How to Sound Like a Local in Detroit

Coming to Detroit?

If you haven’t been here in the past five years, you’ll be impressed at our revitalization efforts. Bloomberg called us “America’s Comeback City,” and Detroiters have a lot of pride. We also have a reputation for being rough around the edges, and we’re not looking to shed that anytime soon.

It’s cool to be from Detroit. Just ask Shinola, the trendy watchmaker that decided to move its world headquarters here. Or Mark Wahlberg, who frequently visits and recently opened one of his family’s famous burger joints, Wahlburgers, downtown. Rappers Kid Rock, Eminem and Big Sean are from Detroit, and they’re among our biggest champions.

So if you want to fit in, here are a few things you need to know:

We Call It “The D”

We’ll always be Motown, Motor City and Hockeytown, but today we like to call ourselves “The D.” Yeah, we know what the Urban Dictionary says, but we don’t care. Use the term if you want to sound hip. People here will know what you mean.

The Joe

This is Joe Louis Arena. It’s home to Detroit Red Wings hockey, and it’s where concerts and other events are held. It’s named after former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, but we just call it by its first name. (BTW: Check out the statue of Joe’s fist hanging in nearby Hart Plaza.)

The People Mover

This is our take on public transportation. It’s an elevated monorail system that will move you to 13 different locations in a loop around downtown Detroit. It’s just $0.75 to ride, and it’s helpful for taking advantage of cheap parking during sporting events.

Michigan Left

Chances are you’re going to have to make a “Michigan left” somewhere. That’s means you’re going to turn right, make a U-turn in a median, and then go straight, completing your left turn in two easy steps. Michigan lefts were implemented in 1960s to avoid “interlocking left-turn movements” on heavily trafficked roads. It’s odd, but we’re used to it.

Mile Roads

Speaking of getting around town, some of our roads are named after miles and their proximity to the center of Detroit. The mile roads start at 5 Mile, but sometimes they’re called something else. Six Mile Road, for example, is also McNichols and 7 Mile is Moross. The most famous – 8 Mile – is the northern border of Detroit, and it’s just 8 Mile. If you head to the suburbs, the mile road with the most names is 16 Mile a.k.a. Metropolitan Parkway, Big Beaver, Quarton, and Walnut Lake – enough to keep Siri on her toes.

Order a “Pop”

If you want a carbonated soft drink, it’s called a “pop.” If you say “soda” you’re ordering club soda. And “cola” is Coca or Pepsi-Cola. If you want to sound really native, order Vernors. It’s ginger ale that was created in 1866 by Detroit pharmacist James Vernor, and 80% of its sales come from Michigan.

Coney Island

Not to be confused with the place where you can ride a ferris wheel in Brooklyn, in Detroit Coney Island is a restaurant. The two most popular are Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island, and they’re located next to each other on Lafayette St. The original location (American) was started by Greek immigrant brothers Bill and Gus Keros in 1914. They couldn’t agree on the ingredients in their chili, so they split their restaurant into two.

It’s a Coney Dog, not a Chilidog

A coney dog is a hotdog you get at a Coney Island. It’s a natural casing hot dog in a steamed bun with chili, diced onions and mustard. Don’t confuse it with a chilidog, which is just a hot dog with chili.

Up North

Every summer, we go to this place called “Up North,” which is anywhere north of I-69. This often involves driving up I-75 to a cabin or cottage on a lake. Leave plenty of time; I-75 is like a parking lot on the weekends.

Point To Your Hand

We talk with our hands, but not in the gregarious way. Michigan is shaped like a mitten – earning us the nickname “The Mitten State” – and using your right hand is quite helpful when you want to show someone the exact spot you’re headed Up North. If someone says they’re going to The Thumb, they’re headed to the part of southeastern Michigan that’s in the thumb-like area.

Mackinac vs Mackinaw

Sometimes cities Up North have difficult names and spellings. Here’s a quick primer: Mackinaw City is just like it sounds, but you can also take a ferry to Mackinac Island, which is pronounced the same. Charlevoix is pronounced shar-le-voy. Ypsilanti is ip-si-lan-ti, and we also call it Ypsi (ip-si). Sault St. Marie is Soo Saint Marie. And Cheboygan is sha-boy-gan.

Opening Day

We have two of these. If someone mentions opening day in the spring, it means they’re going to watch the Detroit Tigers. But if someone references opening day in the fall, they’re headed up north for the first day of deer hunting season. Oh, and a lot of companies give employees this day off.

Final Tip

Don’t go looking for “South Detroit.” Journey was taking poetic license when they wrote about a city boy, “born and raised in South Detroit.” There isn’t such a place. The only thing south of Detroit is Windsor, Canada.

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