Yoopers are kind of an odd mixture of people, and watching them in an objective sort of way (and let’s not forget, I’m one of them), they remind me of what you would get if you put “The Red Green Show,” “Northern Exposure,” and a strange and bewildering twist of world cultures in a blender and hit “Puree,” but they are some of the nicest people you’d ever like to meet, and they are unlike any other people anywhere else in the world.
The area’s earliest European settlers were primarily Scandinavian, and this has influenced the local dialect. There are many words, phrases, and expressions that are unique to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
The term “Yooper” is slang for a person who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or the “U.P.” (the area north of Wisconsin and Lake Michigan, and south of Lake Superior). Those who live in the Lower Peninsula (aka Lower Michigan) are called “Trolls,” because they live below the bridge (the Mackinac Bridge that connects the U.P. to the rest of the state). During Deer Hunting Season (a mandatory regional holiday), the Trolls are also called “Apple Knockers” because it is generally believed that they couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn if it had a huge red target painted on it, and rather than actually shooting the deer, they just knock the apples off the trees.
A person who was born and/or who lives in the U.P. is a “Yooper.” Simply moving here and taking up residence among us, however, does not necessarily make you a Yooper. Sometimes it takes YEARS of acclimatization and survival in our harsh winters before the rest of us consider you to be a true Yooper, but you do get points for having the good taste to move here in the first place. You also have to frequent the local bars and buy us lots of drinks. There may also be secret initiation rites involved which center around things called “Deer Camp” and “pasties”. [The word is pronounced PASS-tees and if you don’t want to be mistaken for a Troll, you’d best know how to pronounce it, and remember… the best ones are homemade. — See recipe below!]
Perhaps the major difference between the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan is that living through the U.P. winter every year is an exercise in preparedness and survival. When roads can be expected to close for days at a time and ice plays havoc with power lines on an annual basis, and snow storms of up to 5 *FEET* at a time aren’t unheard of, a wood-burning stove isn’t something you think about installing “for looks.” We don’t panic and the schools don’t close because there’s three inches of snow on the road, like they do in the Lower Peninsula. The road commissions in all the U.P. counties put tall sticks of wood along the roads, so they’ll be able to find them after the snowstorms hit. Yoopers also put tall sticks on their mailboxes for the same reason.
Yoopers are so ingenious, they even invented their own brand of gigantic snow shovel… it is called a Yooper Scooper. Sure, the snow gets deep up here, but thousands of snowmobilers and skiers from below the bridge (The Trolls) don’t seem to mind. They fill up the northbound lanes of I-75 on Friday nights all winter long. Yoopers even have their own God of Snow named Heikki Lunta (Hey-Key Loon-Ta), and there’s even a song about him.
The fictional Heikki Lunta was said to live in the back woods of the Finnish farming community of Tapiola, Michigan, twenty miles south of Houghton. Furthermore, he was reported to have the ability to perform a dance, which would cause the snow to fall from the skies. [Source]
Another thing that is unique about the U.P. is that Yoopers can out-drink anyone, anywhere, anytime. This is not a boast, it’s a fact. They practice up all year long, over a lifetime out at “Deer Camp,” but they often frequent the local bars, as well. Don’t ever try to challenge them by saying something stupid like : “I can drink youse guys under da table,” because you are guaranteed to lose, no question about it. And don’t think you will out-drink the women either, because you won’t. You might make friends more quickly, though, if you buy us all beer at the bar, or show up at our houses or Deer Camps with a few cases in tow. At least until the beer is gone.
Yoopers wear these heavy boots on their feet called “Sorels.” Some Yoopers wear them year-round along with the fashion-conscious, ever-present Hunter Orange (reversible to camouflage) and plaid flannel clothing. Sorels are actually made in Canada, but you wouldn’t know it by looking around at the local population’s feet. Word of Advice to the Clueless : Forget those thin designer leather boots you bought for winter wherever you live, in the U.P. you gotta have Sorels. Sorels (what most real Yoopers call “swampers”) are very heavy, very warm, high quality winter boots, and you don’t want to spend a U.P. winter without a pair. You might find them handy in the Summer too, like when it snows on the 4th of July (and that has been known to happen in the U.P., eh?) We also wear these huge mittens called “Choppers” which are often made out of leather and lined in wool; useful for chopping through the ice as you dig your way out of the front door of your house so you can get to the Yooper Scooper which is outside buried under several feet of snow.
Here in the U.P., even though we are far removed from the rest of civilization for their own protection, we even have our own band of famous entertainers called “Da Yoopers” whose music has been played all around the world on various radio stations. One of the most popular bands in the U.P., Da Yoopers have been pleasing fans of all ages for over a decade with their amusing comedy numbers and skits. The band, with a lineup of Jim DeCaire, Lynn Coffey, Jerry Coffey, Jim Bellmore, and Dan Collins, is best known for songs such as “Diarrhea,” “Deer Hunter’s Widow,” “Rusty Chevrolet,” “On the Road to Gwinn,” and “Second Week of Deer Camp.” They have pretty much held more appeal to their local fans because of their songs’ content which is Yooper-centric, but Da Yoopers still hold some minor popularity all over the Midwest, especially as winter approaches. They even have their own store along the side of US41 called “Da Yoopers Tourist Trap & Museum” in Ishpeming in Marquette County. If you ever get to Ishpeming, you gotta stop there at the Tourist Trap, it is an amazing place. If you look real hard online, you might even be able to find some of Da Yoopers MP3’s to download. No true Yooper is unfamiliar with their music, so go to their store website, buy some CD’s, put on your Sorels, your choppers, and plaid hunting flannel, get some beer (ok, a lot!), turn the heat off and the air conditioner waaay up, and get yourself accustomed to the music before you come up here on your first visit, eh?
It’s a long distance from anywhere to everywhere in the U.P., and a fair number of Yoopers travel at high speed to get there, sometimes they even do this by snowmobile. We talk about 100-mile trips the same way other people talk about taking a trip to the mall. Everyone here owns at least one 4-Wheel-Drive vehicle (usually referred to as “da beater” because it is rusted from all the salt on the roads, and dented because of all the trees we hit on the way to camp, and it looks like crap, but we don’t care). And if a Yooper doesn’t have a 4WD, they know someone they can borrow one from. Our roads are what most people would consider “horrible.” Your roads would be horrible too if subjected to the kind of abuse ours are.
Yoopers are often mistaken for Canadians, and not surprisingly, we are big fans of the game of hockey. We often talk like Canucks, too, eh? Bob and Doug MacKenzie and Tom Green would feel right at home here. You’ll have to see for yourself, of course. Hopefully, you’ll survive your encounter and have da pictures to prove it, eh?
~ It’s Time To Visit
Iron County Michigan