Worldwide icon-chevron-right North America icon-chevron-right United States icon-chevron-right Illinois icon-chevron-right Chicago icon-chevron-right The 12 rules of living in Chicago

The 12 rules of living in Chicago

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

By Stephanie Bernstein |

If you're new in town, you may have noticed some peculiar ways we Chicagoans interact, commute or converse. Perhaps you've lived here all your life, and there's still some unwritten rules you're unsure of. Regardless, everyone could use a refresher on how to be a good neighbor and generally not piss people off. From being a CTA rider to ordering properly at a bar, we think this list should be passed into law by City Council.

RECOMMENDED: Your guide to living in Chicago

1. 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 blockades-of-lazy by being glued to 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 then complain about it for the rest of our day.

2. Understand that "Windy City" has nothing to do with weather. Yes, it is windy here. Yes, everyone talks about it frequently. Still, no matter how powerful that gust was that knocked your beanie off your head or your cappuccino to the floor, the nickname has nothing to do with this being a windy city. The moniker refers to the city's full of hot air politicians during the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

3. Do not say "Chi." Ever. Say 'Chicago' out loud. Is our city's name SHY-KAW-GO? No, it is not. The terms The Shy and Shy-town are not only lame, but make zero sense. If you're trying to sound like a poser, say it all you want; but there is no quicker way of signaling that you're not with it than using this inexcusable term. Unless you're Kanye or Common, erase the prefix from your vocabulary.

4. Know your alderman’s name. Or better yet, his or her email address. There are 50 aldermen that represent the city's 50 wards. If you have a comment or complaint, don't voice your concerns to your out-of-state friends on Facebook—take part in active civic change. You may even get a response.

5. An Old Style is not a Chicago beer. According to the brand’s slogan: “Chicago style is Old Style.” So then, why is it brewed in Wisconsin? Even the Cubs gave up on the brand when they partnered with Budweiser. Sure, it's a staple in Shameless, but sip on a craft brew if you're really claiming to enjoy local beer. Become a real Chicagoan and ask for a Goose 312, Daisy Cutter or pretty much anything besides an Old Style. 

6. Watch out for cyclists. With Divvy taking over every corner and the continued installation of protected bike lanes, there are more and more bicycles on Chicago’s roads. Whether you're a driver or a pedestrain, watch out. This is no 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. 

7. Don’t take up the whole sidewalk. Welcome to Chicago! Oh, you live here already? Then you should know that you and your friends shouldn’t walk three abreast, forcing people walking toward you to get out of your way, or anyone wanting to pass you to walk in the street. Single file, people.
8. Stop treating the South Side like an embarrassing family member we don't talk about. Nothing gets under our skin like some non-Chicagoan bemoaning the violence on Chicago's "South Side." If you're going to act like you care, at least understand our geography—there are problems on the West, North and South Sides. Shootings occur in Highland Park and Evanston. Learn about the causes of violence before you comment on it. Sure, our city gets a bad rap in nationwide news, but no place is perfect and the South Side is home to huge portion of the people who make Chicago.

9. Accept ketchup on hot dogs. We don't know why there's a stupid myth that Chicagoans will ridicule you for using ketchup. 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.

10. 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.

11. Know the bar. For example, Three Dots and a Dash is a tiki bar. This is the place for an elaborate cocktail, not a Bud Light and a steak. Similarly, don't order elaborate drinks at hole-in-the-wall dive bars with lengthy beer lists. There's a reason why they have a ton of beers on draft—that's what they want to pour. Knowing where you are can help you order—and act—accordingly.

12. Be able to recommend one good pizza spot. No need to defend deep dish to the death. Chicago spots also offer great thin-crust New Haven-style or Detroit-style slices. 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 you're job is done. (Hint: it's Pequod's.)

More to explore