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Florida’s residents are used to being mocked; thanks to “Florida Man” memes and wild local headlines, the Sunshine State has earned quite the wacky reputation. But don’t let the rumors scare you away! Despite Florida’s oddities, the state has lots to brag about, ranging from its incredible cuisine to its gorgeous wildlife. It’s no rarity to see an elegant egret or a huge heron flying over Florida’s lakes. And the breathtaking sunrises along the Atlantic coastline alone are worth traveling for.
Any real Floridian knows there are many more things to do in the state than just going to Disney or the beach. But tourists often visit the state for popular attractions such as Disney World or a wild spring break.
Once they visit, snowbirds and other vacationers might notice some differences between their fellow travelers and local residents. There’s no denying that the state has its quirks. Some aspects of living in Florida seem super strange — unless, of course, you grew up in the Sunshine State. These are some of the things Floridians think are normal, but to outsiders seem really strange.
January means thick boots and scarves for northern states, but in Florida there’s no reason to resort to sturdier footwear — other than the awful shin splints, of course. Despite the lack of support for their feet (and the blatant impracticality), Floridians wear flip-flops all year round. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re going to the beach. Though it may seem strange, flip-flops are a staple of most Floridians’ wardrobes. In fact, when it gets chilly in winter (we’re talking a brisk 65 degrees), many will resort to adding layers in the form of sweatshirts and thicker pants before resorting to changing shoes.
If it really is cold enough to warrant wearing boots (which, for Floridians, doesn’t take much) residents are all too eager to break out their fluffy pair of Uggs to get as much wear out of them as possible. But wearing pants with Ugg boots would (in addition to feeling far too warm for Florida’s winters) require parting with one too many of their favorite clothing items, which typically include flip-flops, shorts, tank tops, and sundresses. Rather than submit to a full-blown winter outfit, Floridians will often wear shorts paired with their Ugg boots.
Do you say “in line” or “on line”? If you’re from Florida (or New York), you might say “on line.” For example: “Get on line for the cash register, I’ll grab cereal and meet you there.” “I had to wait on line at the DMV for three whole hours!” Other states are opposed to this turn of phrase, claiming that you can’t be on a line unless you’re talking about the internet. But to Floridians, it makes perfect sense.
You might think that in the midst of a natural disaster as monstrous as a hurricane, everyone in Florida would hunker down indoors. But Floridians know that lots of hurricanes pass that aren’t that serious. Some hurricanes result in little else than some light rain and a few gusts of wind. So if you’re a young person in Florida, you’re honestly a little excited when you hear a small storm is on its way. School is almost always cancelled during a storm, and there are zero responsibilities to tend to until it has safely passed. In fact, people will even throw parties and get together during and after storms. Unless, of course, the storm is serious — in which case, most Floridians have pantries stocked with hurricane essentials and are eager to prepare.
In Florida, it’s not actually that weird to see a lizard tail on your kitchen floor. Lizards lose their tails when they get scared — everyone knows that! There are tons of reptiles in Florida, lizards included. And it’s a pretty common occurrence for one to hang out in your home. A lizard can reside in a Florida residence for days or even weeks on end. They climb walls, infiltrate windowpanes, and hide in any nook or cranny they can find. But the lizard, deprived of food and little lizard friends, is likely to die in your house unless you get it out. (Cleaning up a lizard corpse? Gross.) Trying to catch lizards to thrown them back outside is common practice for a Florida homeowner.
Elementary school has many lessons to help kids roam safely through daily life: How to read a clock face, how to make a fire safety plan, and how to read street signs, for example. In Florida, there’s one other lesson that’s included. Floridian students are taught from a very young age precisely what to do if they find themselves being chased down by an alligator. If one runs towards you, your best tactic is to run in a zigzag as you flee — though it’ll slow you down, the formation will effectively confuse the alligator and give you a better chance at getting away. (You were never going to outrun that gator, anyway.) And alligators have eyes on the sides of their heads; your zigzag will make locking down your location more difficult with their limited line of vision.
Does the weather project a high of less than 60 degrees? In Florida, that’s practically the dead of winter. People are turning on the heat in their cars, bringing blankets everywhere they go, and bundling up to keep out the harsh, chilling temperatures. Grandparents are wearing sweater vests with their golf shorts and kids are being reminded constantly to bring a jacket. It is cold out there, folks. But don’t worry; that kind of weather never lasts more than a couple of weeks. It’ll be hot and sunny again in no time.
Even if they don’t have a particular interest in outer space, many Floridians like to stay in the know about when and where NASA is launching rockets. Florida’s Atlantic Coast is where Cape Canaveral, home of the Kennedy Space Center and site of many a rocket launch, is located. Space ships aren’t launched often, but when they are, they can be seen rocketing through the sky from impressive distances. The largest ones can be seen for up to 430 miles! You don’t want to miss these launches when they happen — it’s a unique and special experience to those who live close by.
If you visit Florida during the months of June through November, you might notice that many Florida homes have barred their windows with thick metal panes. These are called hurricane shutters; as a precaution against a surprisingly nasty storm, many Florida families will keep theirs nailed to their windows until the season is over. Florida is one of the only places you realistically have to choose whether letting sunlight into a room is worth the risk of letting in flying debris too.
The “lovebug” is a species of fly that mates quite publicly: Two bugs attach themselves at their butts. If you’re from Florida, you’re all too familiar with these strange regional insects. Despite their amiable name, everybody hates them. They remain coupled for a couple of days, flying around clumsily while joined together. These bugs are viewed as pests due to the swarms of mating bugs that cloud the air during mating season. Car windows are splattered with the corpses of conjoined couples, and playgrounds are plagued with huge numbers of the bugs buzzing through the air. If the squashed bugs remain on your car for more than a few days, the insects can actually ruin your car’s paint job because of their bodies’ acidity. They’re a serious (and often expensive) nuisance.
Florida boasts the title of the flattest state in the United States, with the tallest point at just 345 feet above sea level at the top of Britton Hill. Due to the flat terrain surrounding them, landfills (which can reach 200 feet above sea level) actually seem like huge mountains by comparison.
Wow, a real-life basement! That’s probably not a sentence you’ve ever thought to say. But if you grew up in Florida, seeing a basement is a rarity. Houses just don’t have basements there, since the land is either close to or below sea level. Even as little as one short staircase below the ground, Florida’s land is often filled with water. Damp, sandy soil doesn’t make ideally sturdy conditions for digging. A basement would be wholly impractical and, in many cases, impossible. That’s why many Floridians would have to travel far north to see such structures.
One to two sweaters is really all you need if you live in the Sunshine State. And forget about coats — it’s not uncommon for Floridians to not own anything resembling a winter jacket at all. When someone from Florida says “jacket,” they probably mean “hoodie.” They probably own a couple of those to keep them warm in the winter months. Instead of coats and sweaters, their closets are filled with swimsuits, which they would clearly need to wear more often.
In many regions of America, summer is prime time for outdoor activities like hiking, visiting the park, and going on picnics. But not in Florida. The summer gets so unbearably hot that it’s tough to withstand outdoor activities. Humidity levels are often at 100 percent and temperatures can stretch past 110 degrees Fahrenheit at the peak of summer. Even walking to your car is a guarantee you’ll be drenched in sweat from the heavy, humid air.
You will find some fantastic Christmas light displays in Florida, but they won’t be on evergreen trees. Most of the trees decorating Florida’s streets are palm trees; but they make it work. Palm tree trunks are wrapped with Christmas lights and palm fronds are lined with lights, as well. At night, the streets are aglow with a Christmas-y outline of the surrounding tropical paradise. Sometimes, displays will embrace the oddity of a scorching hot winter and put up decorations themed to Florida’s climate. Dolphins, birds, and other wildlife join Santa’s reindeer, and Rudolph wears sunglasses. Who says Santa can’t wear board shorts?
If you’ve ever been caught driving in a snowstorm, you may have been forced to pull over to wait until it was safe to continue. The roads may be too icy and the snow compromises your visibility. In Florida, drivers are immune from this problem — but they do sometimes have to stop driving due to rain. Rainstorms in Florida can be extreme, and they seem to come out of nowhere. One minute, the sky will be clear and the sun will be shining; the next minute, the sky will unleash a violent downpour. The rain can be so thick and heavy that it obstructs your view of the road entirely. That mixed with the risk of flooding forces drivers to pull to the side of the road to wait it out, lest they lose control and crash. The good news? They probably don’t have to wait very long. Twenty minutes later, the sun could be shining through clear skies once more.
It never actually rains cats and dogs, but in Florida it rains iguanas. Seriously — you have to be careful while walking beneath tall trees during winter in Florida. An iguana just might fall on your head. Iguanas are cold-blooded and many of the species roaming Florida’s trees are non-native. They’ve been brought in from even warmer regions as pets and are ill-adapted to the surrounding climate. When it gets too cold, the animals immobilize, meaning that if they’re perched in a tree they will fall petrified to the ground below. They may appear dead, but the reptiles raining down are very much alive. Once they’re exposed to the sun and warmer temperatures, they’ll thaw and twitch back to life.
Grocery shopping, for many people, is kind of a drag. But a trip to Publix is no chore — it’s a blast. People from Florida love going to Publix for their free cookies (technically just for kids, but adults can sometimes snag one, too), incredible sandwiches (Pub Subs!), and lovable dinosaur mascot, Plato the Publixaurus. Students take field trips to their local Publix with their elementary schools and are given fun paper hats and guided tours of what goes on behind the scenes. Publix is, without a doubt, one of the best grocery stores in America — or at least the best supermarket in Florida, that’s for sure.
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