Can you tell I’m not from here?: Anecdotes of moving to Milwaukee

I finally am sitting in air conditioning, drinking a cold brew coffee at this cute, quirky, and hippiesque coffee shop on Brady street, and it feels so good. You never realize how much you could appreciate air conditioning until you start living without it, as I’m going to have to do from here on out. No matter. There are definitely worse things in life. I just have learned to appreciate air conditioning much more in the last few days.

Besides not having any air conditioning in my apartment, definitely something I’m going to have to adjust to, Milwaukee has greeted me mostly kindly, though it’s had it’s moments. Let me tell you some stories.

Living in a city is confusing, especially when you try to drive in it. Yes, I lived in Indianapolis, but Indianapolis is much more spread out. The streets are generally larger and much more spread out except the downtown area, which I never had much need to visit. Here, however, the streets leave much want for space, and you are never sure which ones are one-way and then suddenly become two-way, as I unfortunately found out as I turned onto a two-way from a one way and almost got hit by an incoming car from the other side.

The streets also go in all the directions imaginable, much less straight-forward, left, right, than in Indianapolis. Many curves exist, and many streets lead into other streets that often curve around to other streets that end up being only one-way.

The interstates aren’t any better. Hopelessly and gloriously confusing, many exit to the left to get onto other interstates, rather than on the right like most exits to streets. This left me not only confused but getting almost ran over by a rather giant dumpster truck. He blew his horn so loudly, I swear I felt my heart almost explode.

All I could think are two things: thank goodness I’m alive, despite the fact that I’m driving around like a crazy person because I’m unfamiliar with the way things work here, and if people couldn’t tell before, then they definitely can tell now. I’m most definitely not from here. Though I was hoping some people would show me some grace on the road due to my Indiana license plate, but alas, I was wrong. Oh well, lessons learned. It helps in knowing how to start learning to drive around in a city, a city with confusing roads and one-way streets.

In addition to trying to figure out the roads, I’ve been trying to figure out how the grocery stores work here. Of course they work much like they do at home with a few differences. I wanted some bagels from the bakery, and after asking for them, the lady kindly said that they were self-serve (duh, there was a door on the glass case that I should’ve seen). I realized there was no price tags anywhere, so I wasn’t sure if I bought them at the bakery or elsewhere, because back home you usually have a price-tag, or they give you one at the bakery counter. The lady kindly said that they could be purchased at any register, though with a look of confusion. I wanted to tell here that I’m sorry I’m asking so many stupid questions. I’m not from here, but I’m still trying my best not to stand out. I walked off, feeling like an idiot. Tant pis.

I also had a look of confusion on my face when the cashier asked me if I wanted paper or plastic. Paper or plastic what? Can you tell I’m not from here? She was referring to the grocery bags. You mean I have a choice? I can choose paper or plastic? I can choose to be more eco-friendly? What? That’s amazing. I chose paper, more likely to reuse, more likely to recycle. Though again, she looked confused as to why I paused and stammered. It’s okay. I’m not from here. I know that I seem out of place. haha.

Something else I noticed that everything is a decent amount more expensive here, as I should’ve expected living in a city. It was overwhelming how much more expensive. A few things were even a couple dollars more than what I would’ve expected at home or in France. Living here is definitely going to be different.

If my road and grocery story adventures weren’t enough, I’ve been blessed to discover that I have rather awkward neighbor(s). Unpacking means lots of boxes and stuffing leftover filling up my apartment. As I walked out of my apartment door to take some to the dumpster, my neighbor from across the hall came up and greeted me. No problem there. I don’t mind meeting my neighbors. Instead of saying his name at first, however, he went straight to asking me if I had just moved, which isn’t necessarily odd, but it was accompanied with a rather odd look. I said, ”yeah, just a few days ago. I’m Lindsey,” as I reached out my hand, he sort of reached out his and said, ”I’m Dan. I live just in that one,” pointing to his apartment. Now, this exchange wasn’t necessarily too odd, but afterwards, he just stood there for a few seconds just staring at me, while I obviously struggled with boxes in my hands. He didn’t offer to help me but rather just kept staring, not bothering to ask me more questions like most would, such as ”oh where did you move from?,” ”what brings you to Milwaukee?,” ”Do you have any family here?,” etc. etc. Nope, he just kept staring for a few more seconds, and then eventually said, ”well see you later,” and continued leaving the apartment building. I stood there for a few seconds still struggling with boxes confused, not really fully comprehending what had just happened. Well, at least my neighbors aren’t boring. That’s for sure.

Milwaukee can also be a dangerous place. My first night in Milwaukee, my first night in my apartment, my boyfriend and I were reading on my bed when we heard what sounded like possible fireworks but seemed too dull to be actual fireworks. Turns out the sounds we heard were the sounds of gunfire and rioting, of burning down cars and buildings. The next day it was all over the news. A young man was shot and killed by a police man, which sparked a riot, which included gunfire and the burning down of a few buildings and cars. Why this man had a gun and what his intentions were, I don’t know. I haven’t come across an article yet that explains it. Most articles just focus on the fact that he was shot and killed. It makes my heart ache that there continues to be violence in this world, especially now that it’s so close to where I live. The only thing that I can hope for is to start looking around this new city that I live in and start to learn more about it, its history, its people. To be honest though, it is quite scary that something of this proportion occurred on my first night in the city. I am thankful that I live in what appears to be a safe area and that the university to which I’ll be attending has self-defense classes that I can partake in.

Another strange thing to encounter is to see not one, but two people, two separate people, walking along the sidewalks in the evening with grocery carts, full of groceries. No, they weren’t homeless, and I reckon that seeing two means something. Is it normal for people to take their grocery carts with them to walk their groceries home? Though many people drive in Milwaukee, I have also noticed that it is a very walkable city, with limited parking, so many people probably don’t have vehicles or drive if they don’t have to. I was still confused though. Do they take the grocery carts home with them? Is this normal? Do they return them? Is that the accepted norm? This city gets a little stranger every day.

These strange stories might make Milwaukee seem, well strange. It probably is a strange city, but you know what, I think all of these weird things mean that I’m supposed to be here. The weirdness and quirkiness suit me. Moving here has reminded me of what it first felt like to move back to France to teach English. Yes, of course, I speak the same language, but I still feel like a fish out of water. I still feel as though I’ve moved to a new world and a new place, a place that I don’t yet know but that I’m excited to explore and get to know. Plus, there are some other perks as well, such as:

  1. Recycling is free. Well, not exactly free. It’s included in my utilities, but it’s not a separate, more expensive cost like it is in Indiana. It’s included in the trash utility. The recycling dumpster in the back of my building is just as large as the trash one, and it made me smile to see that it’s just as full, if not more full than the trash one each time I go out there.
  2. Organic is a real choice. Now, technically organic is a real choice in Indiana, but it’s much harder to find and generally more expensive in Indiana. Here, it’s as much of a choice as anything not organic and generally about the same price.
  3. Milwaukee is very walkable. For example, this coffee shop in which I’m sitting while I write this is only a 15 minute walk from my apartment, located on the busy restaurant, pub, boutique street in Milwaukee, and there’s a bus stop only five minutes from my apartment. It’s like living in France again. The downside is that the university is almost an hour’s walk from my apartment, so alas, I’ll have to ride the bus. But the buses here are reliable and come often, unlike Indianapolis.
  4. Milwaukee is a university city, which means that there are many pubs, restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, theaters, shopping areas, etc. to choose from. I don’t think I’ll ever be bored here.
  5. Milwaukee is very diverse, ethnically, socially, racially. Though this makes me feel like a fish out of water, because here I am a little white woman who knows very little about ethnic diversity, despite the fact that I’ve lived abroad and despite the fact that I do have some friends who are different from myself. I definitely know that I have much more to learn and to understand, and Milwaukee gives me the amazing opportunity to do so.
  6. Milwaukee is in Wisconsin, a beautiful state filled with many bodies of water, forests, and parks, meaning, all of the hiking and camping during breaks. It’s also the home of beer and cheese, which let’s be honest, means it’s definitely meant for me.
  7. Milwaukee also seems to have a rather large French-speaking community. This I don’t know for sure, but from what I’ve gathered, it appears to have one. There’s an amazing French program at my university. The university itself has a French film festival every year. Every summer for Bastille Day, there’s an entire festival! A four-day long festival for Bastille Day! There’s also an Alliance Française here.

Needless to say, I belong here. This is where I’m meant to be, and despite the weird, awkward, quirky, and scary experiences I’ve had so far, I know I’m going to love it here. It’s definitely going to be an adventure living here, and I absolutely cannot wait for what this city has in store for me.

Here’s to a good start to my new adventure. Here’s to the start of the graduate diaries.



Have any of you ever been or lived in Milwaukee? What have your experiences been like? I’d love to hear.

Much love and bisous,



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