In Wisconsin ‘Up North’ isn’t a geographical distinction; it’s a cultural one.
These facts are the basis of a new theory of mine called the “Rule of Cultural Chauvinism.” When, through ritualized activity, a place gains the distinction of being a cultural site, the ignorant visitor must tread with caution for there will be landmines deployed to destabilize them in an effort to reinforce cultural differences.
My recent trip to my wife’s family’s cabin Up North was as an ignorant visitor, and I hadn’t yet gained the wisdom of what would become the Chauvinism Rule to defend myself. I imagined Up North being an innocent community of kitschy leisure watersports rather than the fierce contest to master the terms of cabin-vacation culture. In other words, I thought I was merely up north, when actually I was Up North.
My trial-by-fire started when I arrived at the cabin, where 23 other friends and family members awaited the privilege to assert their outdoorsy superiority. When the waterski boat came out on the first day I agreed to give it a try. I thought I might be able to stay on my feet because I was an alright snow skier. Forty-six eyes watched me fail in spectacular fashion three times, skis whipped violently in different directions, body folded like a rag doll—you know the image. I didn’t necessarily expect success, but I did expect a little encouragement. Instead, I got uproarious laughter and persistent backhanded reminders of my failure…
…The reminders continued as I also failed to correctly light fires, filet fish and even shit in the woods. One might think that shitting is primal and intuitive, but apparently it can be done wrong.