in. By avoiding to participate when all of your neighbors are involved makes everyone uncomfortable. If you must, consider it an anthropological investigation.

4. Don't even think that Mormons are all stupid sheep. You might think the doctrine is absurd and the church is a patriarchal geriocracy, but no one likes being treated like an idiot. And contempt has a way of making itself known. Avoid thinking that Mormons are idiots and you'll avoid having your neighbors thinking that you are a servant of Satan.

(By the way, Mormon doctrine is pretty clear that hell is reserved exclusively for Mormons. Unless you're a baptized Mormon who's been through the temple and spent many years of dedicated church service, you simply cannot be damned to hell. Which means that no thoughtful Mormon should ever lose sleep about the state of your everlasting soul. She should ask the question, "Would membership in the church help make this person happy right now?")

5. Avoid smoking in public. While it shouldn't be a big deal, there are few things that induce more intolerance among Mormons than smoking. By smoking publicly, you'll experience the worst of Mormon culture: the cold shoulder, the whispered gossip, the condescending glances.

6. Smile a lot. Seriously. Mormon culture is addicted to demonstrative happiness, and by smiling a lot your neighbors are more likely to think you're happy, to treat you as an equal, and to provide plenty of benefits of Mormondom without the requirements of actual Mormonism.

In some cases, should you refuse to join the LDS church, you'll be ostracized regardless of following the six suggestions above. But, I hope, those are rare cases. Most of the time, in almost all parts of the Mormon belt (most of Idaho, all of Utah, and significant portions of Arizona and Nevada) you'll find that you have wonderful, supportive neighbors who provide amazing free service (moving, babysitting, major home projects, yard care, convalescent support, transportation, crisis resolution) and friendly, community spirit.

Again, I'm a Mormon (albeit originally from Southern California and now in the Midwest) who lived for nearly 20 years in Utah. I'll probably move back there someday. And I miss living nestled amidst spectacular mountains where I could start a trail run 50 yards from my house, fly fish on a spectacular trout stream in a wilderness less than a mile away, and be on a ski slope in fifteen minutes from my front door.

Feel free to contact me via the website in my profile if you have more questions.
posted by terceiro at 9:55 PM on February 2, 2007 [16 favorites]

terceiro is exactly right. I will second everything he said. I am a Mormon who grew up in Canada, but lived in Utah for 7 years and who now lives in Tucson. I especially want to emphasize point 3. It is hard to indicate how true that is.

My boss in college (in Northern Utah) was Catholic and she felt like she was a little bit of an outsider in her neighborhood. Part of the reason for this is because she never got invited to all the "ward" (which really mean neighborhood) activities. However, the reason she didn't get invited was because when she first moved in, she was so worried about her neighbors trying to convert her, that she refused any and all invitations. Her neighbors got the hint and stopped inviting her.

The truth is, if you go to the purely social activities and let it clearly be known that you aren't interested in converting, you will soon be known as that nice non-Mormon in the neighborhood and I think you will really enjoy the people.

I too want to emphasize that I think SLC is a great place and would definitely have no qualms about living there.

I would also be willing to talk with you more about this (my email is in my profile). My wife still has family in the area and we might be able to give you some good contacts.
posted by bove at 7:52 AM on February 3, 2007

As an ex-Mormon who grew up in a multigenerational Mormon family, I'm going to have to agree and disagree with a few of the key points under "HOW TO DEAL WITH MORMON NEIGHBORS (as a non-Mormon in Utah)" as provided by terceiro.

1) Having your own belief system really isn't going to make a difference. It may grant you a temporary reprieve from being missionaried to, but other than that it's moot.

2) Yes, lots of Mormons are open minded about discussing religion in all its forms - particularly Judaic/Christian religions as well as Islamicism. Zen, Buddhism or non-theist religions or philosphies, not so much.

3) I must vehemently disagree with point 3: If your goal is to get the Mormons to simply and completely leave you alone and I don't want to be converted DO NOT participate in ward activities AT ALL. Repeat, if your goal is to be left alone, AVOID AT ALL COSTS. There's absolutely nothing that signals that you're softening up or indicates "blood on the water" more than participating in ward activities. They'll never leave you alone if you do.

Frankly, speaking as an experienced ex-Mormon, you're not missing much. A lot of food, mainly in the form of weird casseroles. Some usually bad stage shows. Watch out for the road shows. The occasional dance - which is best imagined as a bad high school dance without the hormones, making out, spiked punch or music with any suggestivity at all in it.

4) Most Mormons aren't "stupid sheep", no. They, as a group, aren't simplistic creatures. The belief system is complicated and their Bible seminary or "sunday school" are nothing to sneeze at, either. They take studiousness seriously. I've been there.

Not that terceiro used this term, but "cultured" is not a term I would readily use. They tend to be insular and isolated from the world at large, from "worldly things". You're not likely to have a stimulating conversation with a Mormon about the cut-up techniques of William Burroughs, the poetry of Pablo Neruda, the psychosexual paintings of Dali and many other things that, while "worldly", aren't exactly shocking pornography, either.

Like any culture it depends on the individual. I've met fairly "cultured" and well-read Mormons, but they're usually rare.

However, you may find that many Mormons are surprisingly well-versed in classical music and may play one or more classical instruments, usually starting with the piano.

However, you may find most performance works to be limited to the less passionate and more religious composers. Brahm is a favorite. You may or may not find Mahler.

5)Avoid smoking in public. Yes, and no. Like a lot of terceiro's suggestions it depends on how much you value the opinion of your neigbors. As a smoker and an ex-Mormon, I've dealt with this a lot and it's not as bad as one would think it is. I've been to services for deceased relatives, and I wasn't the only ex-Mormon smoker there. We huddled and smoked at the far edge of the parking lot for the stake center we were visiting, with no ill feelings either way. A few active members even joined us for the conversation, but not the smoke. I've also been on temple grounds for a wedding as a smoker, and out of respect I left the grounds before smoking, and returned with nary a comment.

So, responsibly do as you please with your freedoms as you would anywhere. Respectfully, of course. If the Mormons don't like it, well, sucks to be them.

6)Smile a lot. They're still going to try to convert you. Smile when you feel like it, and only then, but by all means, smile freely. 'Tis good advice for anyone, at any age, in any age.

But don't bend over backwards trying to please the Mormon neighbors. That's really ridiculously ludicrous stuff, and smacks of groupthink. I know terceiro means very well, but some of the suggestions they have made are pretty terrible suggestions if you simply want to go about your life as a secular human being in what should be a secular state in a secular country. There's a bit too much accomodation there for my tastes. It's a fine and noble goal to want to integrate into a living community, but don't go chopping off your nose or your limbs to accomplish it. Mormons need to learn and practice tolerance as well.

In some cases, should you refuse to join the LDS church, you'll be ostracized regardless of following the six suggestions above. But, I hope, those are rare cases.

Unfortunately in my experience these are not the rare cases these days. I've seen a lot of emotionally and socially screwy stuff in this realm, and it's one of the primary reasons I'm not a Mormon. IMNSHO, the primary weapon of choice for Mormons is emotional blackmail and baggage. It's very, very difficult for active and even many ex-Mormons to even acknowledge this, and it is a very subjective judgement call for me to make. They're like the Catholics, but much more subtle and less gloomy and more smiley.

Most of the time, in almost all parts of the Mormon belt (most of Idaho, all of Utah, and significant portions of Arizona and Nevada) you'll find that you have wonderful, supportive neighbors who provide amazing free service (moving, babysitting, major home projects, yard care, convalescent support, transportation, crisis resolution) and friendly, community spirit.

Mormon community values are pretty awesome. They practice a sort of ad-hoc socialism or communisim that's a wonder to behold. The "Bishop's Storehouse" is an amazing thing if you ever get to visit a large one. Mormons won't be starving anywhere any time soon.

They'll help you rebuild your house after a fire. They'll feed you. They're often incredibly generous. They like people, and they like life, and they like honest work and good deeds. That's great. I love that stuff.

However, I'd honestly be lying if I said that I believed that all of that generosity came without any dogma or pressure at all. It might be just a little dogma and pressure, but it'll still be there, and it's still dogma. That's not so great. Every opportunity for generosity and sacrifice should not be seen as a missionary opportunity.

Lastly, if you have no desire to become Mormon, I very strongly and emphatically suggest that you tread very carefully, but soundly and confidently.

Some advice for avoiding or sandbagging ever-increasing missionary pressure: Do not accept a Book of Mormon, they'll be back to ask if you read any of it and attempt to discuss it. Do not go to ward functions. Be very firm and insistant that you have no desire to convert. If you're an atheist or agnositic, or belong to another faith, proclaim so firmly. Be civil but firm. Express strongly that you really do desire to be left alone and that it would make you happier. Sometimes expressing that their attentions are making you unhappy will get them to leave you alone.

Also: Do not under any circumstances give them personal information or geneological information. Do not give them addresses past, present or future. Do not tell them who your great grandmother was.

I know this sounds paranoid, but bear with me. The LDS church has a database of names and geneological records that makes the IRS' look like child's play - a mere, crude toy. The LDS database has been computerized since the early 80s. They never forget. I've moved to a new city, told no one - not even my family - where I was living and less than a week later missionaries arrived my doorstep asking for me by my full name. As I was moving in with a friend who was subletting to me, I had no bills, no job and no records of any sort indicating to any database anywhere where I was living. Sorry, but that is way creepy. Even creepier? It has happened three times.

Even worse? I can't get my freakin' name(s) out of their clutches, and attempting to do so just brings down very intense missionary scrutiny and pressure.

Whatever you do, be yourself, and enjoy your life. Don't be untrue to yourself just to make the Mormons happy.
posted by loquacious at 8:18 AM on February 3, 2007 [22 favorites]

I am not going to try and refute loquacious' points, but I just want to add a caveat. I think the experience he has had as an "ex-mormon" is vastly different than you can expect to have as a non-Mormon in Utah. Being an ex-mormon means that he still has issues relating to family members with different religious beliefs and his own past, that will be very different than you would experience moving to SLC.

Also, while it has not been in Utah, my non-Mormon friends have come to ward activities and even Church ceremonies and have not been attacked by over-zealous missionaries. I wouldn't go to every activity, but the ward activities are a large part of the neighborhood experience and I think if you never go, you will feel like an outsider. (Plus, it is clear that loquacious has not been in awhile, road shows are now extinct).

Finally, with regards to everyone trying to convert you. I will again state that loquacious' experience is different than a non-Mormon's would be given his history. It is very difficult for family members to completely give up hope that people who leave the church will never change their minds and come back. It is much easier to accept that someone who has never been a part of the church will not want to change that.

I think he is wrong that most people will be intolerant of that choice, but I will acknowledge that some people will be. It is my belief that this is relatively rare, but I am sure based on his experiences, he feels differently.
posted by bove at 8:39 AM on February 3, 2007

Molly, this will never have anything to do with Mormons. They don't bash each other over religion in SLC because lapsed Mormons far outnumber the active ones. However, you wil be moving to a place where the word "conservative" is instantly associated with correct living and the word "liberal" is associated with a dangerous lifestyle or lack of values. The only question you need to ask is about your politics. If you are conservative, you will be embarrassed by them and will probably blame their Mormonism. If you are liberal you will be frustrated by their persistent ignorance, and you will probably blame their politics, because even the lapses Mormons are still very conservative.
posted by Brian B. at 10:38 AM on February 3, 2007

They got rid of roadshows?! Man, I am happy for the kids that don't have to do it and mad, because I had to and they should too!

loquacious: there are hints online for removing yourself from the rosters. You write a letter, saying you expect a response and send it to the last place you think your records are and to SLC. If missionaries show up hand them the letter. If a month goes by and you have no response, write again saying that next time you will be sending a letter to the press as well about how the mormons won't let you leave. This should do the trick.

As for living as a gentile amoung the saints? I found that Utah mormons are FAR less pushy than the ones in the middle of Arkansas. They have less to prove and are just living their lives. When you have a kid, be firm that they can't take him/her to church with them. It really is some of the most beautiful country the US has to offer. Good luck!
posted by nadawi at 11:51 AM on February 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ballet West is probably the city's biggest redeeming trait!
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 3:11 PM on February 3, 2007

You're not likely to have a stimulating conversation with a Mormon about the cut-up techniques of William Burroughs, the poetry of Pablo Neruda, the psychosexual paintings of Dali and many other things that, while "worldly", aren't exactly shocking pornography, either.

My experience has been that you're much more likely to be able to have a discussion about literature in SLC than you will in most (but not all, as I'm sure someone will point out) non-costal US cities. And yes, I'm including Chicago in that.

I think that many people form a negative opinion (and I do not mean to imply any comments made here on mefi, but in general) are from people whose view of American culture is limited to costal metro areas. And if you're comparing SLC to San Francisco or LA or Boston or New York, well, yeah, SLC is a comparative cultural backwater.

But put on a scale with Columbus and Dallas and Indianapolis and... you get the idea. The major difference is that the surrounding suburbs around SLC tend toward slightly disturbing monocultures. Inside the city itself, however, SLC is culturally on par and geographically kicks butt. I mean, you just can't beat those mountains.
posted by terceiro at 5:20 PM on February 3, 2007

We love the outdoors and are expecting a kiddo, so we have at least two things in common with our potential fellow citizens.

Watch it with the kid. I grew up non-religious in a Mormon town, and I was pestered, treated with a double-standard, and made to feel as though I didn't belong. You may be able to avoid the attempts at conversion, but your child probably won't -- I guarantee you that he or she will hear plenty about this issue at school, from other students and their parents, and possibly even teachers.

Unless you're OK with the possibility that your kid may end up either Mormon or Miserable, I'd recommend moving someplace else.
posted by vorfeed at 5:26 PM on February 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

My girlfriend is an ex-Mormon, and had some reactions to this conversation I thought I'd share: first, she definitely agrees that an ex-Mormon is going to have a much tougher time w/r/t the proselytizing than a non-Mormon. Also, she agrees that the Avenues would be a great place to live, and very much agrees that getting as close to U of Utah as possible is the best bet. Don't move outside of SLC at all reallly, but staying in Salt Lake Valley is likely your best bet.

[speaking for myself now,] As a non-Mormon dating an ex-Mormon from a family of active Mormons (in California), I can second the distinction; I've gotten no pressure about my life choices, religious beliefs, etc. She, however, continues to receive signals and attempts, large and small, from her family, about "coming home." I can even talk politics fairly freely with her dad, but we've never (in 4 years) had a religious conversation.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:46 PM on February 3, 2007

SLC is a great place to live. I graduated from the University of Utah about 5 years ago and really had a great time. Good concerts, good food, great scenery. Made some great friends. It's never going to be as culturally enlightened or politically progressive as San Francisco, but it ain't bad. My wife and I would probably move back if the right opportunity came along. Vorfeed is right about having kids, though. Get out before the kid hits junior high. That would be our main concern with moving back. We're both Mormon but wouldn't want to raise our kids in such a homogeneous enviornment.
posted by bstreep at 7:17 PM on February 3, 2007

We love the outdoors and are expecting a kiddo, so we have at least two things in common with our potential fellow citizens.

I second vorfeed: Utah is a very, very difficult place to grow up as a non-Mormon.

I moved to Utah in the sixth grade. The first question I remember being asked in school was "are you a Mormon?" The second was, "then why are you here?" Seriously.

Attempts at conversion weren't the problem -- they dropped off after a year or two. The problem was that everyone's social life revolved around the Mormon church, and I didn't go there. That meant a ton of stuff that I just didn't share with kids around me.

As I got older, it meant girls not wanting to date me because I wasn't Mormon (in addition to my being a big dork). It meant developing a big chip on my shoulder.

Finally, it meant having to choose who to identify with. By the end of high school, all of my closest friends were non-Mormons. But I kind of walked the fence -- a lot of my nearly-closest friends were Mormons.

In Utah, I think non-Mormons tend to do a lot of stuff just to set themselves apart from Mormons -- more smoking, drinking, anything that's not Mormon-like. A non-Mormon kid is forced to choose between two very different extremes of behavior if they want to fit in with one group or the other.

SLC might be an interesting place for you guys to live for a few years as adults. By the time your kid is old enough to know what's up, you'll have a pretty good idea of what it means not to be Mormon there. Me, I wouldn't do that to a kid.
posted by gurple at 7:19 PM on February 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I worked for a while for a large company based in Provo, though I only commuted and never lived there. A couple notes based on that experience:

* several of my co-workers lived in the ski towns, instead of SLC or the valley. That gave them access to a more liberal set of neighbors, beer, things like that. If you like food and wine, some of the best meals I've ever had were at Sundance, so you can even get a decent meal in the state.

* I never experienced a single attempt to convert me. That may have been because I was in a workplace environment, and not a neighborly one, but I've had non-Mormons try to convert me at work, so the Mormons were doing better than others on that count.

* The smiling thing is true, insomuch as I never met an externally unhappy Mormon. They were all almost unbelievably optimistic, in a company that was going to hell in a handbasket. So yeah, if you want to fit in, the normal big-city American blank-faced look doesn't cut it.

* The non-Mormons who I knew there who were happy were all skiers/hikers/snowshoers/etc. The non-Mormons I knew who didn't get out and do those things were inevitably unhappy. So your nature thing is very good.

* I saw at least one set of non-Mormon kids driven to very bad ends. Consider seriously the warnings above about kids.

* Crazy, crazy liberals (even the French) can live and (apparently) even thrive in SLC. I can't believe it myself, but it does seem to happen. So there is hope :)
posted by louie at 9:45 PM on February 3, 2007

You're not likely to have a stimulating conversation with a Mormon about the cut-up techniques of William Burroughs, the poetry of Pablo Neruda, the psychosexual paintings of Dali and many other things that, while "worldly", aren't exactly shocking pornography, either.

One of the most interesting academics I've ever known was an art professor who would be fluent in all the above, yet was a Mormon, albeit slightly lapsed. (Drank coffee & wine, and probably for other reasons wasn't allowed in the Temple during his daughter's wedding.) On the other hand, no other Mormon I've ever meet came remotely close; to be fair, few people outside of any university would come close.

I'm just saying it's possible to find Mormons like that. Rare, but possible.

On the flip side I've known a few non-Mormons who've spent time in Utah, mostly SLC. The impression I got overall was "nice place, wouldn't want to live there (again)".

All that said, if you've lived in Tucson and haven't hated it .... But now I'm getting into fourth-hand opinion.
posted by dhartung at 12:48 AM on February 4, 2007

One thing you may find difficult to take is the insincere friendliness. There are those who will be so desperate to convert you that they'll appoint themselves your best friend - until you either convert or get it through their head that no means no. Then they drop you, because they've done their good deed and don't have to bother with you any more.

I've seen this happen time and time and time again, and always with Mormons.

And never, NEVER admit that you've had an abortion, if you've had one. They have two rules about converts: no homosexuals, no women who have had abortions. You'd think that would mean that the missionaries would leave you alone, but no: they send "counsellors" to you because they know all "victims" of abortion are horribly scarred, desperately unhappy women. Or bitches. Neighbours are likely to stop talking to you permanently.
posted by watsondog at 6:55 AM on February 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think the Mormon population in SLC is something like 38%. If I had a job there I'd move there in a heartbeat.

This is correct, when counting active attendance. I believe it is officially tallied around 49%, with Utah consisting of 62% LDS, according to recent news stories. The more rural, the more Mormon, except in mining towns. Mormons control the government and the media, and they control perception, even to the point of hiring a famous NYC public relations firm. If you read a history textbook it will favor the poor and hardworking Mormon agrarian side of the story, despite Utah having an extremely diverse immigration history to go with the wealthy mining history (but the money left the state after all). The same books ignore the litany of forgotten massacres and lynchings.

Utah has so much folklore and so many ambassadors that it is difficult to discuss it rationally. Mormons eagerly display their cognitive dissonance for the state, to the point that every neighborly cliche is assigned to Mormons, ignoring the fact that Mormons also receive assignments to be friendly to neighbors. On the other hand, non-Mormons focus too much on the religion and not the common politics that serves all fundamentalist religions, ignoring the real problem.

Sadly, the truth is that Utah is the state with the highest number of bankruptcies, to go along with the highest rate of antidepressant usage and affinity fraud, by wide margins. All three are related if you are creative enough to connect the dots.
posted by Brian B. at 10:53 AM on February 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

As I mentioned before, I grew up in SLC. I don't agree that you need to avoid the city if you have kids, or that you have to flee before they get to be a certain age.

What you do have to do is the same thing you should be doing raising kids anywhere. You need to be deliberate about choosing the neighborhoods and the schools you're kids will grow up in. You have to get involved with the local institutions you want your kids to grow up with. You have to give them a strong sense of their own identities apart from the dominant culture.

My parents found the educated non-mormon community in Salt Lake (which may actually be harder to connect with now that it's grown). My mother put me in the unitarian co-op preschool, she joined the league of women voters. She hooked me up with one of the few cub scout troops not affiliated with a ward, and when she was PTA president, she made sure that we got to do the flag ceremony for once (it was a disaster, but that's another story). We had a membership at the Jewish Community Center pool, and many summers, I did a day camp sponsored by the Natural History museum at the university. Whether by design or accident, the schools I attended always had a good crew of non-Mormon kids (parents were often academics).

My father fed me little facts of church history that the Mormon kids weren't being taught in primary that my friends and I used to tweak them. I wrote my Jr High Utah history paper on Porter Rockwell, Brigham Young's heavy. He told me about how Salt Lake City's crime rate wasn't really any lower than a similarly sized city elsewhere in the country, that Mormon charity had plenty of strings attached and wasn't particularly generous giving the demanded tithing rate. He pointed out the polygamist compounds in the city that were tolerated by the local authorities.

None of this is to say it didn't hurt to be snubbed from a few Mormon friend's birthday parties.

Of course, there is a danger in identifying too strongly as non-Mormon. Some friends parents got a bit ugly in their non-mormonism.

Brian B, apparently you didn't get the memo, the bankruptcies and affinity fraud are all the fault of Bill Clinton and his corrupt leadership. It's true, I heard two people discussing it behind me when I waited for a flight in the SLC airport in 2000.
posted by Good Brain at 12:05 PM on February 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Brian B, apparently you didn't get the memo, the bankruptcies and affinity fraud are all the fault of Bill Clinton and his corrupt leadership. It's true, I heard two people discussing it behind me when I waited for a flight in the SLC airport in 2000.

Bill Clinton is the most common bogeyman in Utah. The last editorial I read ranting against him was only a few months ago.

I'm convinced that Karl Rove, an agnostic, learned how to convert political debate into a question of personal lifestyle from having lived in Utah during his formative years (because Mormons already used lifestyle to distinguish themselves, because they are mostly poor and must organize politically around these issues).

I can see the original strategy conversation going this way:

"The trick is to get as many people as we can to automatically label the liberals as those who make irresponsible choices in life, just like they do in Utah!"

Response: "Brilliant!"
posted by Brian B. at 2:28 PM on February 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Brian, thanks for those links. In particular the "affinity fraud" link, which triggered some memories about how there always seemed to be some kind of Amway/Mary Kay or much worse MLM schemes going on at my friend's houses. I remember even my mom got into Amway briefly, but I think she mostly escaped.
posted by loquacious at 6:23 AM on February 5, 2007

I can't believe no one's mentioned Dooce yet. Probably the first well-known blogger-to-get-fired-for-blogging, and an ex-Mormon herself, with an "Avon World Sales Leader" for a mom. She and her husband left California to move to Utah and raise a child. I find her stories interesting -- you might, too.
posted by at 9:10 AM on February 5, 2007

No particular insights about SLC (although it's pretty and I've eaten well there), but the fact that you're expecting a baby may be the most relevant of all. My wife and I lived in NYC, London, and LA before I took a job in Omaha. The move to Omaha followed shortly after the birth of our first child. And believe me, the lifestyle contrast between LA and Omaha is, um, noticeable.

But don't ignore the possibility that your values may reorder when you become a parent-- your values won't necessarily change, but some values will become more important to you. I loved LA for its nightlife, restaurant scene, cosmopolitan mix of people, music scene, etc. But once I became a Dad, that became less important to me than creating the right environment for my kid(s). If I'm doing the right thing for my kids, I can live without great Korean Food and waiting several months to see European movies.

I don't know SLC well enough to know whether or not it is the right environment for your family, but I can tell you that your criteria for a community will probably change after your child arrives. I'm a little disappointed that my kids are less likely to meet gay people here (because I'd like them to realize that gay people are just like everyone else), but I'm very happy that my kids are not growing up in the rat race, with the Olympic-level materialism that surrounds Westside-of-LA kids. Choose your poison-- I don't know that the choice to move to Omaha was necessarily right, but I do know that I'm different than I was before kids.

SLC has big strengths and big weaknesses, but don't underestimate your potential to change and grow as you become a parent. Biology is hard to fight, and things may look very different next year.

(And BTW, congratulations.)
posted by adbomaha at 12:52 PM on February 5, 2007

I lived near the mouth of the canyons on the southeast side, and hung out with a bunch of ski bums. To quote a friend who stayed there much longer than I did, "the town is full of Mormons, and their teenage kids rebelling against Mormonism. Tons of drinking!" (How is that different from every other ski town? I asked.)

It is the least pedestrian-friendly city I've ever been in.

Second that.

To me, it just felt like a town of bad, politically conservative suburbs. As someone who likes Tucson and lives in SF, I'd never live in SLC. I think the best SLC neighborhood is Moab. ;-) But I did have a U of U friend who loved it.
posted by salvia at 7:49 PM on February 5, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all for your incredibly thoughtful responses.

The SLC opportunity tops the list of what we're considering, but would not a forever thing. I hope to get the kiddo in Waldorf school and become active with that community; by the time she's 5 or 6 we'll be considering someplace else (I'd like to move back to Toronto or Ottawa).

If we decide to pursue the opportunity, I may contact those of you who offered to continue the conversation privately.
posted by mollykiely at 5:38 PM on February 6, 2007

My sister in a non Mormon and lives in SLC. we call it Mo Town.

I am a mormolic. Er. Catholomorm. Er. My father is "Jack" and my extended family is Mormon. My mother is Catholic (hence why my father is "Jack"). They all hail from south eastern Idaho and Utah. We spend a few weeks a year there. Every year. Every damn year our lives.

I am going to be honest. I caution you. You of big cities. You of worldly big metropolitan complexity. Unless you seriously love the outdoors and winter sports in particular — and I mean they better be major parts of your lifestyle — you will HATE it there.

If you crave uniformity and a gentle kind of frontier blandness, if you need a quiet, safe, inexpensive place to have babies, then by all mean move to SLC.

If art, wine, and good food are you thing- the kind endless diversity of taste you find in Milan and San Francisco - you're in for bitter disappointment.

You WILL be politely but relentlessly hounded about your beliefs. You will not exist in happy anonymity like you can in a major city.

I am kind of hounded HERE, in Seattle. Because of my families connection to the church. My great grandfather was big Mo back in the day who founded and settled the Gem Valley for the LDS. We are charter members from back in the day. I was never baptized. But that hasn't stopped them from calling me, or stopping by, every few months. They are nice enough. But it's kind of creepy. Especially since members of my own family won't know where I am but the Church always seems to know.

And about thinking they are stupid sheep. Well. No more so than any other apocalyptic dogmatic orthodox belief. Nothing short of you converting is gonna stop many of them from thinking your Satan spawn. So why pretend you feel any differently that you do? If you DO feel that way.

If you live there your taxes will support the Mystical Disneyland Bubble they have created in Utah. Don't think for a second you will be separate but equal. And know that The Church will work ruthlessly to subvert some of your precious personal liberties by funding right wing politicians everywhere else. They have created a De Facto Theocracy with in the border of our greater Republic and we pretend they haven't. Even the Mormons here are giving you a Traveler Guide of Local Customs like your going to another country. Shouldn't that tell you something?
posted by tkchrist at 7:53 PM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with the comment above about raising kids in Utah. It's no different than anywhere else, except you will have conversations about Mormon culture, Mormon teachings and be invited to Mormon events. The history of the place is inextricably tied to the Mormon settlers so history classes are full of those kinds of pioneer stories. I think a better question to ask is how you handle cultural hegemony? Can you deal and are you willing to have your family deal with the endless parade of a mono-subculture?

We love it here, but we live in Salt Lake City proper, which, like most cities, tends to be more liberal than the suburbs. The Mormons in our neighborhood tend to be less verbally judgmental and appear to be more tolerant and less apt to try to convert. Invitations are offered, but the few neighborhood events we've been to have never been about getting us to rejoin. There is always the hint of the proselytizing just under the surface, and if scratched, it will reveal itself in potentially awkward ways. Which can be fun or painful.

Bear in mind that liberal in Utah means other things than it does in California or New England. Salt Lake City will lose its vocal, liberal mayor this year. He is a firebrand and last summer led a demonstration (well-attended on a weekday) to protest George W. Bush's speaking at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention (wherein Bush pushed his failed Iraq policy). It was amazing to see a mayor in such a conservative state speak against a President that most of the state still supports. If you are comfortable being in a political minority, you will survive. If one is conservative, one would love it here.

Having spent a few years in San Francisco, I found that it was the exact polar opposite from Salt Lake City. Which meant that in some regards, it was exactly the same on a larger scale. A lot of self-righteousness, assumption and outrage, just from the left instead of the right. I love San Francisco and Los Angeles (ask any SF resident about Los Angeles if you want a religious confrontation), but what brought us to Utah was family and cheaper housing. The latter appears to be changing, as it often does in Salt Lake City.

There isn't a lot of old money here and the new money is tech and MLM-based. There are a lot of copycat businesses that spring up once something shows success. This is true across the board. Technology companies tend to sell/merge rather than go public, and a lot of the senior executives can't wait to leave the state or are commuting in from other places.

There are few good restaurants, none I would call great (in a 100 top restaurants in the country profile kind of way) and all of them are inconsistent. Great dining experiences can be had, but it will be less about the food and more about the weather. We've found an Indian place that is good, a Thai place that is good and a handful of amazing Mexican. There are a couple of neighborhood places, but like Orange County, the chains are everywhere and most people going out eat at them. Socially, you will likely spend some time at a chain restaurant with friends. When we entertain out of town guests, this is the hardest part... finding great food to share.

Alcohol is not hard to get. A good cocktail is. Every year, there are murmured changes to the nutty liquor laws mandated by the Mormon majority in the legislature, but cocktails are not allowed to be free-poured, and are a failed endeavor in a commercial sense. Beer is plentiful although weak, unless you buy it from a liquor store. Which are run by the state. State-run liquor stores are close to freeways and if you live in Sugarhouse or the Avenues (two of the most recommended hoods outside of Park City), a liquor store is minutes away. I noticed a 10-20% mark up moving from California. While the supermarkets here don't carry strong beer, wine or alcohol, you won't have to get a manager to open the case for the top shelf booze (which was always the case at Ralph's in Los Angeles). Worse yet, Costco here isn't allowed to stock liquor. Talk about crippling.

There are no Trader Joe's. And we pine in that regard.

The best thing about Utah: the outdoors. Great outdoor everything is very close to Salt Lake City. If you want a more remote setting, those can be had in all directions only driving a few hours. Rush hour traffic in the Salt Lake Valley can be bad, but nothing compared to California cities. The snow is mostly fantastic, if a bit slower than California slopes and most of the resorts are smaller and cheaper than ones in Colorado or California. Great skiing is 30-45 minutes away from Salt Lake City. Less if you live on the east side of the city.

Avoid Utah County at all costs. No job is worth it.

Apologies for the lengthy (and late) response.
posted by blurb at 9:55 AM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Good point about the booze, blurb... as a a beer-and-wine-ophile, myself, that's another way in which Utah doesn't measure up. The State liquor stores are more expensive than they should be, but perhaps more importantly, it's really hard to find a wide variety of beer and wine.

Belgian and German beers are usually limited to one or two selections, if that. Wine tends toward the jug varieties, though the wine selection isn't generally as bad as the beer selection. Selection in general varies widely from store to store, so you may find yourself crossing town a lot if your favorite tipple is only available on the other side of the city.
posted by gurple at 11:47 AM on February 8, 2007

Oh, and as someone mentioned above, the microbreweries are in general very good, especially since they have to brew beers under 4%ABV. In particular, Bohemian Brewing in SLC has some of the finest American-brewed German styles I've tasted.

There's a pretty good Cajun restaurant / beer bar called Bayou that has a very extensive beer list, but they often tend to be out of most of what's on the list.
posted by gurple at 11:56 AM on February 8, 2007

Listen to Blurb. He, if anyone, would know what he's talking about, and present it in such a clear, unjaded fashion.

I am also going to second the reading of Dooce - she's quirky and articulate and scattered all through her blog are glimmers of Mormon life, ex-Mormon life, and ex-Mormons-living-in-Utah. That, and she's absolutely hilarious, with a handsome husband, a beautiful baby, and the coolest dog in the whole world.
posted by Adelwolf at 1:20 PM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't want to "out" anyone, but blurb and dooce have something of a connection....and he does some excellent writing about LDS and Utah himself.

...and I'm surprised that he just joined within the last few weeks. Welcome, blurb.
posted by nevercalm at 6:16 PM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

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