10 of the biggest cultural differences between the Midwest and the East Coast, from someone who’s lived in both regions

The author, Michal Kranz.

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The author, Michal Kranz.
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Michal Kranz

  • There are many cultural differences between the Midwest and the East Coast of the United States.
  • After living in both regions, I noticed some of the things that make them distinct, like the regional attitudes toward work, family, and fun.
  • Here are 10 of the biggest differences I noticed between the Midwest and the East Coast.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Growing up on the West Coast, I often thought about the geography of the United States in rather simplistic terms.

There was the western half of the country that I was most familiar with, and then east of the Rockies, there was the part of the country that was flatter, greener, more densely populated, and more typically American.

After all, that’s where the great American cities, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Washington, DC were located, and where much of the history of the United States that I had learned about in school had played out. Although the American South was certainly more unique in my eyes, to me, the differences between the East Coast and the Midwest seemed minimal at best.

Since I started college in Chicago though, I have spent the majority of my adult life living, working, and studying on the East Coast and in the Midwest, and I’ve traveled extensively throughout both regions. And my perception of the two regions has changed drastically.

While neither region has a singular culture that defines all of it, I’ve realized that there are a host of cultural characteristics that make these two areas incredibly distinct from one another.

Here are 10 of the most striking differences I’ve noticed between the Midwest and the East Coast, from someone who’s lived in both regions.


In the Midwest, life moves a bit more slowly than on the East Coast

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Kansas City, Missouri.
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f11photo/Shutterstock

Even though certain parts of the East Coast move more quickly than others, the region has a lot more hustle and bustle than the Midwest, where people are happy to take their time with daily life a little more.

Although they definitely still like to get to where they’re going in a timely fashion, Midwesterners move from place to place less frantically and with less urgency than in the coastal cities of the East. If I had to guess, this is because in the Midwest, the distances between cities and towns is greater, and the region has a more rural character than much of the East Coast.


While the East Coast is often on the cutting edge of new trends, people in the Midwest tend to stick to what they know and love

New food trends, health crazes, and other cultural innovations tend to be popular in East Coast cities but can also spread to largely non-urban areas like the Catskills, Vermont, and Cape Cod, where many city-dwellers go to blow off steam.

In my experience, this is not the case in the Midwest, where tried-and-true pastimes have persisted across generations. Although people in cities like Chicago, Madison, and more recently Detroit tend to be trendier than other Midwesterners, they are happy to saddle up with a satisfying cheeseburger and a local beer instead of whatever health food happens to be in vogue.


Unlike certain places on the Eastern Seaboard like New York City, Midwesterners rarely feel like they are the center of the world

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University students at the University Memorial Union Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin.
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Shutterstock/YoungRyanD

New Yorkers are often stereotyped as being self-important and acting like the world revolves around them.

While it wouldn’t be fair to describe all New Yorkers this way, I have noticed that people from New York City and Washington, DC especially often have worldviews that center on events going on in their cities, perhaps understandably so.

In the Midwest though, people are much more modest about their position in the world, and are happy to keep it that way. Although Chicago obviously dominates the region politically and economically, this rarely leads its residents to behave as if they are superior to people in other places.


In the Midwest, having casual conversations with strangers is much more common than on the East Coast

Although you might exchange a few words with someone in passing here and there on the East Coast, casually striking up a conversation to bond with a stranger you are sharing a moment with is something that is more likely to happen in the Midwest.

East Coasters are not necessarily more standoffish, but tend to socialize in the same familiar groups more. Midwesterners on the other hand are more eager to meet someone new, be it over a drink, while shopping in a grocery store, or even while sharing a stressful train ride back from work.


The East Coast has a more competitive spirit than the Midwest

The East Coast tends to have more transient, short-term residents than the Midwest, and most of these newcomers are there to make it big – frequently either in finance, in media, in business, or in government. This means that people tend to be more competitive in their professional and personal lives.

While the Midwest’s cities host go-getters of their own, most of them are from other parts of the region, resulting in attitudes that are slightly less cutthroat than those of some people on the East Coast.


From Washington, DC to New England, the East Coast is about hustling hard to get that high-powered job or promotion. The Midwest values hard work in a different way.

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A farmer harvests crops in Burlington, Iowa.
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Scott Olson/Getty Images

Although the East Coast’s competitiveness is largely absent from the Midwest, this doesn’t mean that people in the Midwest don’t work hard.

But while people on the East Coast often equate hard work with advancing their careers, Midwesterners tend to value hard work itself because it makes them feel rooted, honest, and productive.

In short, while East Coasters prioritize where they are going in their work lives, Midwesterners are more focused on where they are right now.


On the East Coast, especially in cities like New York and Boston, people often have a direct, no-BS attitude. Meanwhile, the stereotypes about Midwestern niceness really are true — even in a metropolis like Chicago.

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Shutterstock

Although I had heard about “Midwest nice” even before I arrived, I never really appreciated how real it is until I spent time in the region. From Minnesota’s folksy charm, to Missouri’s southern-tinged hospitality, to Chicago’s unpretentious openness, the Midwest truly embodies basic human kindness in a more direct way than the East Coast does. People there told me this is because of the Midwest’s infamously cold winters – the more people you are friendly with, the warmer you’ll be.


Chicago has frequently been compared to New York City, and while the two cities do have some things in common, Chicago remains a much cheaper and less ostentatious city, yet one that still has a world of experiences to offer.

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Shutterstock / f11photo

The two main urban centers of the Midwest and East Coast, Chicago and New York respectively, both have a lifetime’s worth of entertainment, restaurants, bars, and art galleries.

Due to its larger size and density, New York might have slightly more to offer, but Chicago has just as much diversity in terms of things to do and enjoy.

The difference between the cities though is that while New York wears its heart on its sleeve, Chicago’s array of attractions is more understated, and by and large doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of New York. However, this also makes the city much easier on the pocketbook.


While the East Coast is truly a melting pot, communities in Chicago and the Midwest tend to keep to themselves

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Indianapolis, Indiana.
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Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Every city on the East Coast has a long history of welcoming immigrants from all over the world, and over the centuries, has created a melting pot where cultures have often blended together.

This happens in the Midwest, but to a much lesser extent – immigrant communities in cities like Chicago remain mostly socially segregated from one another, and have tended to form more rigid ethnic neighborhoods. This is also true in the rural areas, where Germans, Scandinavians, and other groups have settled in various regions of the Midwest and developed distinct local cultures of their own.

This difference has less to do with Midwestern society itself, and more to do with the histories of the Midwest’s urban areas and with patterns of rural settlement.


While family and personal relationships are paramount in the Midwest, the East Coast is more about achievement

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Roy Niswanger/Flickr

Of course, people in both regions value friendships, family, and maintaining healthy personal lives.

But while the East Coast tends to have a work-life balance that tips in favor of people’s careers, studies, or professional progress, Midwesterners tend to view those around them as being more important. In this sense, people in the Midwest have a slightly more traditional approach to their lives, whereas East Coasters’ views of their own fulfillment are constantly evolving.