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Photograph: Kris Vire

28 things that are normal in Chicago but seem weird to outsiders

From free beaches to Chicago flag tattoos.

Lindsay Eanet
Written by
Lindsay Eanet

Can you imagine how different our lives would be without regularly-available gyros, free beaches or tavern-cut pizza? What if we told you that there are people all over the country who live with that reality every day? This week, users on the r/chicago Reddit page shared their experiences with things that are normal in Chicago, but seem weird to outsiders. Some answers are expected, like our civic aversion to ketchup on hot dogs; others are perhaps more surprising, like Chicago's love of 16" softball. Writes user jimmyjazz2000: "My dad grew up in the 1930s Chicago. He said 16 inch softball got popular because nobody could afford gloves. He also said the 16 inch balls back then would only last a few games before turning to mush. So the teams would play for the game ball, whoever won kept it. He said the balls cost fifty cents, and each kid on the team kicked in a nickel. (10 players per team, including short center fielder.) You had to bring a new ball to the game. So every game had an element of gambling. (Because that’s the Chicago way.)"

Here are 28 of our favorite answers—from classic Chicago foods to specific terminology—detailing the customs, quirks and cultural touchstones that make Chicago, well, Chicago. 

  1. “Bars without a name on the outside. Just ‘Old Style.’” - AustinBike
  2. “Having a coat for each 15-degree variation in weather.” - froggysands
  3. “Taking LSD on your way to work.” - luna_from_the_moon
  4. “‘Two flat’ for a duplex or multi family (2 unit) building.” - NerdyComfort-78
  5. “Drinking on the Metra.” - WhitechapelPrime
  6. “Free beaches.” - faroseman
  7. “Calling shoes ‘gym shoes.’” - AbstractBettaFish
  8. “16 inch softball, played barehanded.” - jimmyjazz2000
  9. “Getting tattoos incorporating the city flag.” - ChicagoShadow
  10. “Cutting round pizza into square pieces.” - salsation
  11. “Gyros being at most hot dog/American fare type food places. I've had visitors from both coasts, and my wife is from Alaska and moved here from California — pretty much everybody has told me how bizarre that is to them. I'm just so used to every dang place having a big "Gyros" sign out front that the idea of those being hard to get is baffling to me.” - brochiosaurus
  12. “‘Courtesy’ honking car horns in alleyways.” - Aetiology
  13. “Neither cars nor pedestrians recognize the existence of crosswalks.” - septagon7777777
  14. “Buying tamales from a guy walking around with a cooler.” - PhileasFoggsTrvlAgt
  15. “Having an opinion on blue vs. red cooler Tamale Guy.” - RAGC_91
  16. “Parking meters that pay private investor but are taxpayer enforced.” - swimbikenull
  17. “Poppy seeds on hot dog buns.” - RealisticReturn80
  18. “The bus and train and a little walking can get you anywhere in Chicago. A train in the airport and free transfers can get you from the far 100's all the way to the most northern part of Chicago.” - demarr
  19. “Applying to high schools like you would with college.” - Affectionate_Eagle59
  20. “For the South Side, you’re classified by parish. And it’s called ‘grammar school.’” - ronan527
  21. “The frunchroom (say it fast).” - LennyLeanordsEye_55
  22. “Sport peppers. Having lived here all my life, only when I moved to New Orleans did I find out they aren’t a thing pretty much anywhere outside Chicago. When I did find them randomly at some store, they were Vienna brand.” - trcharles
  23. Stopping at the middle of the intersection to make a left. If you don't people honk at you. Also being able to turn when the stoplight is yellow. We don't do that in Texas.” - ToughTittiees
  24. “The weird pizza boxes that have the flaps on the side to keep the box from flying open?” - Putrid-Cobbler-2471
  25. “A couple a too tree quadrillion gallons of fresh water on over by der.” - Dizzy_Ask3772
  26. “Taking a water taxi to get to the office quicker.” - beefaronibake
  27. “Trash cans go in the alley. Parkways are for trees and gardens.” - minus_minus
  28. “Calling the residential roads running parallel to the boulevard system a service road.” - sammmymantha
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