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Welcome to Miami: Four Local Customs That Outsiders Just Don't Understand

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As the world's-only claustrophobe/agoraphobe combo, I considered Miami to be a geographic nightmare when I moved here two months ago. Being down here means being down here -- it would take double-digit hours of high-risk driving for me to escape from Florida's trenches. If I took I-75, I would have to traverse the terrifyingly named Alligator Alley, and if I took I-95, I'd be whiteknuckling it through the most dangerous stretch of Interstate in the country. Excepting like, the bottom of the Grand Canyon or some places in Alaska only accessible by helicopter, South Florida is probably the hardest place to escape from in the United States.

So, forget civilization. Now that I've ended up in the Magic City, it's probably best to embrace its magic, which means accepting geographic isolation and its effect on native Miamians. As Mark Twain once wrote, "Customs don't concern themselves with right or wrong or reason." That's more true here than anywhere else. Here are the four customs I've found the hardest to adjust to as an outsider:


I'm not sure if my parents weren't affectionate enough with me as a child or what, but this new system of salutation definitely constituted problem for at least a month. As such, I would walk around in a low-level panic at all times, dreading the possibility of meeting anyone. When I had to introduce myself, I fully committed, conflating the forcefulness of lip-to-cheek contact with a demonstration of respect for my new acquaintance. As it turns out, that kind of thinking is a good way to end up either hurting old people who are unprepared to have the entire weight of your body draped over them, or to have a lot of random bar bros mistake your naive enthusiasm for ... lascivious intent?

In every other place I've lived, handshakes are a litmus test. If a stranger doesn't respect you, that's put out in the open within the first few seconds of meeting them. A limp handshake is offensive while a firm grip is affirming. Simple. But how am I supposed to judge little baby kisses, which are little and baby-like by definition?

Driving Like It's Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in Real Life

Historically, I've been pretty reticent to use my car horn. A person could be speeding toward me while going the wrong way on the highway in a car covered in "Baby Onboard" signage, and I'd probably be like, "I don't know, beeping seems excessive here. I will now flash my lights and trust this settles all matters of civic responsibility." But in Miami, if you aren't willing to run a red light across six lanes of traffic into a crosswalk full of senior citizens, you're likely to face the disapproval of your driving peers in the form of a beep-boop symphony.

Does defensive driving exist here, or do Miamians look at life as an open casting call for Fast and the Furious 9? To those who keep hating on my admittedly grandma-esque driving: You aren't Vin Diesel, there are no bonus points for Tokyo drifting underneath a semi-full of Jupiña, and putting a tailfin on your 2003 Honda Civic does not disguise the fact that you drive a 2003 Honda Civic -- nor does it make you Ryan Gosling from Drive.

Religious Artifacts at the Grocery Store

I've always thought of Publix as a place to buy tangible things -- cookies, lunch meat, Diet Coke. In Miami, though, you can purchase good luck and happiness one aisle down from the Campbell's soup.

Admittedly, paying $5.49 for "Money Drawing" sounds like a pretty good investment. Not sure why Florida Water is the only one of these not manufactured in Florida, though?

Children Who Don't Understand Personal Space

Little kids are cute, and they have my full permission to exist. But if you want to procreate, that should be your problem, not mine. If conventional wisdom suggests keeping your enemies close, I would submit to all Miami parents a plea that they keep their toddlers closer, lest I become their enemy.

I'm typically offended when people keep kids on leashes like they're Pomeranians rather than tiny, useless people, but I'd prefer that than to having some rugrat crawling on my lap as I try to enjoy my Chipotle for one. Actually, I guess it would make sense to keep small children on leashes here, since people seem to think purses are acceptable transport vehicles for small dogs.

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