by Dina Koutas Poch
Regional Guide to In-Laws
There are seven territories of in-law personalities in this great country of ours. Each has its own unique flavor.
1. West Coast In-Laws
(California, Oregon, Washington)
Three words: Burning Man Festival. Your in-laws live where Manifest Destiny carried them. They come from a long line of gold hunters -- those in search of a truer, richer way of life. Every single Napa Valley wine they uncork, or Starbucks coffee they brew; or macrobiotic muffin they bake, they judge you for not living the way they do. "Oh, West Coast people are more laid back." Really? They're ultra-aggressive about lifestyle choices and the 40-hour workweek! How do you deal with your West Coast in-laws?
- Compliment their tan. Their sunglasses. Their shapely mountain-bike sculpted legs. They'll eat it up (those egotists!). And coo when they mention how they fly seaplanes to their island house, and how the orca whales and "pristine wilderness" are their backyard. Blah, blah, blah. Make sure to note how very fresh the air is, even if it's making your allergies act up.
- Read up on renewable energy resources: wind power, solar energy, and corn-powered cars. Tell them that you're already on the waiting list for one (a waiting list made of recycled paper, no less).
How to dress: In flannel and Tevas with thick socks.
What not to do: Smoke cigarettes. Joints, however, are cool.
2. Rocky Mountain In-Laws
(Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Utah)
Your rugged in-laws know a thing or two about machinery. They can plow. They can drive a tractor. They can dig a deep hole with a backhoe (and I'm talking about Aunt Trudy on dialysis here). They can also wrangle sheep on a mountain without the help of a gay lover (no matter what that movie said). How do you impress in-laws that live in winter for nine months a year and are known to wrestle bears for sport?
- If your weenie job as an economics professor hasn't prepared you for life with these in-laws, buying a picture book about tractors and trucks -- something a five-year-old boy would drool over -- will help. At least you'll know your trenchers from your dozers and your grapple log skidders from your pipe layers.
- Pick an alpine sport: ice climbing, fly-fishing, kayaking, mountain climbing, trekking, snowshoeing, skiing, or mountain biking, and excel at it. It doesn't matter if you live in Florida, you need to train so you can join your in-laws in death-defying "leisure sports" at high altitude (with no bleeping oxygen!).
How to dress: In jeans and a warm jacket, because you'll be outside shoveling hay.
What not to do: Mention how your gay brother in Boston just got married and a drag queen performed the ceremony.
3. Southwestern In-Laws
(New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada)
There are two kinds of ex-hippie in-laws in the Southwest: those with boatloads of money and those with a jar of pennies. Figure out which one your in-law is. The former has a perfect golf swing, and the latter reliably has peyote.
When your Southwest in-laws hug you, they practically blind -- the sun glints off their turquoise jewelry and belt buckles, sending signals miles into the sky. (Duh, that's how the aliens found Roswell.)
Your in-laws are into spirituality with a capital S. Every inch of wall space is covered with pottery depictions of Kokopelli and watercolor drawings of pueblos and adobe homes in rust and muted orange hues. They subsist on roasted green chilies and yerba mate. They also don't age. Is it the desert? The dry heat? Each time you see them, they're younger. In fact, they're twenty-five years old right now. It's terrifying.
How do you ingratiate yourself with southwestern in-laws?
- Go hot-air ballooning with your in-laws! Everyone in the Southwest does it. How else do you pass the time in l00-degree heat? Remember, hot-air balloons aren't just for Dorothy & Co. They're for you, your in-laws, and nineteenth-century explorers.
- Vegas, baby! Anyone? Slot machines? Showgirls? People-watching? Shark tank at Mandalay Bay? (These are rhetorical questions. You don't have to answer them.) But you may want to propose them to your in-laws, when they bust out the tarot cards -- again. Hey, why don't you use those tarot cards to predict some winning hands of blackjack? As they say in the movies, it's just crazy enough to work, boss.
How to dress: A brightly patterned sundress and a necklace made of the largest beads known to man.
What not to do: Say you prefer modern art.
4. Texan In-Laws
Your Texan in-laws are smug about one thing: being Texan. We know you were once a republic! And everything's bigger! Six flags, the Alamo, that 72-ounce steak, and especially the hats. Fine! Texas is big, "American," flashy, and the center of the world.
If your Texan in-laws aren't gorgeously well-manicured people from Houston or Dallas, or cultured Austinites, they're ranchers and they don't give a damn about you, "the en-vi-ro-mentalists," and "the gov'nment." After all, the rest of the world is just not Texas.
Of course, you'll meet a second cousin-in-law that uses her panty hose to strain motor oil, but the rest of the family isn't too proud of her. So how do you deal with the Texan in-laws?
- Accept that a lot of people you'll meet in the Lone Star State will have nicknames like Joe-Bob, Billy-Bob, Jim-Bob, Little John, Big John, etc. You'll be expected to know about their souped-up truck and new gun rack in intimate detail.
- Respect the laws of the Barcalounger. Your Texan in-laws don't have normal chairs; they need something with a footrest. Succumb to the relaxation factor of holding conversations while horizontal.
How to dress: A "Don't Mess with Texas" T-shirt with a Stetson hat, only because your in-laws gave them to you upon your arrival.
What not to do: Forget to send good wishes to your in-laws on Texan holidays like Texas Independence Day, the start of Deer Hunting Season, the Opening Day of high school football practice, and the day the new model year of Ford F-150s hits the market.
5. Southern In-Laws
(Arkansas, Louisiana to Florida, and up to Kentucky and Virginia)
Your in-laws love NASCAR. If they don't, their neighbors do. Your southern in-laws are either "refined city folk" or "simple country folk," and they'll want you to know the difference.
Your southern in-laws are suspicious of you. It's not just you -- it's anyone outside their state. Your in-laws have never been "North," and by that, they mean Delaware. It's not that they don't want to go, just why would they? People have been in their town for generations. It's home, which is why you should move there. When you're south of the Mason-Dixon Line, do as those who live south of the Mason-Dixon Line . . .
- Learn the key players in "the Confederacy." How many times have you met a southerner named Jefferson Davis? Billions? Every street, building, and public school is named after these folks: Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Jeb Stuart, Alexander Stephens, P. T. Beauregard, or Nathan Bedford Forrest. But please never, ever mention the Destroyer-of-the-South, Yankee General Sherman. He's still on their "list," 150 years later.
- Talk the talk. Know southern sport rivalries and which side you're on with the Tar Heels vs. Blue Devils, LSU vs. Ole Miss, and Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats.
How to dress: Something bright and feminine from your mother's closet.
What not to do: Don't call it the "Civil War." It's the "War of Northern Aggression."
6. Northeast Corridor In-Laws
(Ohio, Pennsylvania, and up through Maine)
If you or anyone you're related to went to a fancy school, now's the time to mention it. New Englanders love to think "they know better" and that "they are smarter" and that they "vote correctly." They can push up their dark-framed glasses and snub you with their "Plymouth Rock" crap.
The crowded cities and suburbs of Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, New York, and Boston mean one thing -- your in-laws are the diversity in America. They smother you with affection because a hundred other relatives live down the street.
- Join the rat race. You must keep up with the Joneses -- the family that you can see from the bay window in your in-laws' kitchen. Last week, the competition was about the house gutters. They won. This week it's about you. Who has the sweetest daughter-in-law?
- Your northern in-laws have summer homes in non-warm places like Nantucket. What's the point?
How to dress: Like you just fell out of the J. Crew catalog.
What not to do: Mention that you didn't vote in the last election.
7. Midwest In-Laws
(Indiana to Missouri, up to North Dakota and Michigan)
If a giant, two-headed reptilian monster was heading toward your in-laws' subdivision, they would smile and wave. Your in-laws are that friendly and nice. Sometimes it's creepy. Like the time they offered a teenager a ride back to his college campus -- it looked an awful lot like kidnapping.
Between the ice fishing, apple-pie baking, and dining at Perkins Restaurant and Bakery (which they nicknamed Pukins), your big-boned in-laws spend a lot of time driving (8 hours is short haul), using terms like "who gives a flying fig," and asking "how ya doing?" followed by "okey, dokey!" So how do you get ahead with them?
- Dig into dishes that involve massive amounts of melted cheese. Your in-laws will prepare cheesy potatoes, cheesy broccoli, cheesy asparagus, and fried cheese curds -- which sounds awful, but c'mon, let's admit it, a little melted cheese makes everything better.
- "Live simply, so that others can simply live." If your in-laws aren't city dwellers, they're farmers and they know how to birth a cow, mend a horse, or feed a pig. If you know zilch about farms, don't fret. Praise the good bugs -- ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, and honeybees -- and chastise the potentially bad bugs -- flea hoppers, lygus bugs, aphids, and mealy bugs. Impress your in-laws by differentiating good stinkbugs (they're green) from bad ones (they're brown).
How to dress: Something with an elastic waistband.
What not to do: Take shortcuts. Using life's conveniences (leaf blower vs. rake, microwave vs. Crock-Pot, etc.) only means you're not working hard enough!
Copyright © 2007 Dina Koutas Poch