When people hear you’re from Alaska

What you hear when you're from Alaska

Photo: Ryan Harvey

1. “Oh, so you’re Eskimo?”

If by “Eskimo” you’re asking if I’m Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian or another group under the “Alaska Native” umbrella then, no. I’m not. Being from Alaska isn’t the default qualification for being “Eskimo.” However, if by “Eskimo” you’re asking if one of the most extreme, awe-inspiring, and incredible places on earth, is where I call home, then fine, I’m Eskimo. Just bear in mind that your question does more to reveal your ignorance about indigenous peoples and respect for their heritage than it does my ethnicity or place of origin.

2. “Oooo…. cold?!”

Captain Obvious strikes again. Too polite to be snarky with an over-eager conversant, we instead go with a more subdued response, “Yes. In winter it can get very cold.” We also start pulling out our Fahrenheit to Celsius converter in anticipation of the question that inevitably comes next, “What’s the coldest it gets in Alaska in winter?” Thanks to the inquiring minds of non-Alaskans, we’ve all become amateur meteorologists and weather historians. For the record, the coldest recorded temperature in Alaska is -80 °F (-62.2 °C) on January 23, 1971 which happened near the Arctic Circle. And no, we don’t go outside when it’s that cold out. We may be crazy but, we’re not stupid.

3. “Is it winter all the time?”

There are two responses to this childlike question of blended innocence and cluelessness. The one we actually give, “No. No, it’s not. Summer is beautiful.” And the one we really wish were a socially acceptable version, “Is it winter all the time? Did you really just ask that? Wow! Did you study anything about geography in school? What do you think? Do you actually believe anyone lives in a place where it is winter 24/7/365?”

4. “You’re the first person from Alaska I’ve ever met!”

“Yes, I know.” Says every Alaskan practically every time. We realize this is a thrilling moment in your life. We, on the other hand, will roll our eyes, chalk up another mark on our ‘X times I’ve heard that’ list, and self-soothe twung nerves by reciting our collective mantra, “To the rest of the world, I am an exotic creature of myth, mystery, and legend. This is not bad. This is good. This is me and this is who I love to be. I am Alaskan. I am who I am.”

5. “What country is that in?”

If there is any Alaska query that makes an Alaskan bristle like a porcupine, it’s this. In 1959 we became the 49th member of the United States of America. Canada and Russia are our next door neighbors. We’re the largest state in the US and are quite happily a full 1/5 the size of the entire United States. We have more coastline than all of the other states put together. Taking things up a notch, our estimated tidal shoreline is well over 45,000 miles. Let that sink in for a moment. It so happens, approximately 90,000 square miles of the state are covered in water. We have 39 mountain ranges, about 80% of all volcanoes in the US and the largest tsunami in recorded history (1720 ft/524m) happened at Lituya Bay, Alaska in 1958. “What country is Alaska in?” Psh! Get with the program, people. You’re killing us.

6. “Do you miss it?”

While the outward response to this question will be a nostalgic smile, happy nod, and wistful “Yes….”, asking this is on par with asking if someone wants their scalding hot coffee served with or without a cup. Duh! Of course we miss it and we miss it bad. Thanks so much for poking a sore spot with a red hot poker and kicking off another brutal round of homesickness. Well played you non-Alaskan person, well played.

7. “Have you ever seen the northern lights?”

In a word, “Yes.” In several words, “We see them all the time. Not every day but often. Yes, they’re amazing. Yes, they’re beautiful. The best times to see them are when it’s cold and clear outside. Go to Fairbanks if you want to see them up close and personal.” Also, we’re so over answering this question. Seriously, over it.

8. “Have you ever seen a penguin?”

“Yes, at zoos. I also saw Happy Feet.” The perpetuation of the penguin problem forces us to moonlight as amateur biologists and wildlife advocates. We not only must know the correct answer but the supporting terminology. “Oh you mean, ‘Have I ever seen a wild penguin in Alaska?’ No, I haven’t. Penguins are not indigenous to Alaska. They are mostly found in the southern hemisphere. The closest living sea bird we have in Alaska is a puffin. To see a penguin in person, head south to the Galapagos, Australia, or Antarctica.”

9. “You let your kids play outside where there are bears?”

Yup. And you would too if your winters were nine months of near interminable snow, cold, and darkness. Can you imagine being confined inside a house for nine months with kids running up and down the stairs? Bears or no bears, every Alaskan parents’ worst nightmare is being locked inside with stir crazy progeny. We don’t just let them play outside, we force them out of the house and are occasionally so brazen as to lock the door behind them. Not only that but, we enjoy every second of the peace and quiet. Besides, them running around the neighborhood is eco-friendly bear deterrent. No bear in the state will stick around for that racket, trust us.

10. “North Pole, Alaska? This has got to be a fake ID! There’s no way it’s real.”

Google it.

11. “What’s the deal with the free money?”

The deal with the ‘free’ money is this: It’s the PFD (Permanent Fund Dividend). You have to be an Alaskan to get it. And by “Alaskan” we mean, living in the state of Alaska as a resident with intent to stay longterm. It’s not actually free. It comes from oil money and investments and it’s one of the many perks of living there.

12. “Aren’t there like, tons of hot guys living there? I read this thing once about the ration of men to women in Alaska…”

This all depends on perspective. Statistically speaking, in the US, Alaska has the highest ratio of men to women. Practically speaking, we have a quote for that, “The odds are good but the goods are odd.” Alaska isn’t a place for the faint of body or mind: it’s rough and harsh. Much of Alaska’s appeal is its untamable ruggedness and the personalities Alaska attracts (male and female) tend to reflect that.

13. “Ooo, I’ve always wanted to take a cruise up there! Is it beautiful?”

Taking an Alaskan ‘cruise’ is for a certain breed. It’s a tourist thing — something for those who want the experience of being in Alaska without actually having to get their hands or vehicles dirty. As for the beauty situation… Only a fool would dare ask. Even on a bad day, it’s impossible for Alaska to be anything but.