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The 13 rules of living in Chicago

Here's how to unofficially be a law-abiding citizen of Chicago

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
By Time Out Chicago editors |
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Welcome to Chicago, a place so caught between Midwestern politeness and its weird particularities that for newcomers, figuring out how to acclimate can feel like a steep uphill climb. Some things are easy enough to pick up on: which Chicago bars are the hot places to hang out, for instance, or the best Chicago museums to bring your out-of-town friends. But other elements, like how to successfully navigate the CTA or the ins and outs of city culture, require a bit more ingenuity to figure out. Whether you're new here or a longtime resident looking to compare notes, it never hurts to consult the 14 rules of living in Chicago.

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1. Master CTA etiquette. Every Red Line commuter knows the horror of navigating rush hour during baseball season, when the El's downtown stations flood with a sweaty blend of commuters and clueless sports fans. It's hellish to begin with, but nothing makes this process more unbearable than people crowding the doors in front of exiting passengers or packing themselves in like sardines in the front of the car despite abundant space in the aisles. A little spatial awareness is all it takes, folks! (And please, we're asking nicely: take your massive backpacks off.)

2. Understand that "Windy City" has nothing to do with weather. Yes, it is sometimes windy here. But no matter how powerful that gust was that knocked your Carhart beanie off your head, the nickname has nothing to do with this being a windy city—it actually refers to the city's politicians who were acussed of being full of hot air during the lead-up to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

3. Scale back your use of the term "Chi." But it's a cute nickname, you exclaim in protest. But Chi City truly *is* my city, you cry in anger. Fair enough. But just so you know, "Chi City" sounds like something that should be emblazoned on an Etsy print of the skyline or a hashtag applied to a DePaul freshman's Instagram posts during their first week of school. Unless that's the vibe you're going for, use caution before inserting the moniker into casual conversation.

4. Know your ward number and your alderman’s name. Staying civically engaged is a must in a city so rife with political corruption. There are 50 aldermen that represent the city's 50 wards, and they're supposed to represent you, too. If you have a comment or complaint, don't voice your concerns to your out-of-state friends on Facebook—dig up your rep's email address and bug them until you get a response.

5. Watch out for cyclists. Whether you're a driver or a pedestrian, watch out. This isn't Amsterdam, but being oblivious is guaranteed to get you into some trouble—physically or verbally. Before crossing a major intersection or opening your car door in traffic, look both ways and avoid contributing to the growing list of cyclist injuries.

6. And Divvy riders—stay off the damn sidewalks. It's fantastic that Chicago has so many Divvy bike stations nowadays; we love and support alternate modes of transportation. And it's also true that many of Chicago's bike lanes (if there are bike lanes at all) leave something to be desired. That being said, pedestrians on the sidewalk shouldn't have to navigate around your wobbly bike! That goes twofold for e-scooters, whenever they make their way back to the city.

7. Try your best to stop talking about the weather constantly. We're all guilty of this, seeing as Chicago winters offer endless fodder for discussion. Need something mindless to talk about with your coworkers? How about the fact that it's been 23 degrees (real temp 11 degrees, with gusting winds) for the past five days? Button up your parka, steel yourself against the chill and rise above the urge to sound off on your snowy commute.

8. Stop treating the South Side like an embarrassing family member we don't talk about. Nothing gets under our skin like a non-Chicagoan bemoaning the violence on Chicago's South Side, as if the region that constitutes a full 60 percent of the city's area and more than a dozen neighborhoods is some kind of faceless monolith. The same goes for the West Side. If you're going to act like you care, at least understand our city's geography—there are problems on the North, West and South Sides. Learn about the causes of violence (and what you can do to help those affected) before you mouth off about it.

9. Use escalators correctly. Stand on the right, move on the left. This is an unspoken rule around the world and yet, unfathomably, people here continue to form lazy blockades while glued to thier cell phones and grind escalator traffic to a halt. As Midwesterners, we swallow our rage and spend the whole ride to street level about to utter profanities or an aggressive "Excuse me." But alas, we'll probably remain quiet and then complain about it for the rest of our day.

10. Accept ketchup on hot dogs. People who get on their high horse about the no-ketchup-on-hotdogs rule are the same people who moan about the Sears Tower being called the Willis Tower (name the last time you heard a regular person actually do this). Anyway, ketchup is delicious. Who cares if someone wants to make their hot dogs more delicious by putting ketchup on them? Not everyone likes things "Chicago-style." They're still welcome to take part in our culinary superiority.

11. Know your local grocery stores. Chicagoans have been buying pre-packaged containers of various salads (ham, potato, Hawaiian, you name it) from Jewel Osco for more than 50 years. And if you're ever in the mood to browse international foodstuffs while sipping a glass of wine, Mariano's is a sure bet. R.I.P. to Dominick's, White Hen and all the other local faves that stocked the grocery aisles before them.

12. Stop reenacting every movie ever made in Chicago. Or worse, the suburbs. Every cinematically-educated human knows that Ferris Bueller's Day Off takes place in Chicago. This does not mean you get permission to act like a tourist at the Art Institute every time you visit. Films like High Fidelity and Drinking Buddies and shows like Shameless and Chicago Fire do a great job of showing off the city. Casually mention them to friends visiting from out of town, but leave it at that. We don't need to hear you quote every scene from Mean Girls.

13. Be able to recommend one good pizza spot. No need to defend deep dish to the death—it's a battle you may lose. Chicago spots also offer great thin-crust New Haven-style slices or Detroit-style squares. All you have to do is just point out-of-towners in the right direction of a restaurant with reliably delicious deep dish pizza and your job is done. (Hint: it's Pequod's.)

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