Photo: Lucky Business/Shutterstock

How to Confuse an Alaskan

by Jennifer Gracey May 14, 2018

Generally speaking, Alaskans are a clued-in bunch. We’re situationally aware, we’re mindful of things many never realize need minding and our critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills are well employed. Basically, we’re not easily put out of sorts. There are occasions, however, where we’re taken aback and must take a moment to mentally regroup. Here some quips and bits on how visitors, the newly relocated, and outsiders, can perplex and confuse an Alaskan.

1. Ask, “Have you ever seen the Aurora?”

This inquiry makes us wonder where you were during earth science classes and whether or not you went to a school that taught planetary relevant things like the difference between aurora borealis and aurora australis.

Two questions that elicit an Alaskan-worthy, conversationally-engaging response to aurora-related queries are: “When was the last time you saw the Northern Lights?” and “Where were you when you saw them?”

2. Ask, “Do you know how to drive?”

Don’t be surprised if we retort with a bemused yet slightly insulted undertone, “Drive what, specifically?”

Driving, to the vast majority of Alaskans, is what water is to a fish. And asking an Alaskan — any Alaskan of age — if they know how to drive is always the wrong angle. The better approach is to ask what we drive and where to. The Alaskan you’re talking to will gush and his/her response will be infinitely more interesting.

3. Not pulling over to let people pass when vehicles pile up behind your extra large, slow going ride.

Why is this not the norm everywhere? Why is this not the platinum standard of universal road etiquette? Why is this not a question on drivers license exams the world over?

Our collective Alaskan minds cannot fathom the poor driving ethics and incomprehensible degree of inconsideration for those stuck behind — with little opportunity to pass — wheeled monstrosities whose drivers are woefully unaware of the rules of Alaskan roads. Nothing baffles the Alaskan psyche more than being forced to drive behind the slowest vehicle on the road because the driver of said vehicle doesn’t have the foresight to pull off at the nearest turnout.

4. Talk about moving out of state as though it were a good thing.

For university? Heck yes! By all means go expand your horizons, experience another part of the world and practice adulting. For life? We have to ask, “Have you gone mad?” Why would anyone want to leave Alaska? No, really — how is that even a thing?

The unabashed truth is: everyone who does this ends up regretting it. All Alaskans know this yet, a small portion of our population goes down this path anyway. We just don’t get it.

5. Use a dustpan to shovel snow.

There’s a reason people invented tools and called them “snow shovels.” Unless you’re a toddler out helping mum or dad, nobody bends over that far to scoop a light powdered sugar dusting of snow off their front walkway while it’s actually still snowing. Nobody.

6. Drive on dry roads with chains.

In this case, “dry roads” means no snow cover to act as a barrier between your vehicle’s chains and the asphalt. For the record, snowfall doesn’t automatically warrant the use of chains on motorized vehicles — particularly not if you’re driving on flat city roads far away from any mountains, rural areas, or steep terrain.

That “thump thump thump” those chains make banging on the bare pavement? It’s the sound of dollars going down the drain from damage. Damage to the vehicle and damage to the road. Please take the 15 or so minutes to educate yourself on the appropriate response in situations like this. Your car, your tax dollars, and your confounded Alaskan pals will all thank you.

7. Shut down an entire city for extreme weather when the “extreme” is two inches of snow (or less).

Here’s looking at you Atlanta, D.C., London, Rome, Tokyo, and myriad others — you know who you are. Please, just stop the madness. It’s not a legitimate snowpocalypse until snow reaches above the front door.

8. Have no idea how to get yourself and your vehicle unstuck from said two inches of snow.

This is not rocket science, it’s critical thinking and problem-solving. It’s also less than two inches of snow. Sitting in your vehicle, pressing the accelerator and spinning your tires faster is not going to help your cause in the least. Also, how in the blazes does anyone get stuck in less than two inches of snow? We truly don’t understand.

9. Expect us to believe salt on the roads is a good thing.

It ruins cars and cars are expensive and already difficult enough to keep in decent condition for the long haul. It’s also not that fantastic for the environment by polluting waterways and adversely affecting flora and fauna. It also puts a serious wrinkle in one’s wintertime fashion (ie. crusty white stains on that pair of expensive Uggs from Santa).

For all the technological advancements available and the global push for eco-friendly alternatives, most places still use rock salt as their go-to — we just don’t understand.

10. Panic shopping.

Why do you not already have a six week supply at home? What happened to your deep freeze and your cache of canned goods and sundries? Do you not shop at Costco or Sam’s Club? Whatever happened to the “have enough in store to last 3-10 days for yourself and a neighbor in case of a disaster” mentality?

Alaskans are schooled from birth on the importance of having and maintaining a cache robust enough to last through at least one, if not two nuclear winters. Our unofficial Alaskan motto is, “always be prepared for everything, all the time.” Panic buying in a crazed frenzy bemuses us and we can’t wrap our minds around the phenomena when we hear about it on the news. Our first thought when experience the panic shop frenzy firsthand is, “Woah! I just walked into a Hollywood film set by mistake.”

11. Talk about freeways, toll roads, and the interstate.

We don’t have any of those and we’ll likely stare at you blankly when or if you mention them. We do have highways and a haul road that gets us from Alaska through Canada and back into the lower 48. The closest thing we have to a toll road is the 2.5 mile/4m stretch of tunnel that gets us from Portage to Whittier. A roadway which also happens to be North America’s longest highway tunnel has a single lane and only operates one way at a time. At 13 to 300 dollars each way depending on vehicle type, it’s also the most expensive 2.5 miles most will ever drive.

12. Talk to us like public transportation is normal.

We come from a state dependent on personal or chartered vehicles to get where we need to go. Talking to us about trains, subways, monorails and vast city bus networks is pointless. All we do is wonder, “Why would anyone want to live in a place like that? I’d rather drive myself.”

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