Alaska Surprises for Non-Alaska People

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Now that we’ve been in Alaska for about two weeks and have recovered from the exhaustion of our trip (although not the stress of waiting for our stuff to arrive … and waiting … and waiting … and still waiting) I’ve had a chance to notice a few Alaska things. Like any new-to-you place, the habits of Alaska bring a little culture shock. But maybe because Alaska is so far removed from the rest of the U.S., the Alaska surprises are a little greater.

Not everything is more expensive. I was warned over and over again about the price of groceries here. And while many things are way more expensive (I’m looking at you eggs and milk), some of my favorite things really aren’t — and it’s surprising. For example, bottled kombucha is actually slightly less here than it was in Tennessee. I expected it to be wildly more. I was also warned that junk food would be a lot more. But again, some of it isn’t. Ben and Jerry’s (I know, I know) and our favorite “Simply Lays” chips are, again, actually less.

Warning the bears is a big debate. All that advice about making sure the bears don’t eat you while you’re running and hiking sounded a little silly before we got here, but how to avoid getting eaten is the source of constant debate up here. Wear bells? Bells are useless? Carry bear spray? Skip the spray and carry a gun? It’s all a major Alaska discussion topic.

All the rhubarb you can eat. Rhubarb is a major local crop. Do you want to eat some rhubarb? Good. Because there’s a lot of it.

Alaskans love custom license plates. I cannot tell you how many custom license plates I’ve seen. I counted the other day on the way to my car after grocery shopping. At least half the plates in the row I had parked were custom.

They have their own terminology. “Break-up boots” aren’t what you wear to your last date with a guy — they’re what you wear when everything turns to slush as winter winds down or what you wear, I am told, to the State Fair. That’s because …

State Fair = rain. Summer is Alaska is beautiful. It’s also, apparently, rather wet. “You know it’s time for the fair when it’s raining,” someone told me last week. The State Fair is in August.

Good luck getting stuff shipped here. Many stores’ “free shipping” policies exclude Alaska. That makes sense because getting stuff here is super pricey. What does not make sense is the way Amazon handles the subject. There is no two-day shipping, and stuff takes forever to get mailed. … and then is sent so it can arrive in two or three days. How does that make sense? Why not stick it in the mail immediately but use a slower delivery system? For example, I ordered running shoes last Saturday. They finally shipped today, Friday before a holiday weekend. They’ll arrive Tuesday. That’s four days to get here, excluding the holiday — but six days to actually get sent out. Why?

Verizon works just fine. Sort of. A few people warned me to switch cell phone carriers because Verizon was going to cause me big problems in Alaska. So far, though, so good — minus that little snafu when we first got here that caused me to have to dial every number twice. Turns out it had something to do with a  family protection setting in our account. Deleted that and it was all good.


I’m sure we’ll encounter plenty more Alaska surprises over the next several weeks and months.

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