St. Louisans and their loaded question

“Where’d you go to high school?”

Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton / / CC BY-NC-ND

Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton / / CC BY-NC-ND

If you’re from St. Louis, you care a lot about a person’s answer to this question, and it’s perfectly normal to ask. For most, it’s not considered awkward or an invasion of privacy; in fact, it establishes common ground.

For example, my sister (who lives in South Carolina) has a friend who knows a coworker who recently moved from St. Louis to South Carolina. My sister asked her friend what part of St. Louis her coworker grew up in, so her friend texted her coworker to find out. The coworker replied that he is from Kirkwood and told my sister’s friend to ask my sister what high school she went to. Her friend looked at my sister like she was crazy, but like a true St. Louisan, my sister answered like it was no big deal.

And that was it. An informal relationship was established because of one simple question. The two haven’t met, but they probably have a few ideas about one another based on their answers.

An entire system of stereotypes surrounds each high school, depending on the neighborhood, the socioeconomic status of the students and any number of factors. The Riverfront Times created a handy flowchart which illustrates many, but not all, of these constructions. Despite the blunt, tongue-in-cheek copy, I see some truth in it, and I have to admit, it definitely made me chuckle.

Since last year, native St. Louisan Sarah VanSlette (a graduate of St. Joseph’s Academy, since St. Louis readers are probably wondering) has conducted research about what she has dubbed the “St. Louis Question.” While I can’t find any results of her survey, her initial findings were that many natives thought that it was just a quirky way of getting to know neighbors. Others worried that it was a way to judge others, and others worried that it offended transplants to the area, making them feel like St. Louis is a cliquey city.

I do believe that St. Louisans sometimes judge one another based on this question (I can’t say I’m not guilty), but I don’t think this is a cause for concern. It’s part of being a member of any society: We find ways to learn about our neighbors, and sometimes that leads to prejudice. I can’t control my high school’s stereotypes any more than the next person, so I try not to let judgements get to me.

If nothing else, it’s a convenient way to identify common interests and mutual friends. Sometimes I’m thankful to have such a unique go-to conversation starter.

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