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The Question Miami Locals Never Ask

February 02, 2011 By Matt Meltzer in Miami: Local News  | 15 Comments

It’s never all that difficult to tell the long-time locals from the tourists and newcomers around here. Tourists have sunburns, locals have tans. Tourists look happy to be here, locals look aggravated and beat down. Tourists are drunk. Locals are on hard drugs. But there is one question that when asked immediately gives away that you have resided in Dade County less than a year. And that question is “What do you do?”

WHAT YOU “DO” IN MIAMI IS NEVER A SIMPLE ANSWER

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In most of the country, this question passes for small talk. Like “How are you?” or “How was your colonoscopy?” But in Miami, it’s not something anyone local ever asks. Ever. So when you hear somebody ask you this question within ten minutes of meeting you, the next thing out of your mouth is, “Ha. And how long have you been living here?” Because no self-respecting Miamian ever wants this question brought up in conversation.

There are a few reasons for this. First, Miami is a city where there’s a lot of people doing a lot of shady things. So your average low-level drug runner doesn’t particularly want the subject of occupation brought up in conversation.  “What do I do? I’m, uh, in the import-export business.” Yeah, because nobody’s gonna figure out immediately what THAT means.

WE DON’T DEFINE OURSELVES BY HOW WE MAKE OUR MONEY

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Second, for all the complaints about people trying to show off and be impressive here, no local is ever impressed by anyone’s job. Oh, you’re a surgeon? That’s cute. I work at a cell phone store and still live with my parents.  And I’m still better than you. So unless your job title is “Starting Small Forward for the Miami Heat,” your fancy impressive job title is impressing exactly no one.

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Third, unlike most of America, Miamians do not define ourselves by our jobs. A funny aspect of American culture as that we often describe who we are in terms of what we do. Like oh, “I’m a lawyer.” Or , “Yeah, I’m an Investment Brokering System Leveraging Analyst.” Never “I’m a golfer”, or ”I’m a guy who enjoys cooking. “ Kind of sad that we’ve come to a point that everything outside of work no longer defines us, but Miami’s not like that. Miami is a place where we work to live, not live to work. So whatever job we do to make enough money to live in this little slice of paradise, it doesn’t matter. It’s just how you pay your bills not who you are.

ITS ONLY WHAT YOU DO UNTIL YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING ELSE

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Finally, on a similar note, this place is incredibly transient. So whatever job you have is probably not one you’ll hold very long. Career-driven people will likely move to another city if they want to advance. And most long-term locals are not concerned with what their “career” is anyway, but rather with their quality of life. So if another job that suits us better comes along, we’ll take it. Again, what we do for work is wholly irrelevant.

Miamians, for all our obvious flaws, at least understand that life is far more important than a job. To us, a job is just what you do to live this lifestyle. So if you come to Miami don’t ask “What do you do?” Many of us won’t even think you’re talking about work and respond with “Go to the beach and bike in the Everglades.” Or “Only the good stuff.” And even those who are familiar with this brand of small talk have an answer we’d rather not delve into. So make like a local. Never concern yourself with the work you do to live here, and just enjoy all the fun things this city has to offer.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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15 Comments on

"The Question Miami Locals Never Ask"

Doug says:

This is also true of New Orleans, which, like Miami is a work-to-live rather than a live-to-work culture.  I guess the downside of this mindset is that it creates a certain complacency and stagnation.  People are focused on the moment to the exclusion of the longterm.  Of course, the opposite is just as toxic.

Posted on 02/02/2011 at 4:31 PM

Bella D says:

Great article Matt.  Personally I think Miami had the right mindset. Work to live, or in other words work smart not hard.  Life is less stressful and you can enjoy yourself more.  Hope everything is going well with you.

Posted on 02/03/2011 at 3:00 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

I think this is true of only a percentage of the population though ... it really doesn’t describe Miami in its totality.

Posted on 02/03/2011 at 5:41 PM

Heather says:

Great article!  I will be in Miami for the first time in November and I definitely won’t be asking anyone that question.  In fact, I’ve never asked anyone that question in my life.  I don’t care what people do for a living, I care about who they are as a person and what makes them happy.  Wish more people thought this way.  That was very refreshing to read!

Posted on 02/04/2011 at 12:24 AM

Guillo says:

Good posts. I live in Buenos Aires and have always thought that I need to move to a city with a similar culture but with beaches! I’ve been reading through a lot of your articles and many things you write about have made it clear that I could feel right at home. And, they are fun to read to!

I have already started doing some work for Miami Translation Services all the way from here on my little computer, a move up there is most likely on my near future.

Keep up the good work!

Posted on 02/04/2011 at 11:18 AM

Aaron from Miramar says:

you are an idiot.  this is the first and last piece i will read from you.  You are a obtuse moron.

Where are you from you exactly you phony jackass.

Posted on 02/05/2011 at 5:25 PM

Bella D. says:

Question: Why do people who dislike the content of the article feel the need to put their negative offensive comments up? Not everyone is going to agree with what Matt writes but IMHO it’s absolutely ridiculous that people feel the need to call others out of their name (especially when you don’t know the first thing about that person).  If you don’t agree with what he writes either A) go to a different site and forget about the content here or B) respectfully respond and lay out your view of the subject.  Honestly, the name calling and “I’ll never read another article from you!” bs is childish.  Some people really need to act their age and not their shoe size.

Posted on 02/05/2011 at 7:04 PM

Niels says:

Sounds great!! If all of this is true, my friend and i will be takin’ Miami by storm :o)
Where we come from, Denmark, all you are, is what your education and job says that you are…. Its really sad, because people don’t live life the same way, and all we do to socialize, is to get really drunk… There is a reason why we are number one drinkers… Quite insane…

Posted on 02/07/2011 at 12:05 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

Well, you know Niels, there’s a fine line between not getting caught up in work all the time and being a waste of life. Like, yeah, you should never define yourself by how you make a living. But you should also strive to be a productive member of society and not a complete alcoholic bum. That doesn’t neccesarily mean make a ton of money or climb the corporate ladder, it just means don’t waste your life.

THe problem is a lot of people will probably read this and think it’s a wholesale endorsement of being a slacker. Which it’s not. It’s just saying that you are a lot more than your job, and that is something people in Miami understand.

Also, in cold places like Denmark, or more locally New York, what else do you have to do most of the time than work? So that naturally becomes the focus of your life. But here we have so much else to enjoy, nobody really focuses on spending time in the office.

Posted on 02/07/2011 at 7:00 PM

Shannon says:

Love it!  I always kind of thought it was rude to ask someone what they do for a living. If they want you to know, I’m sure they will bring it up :p

Posted on 02/07/2011 at 8:10 PM

Shannon says:

... and I agree Bella. Aaron I am guessing that you are a teenie bopper or seriously have issues. Who else would comment like that? Childish! Know how to constructively criticize (if you wish) w/ out looking like an 8 yr old who didn’t get a toy he wanted.

Posted on 02/07/2011 at 8:14 PM

Patrick Jones says:

I completely agree with Guillo. I lived in Buenos Aires for 14 months a few years back and I always felt that people there enjoyed life more. It wasn’t about how much money you had, it was about what kind of meat you had on la parilla and what type of wine you were drinking that night. One of my friend’s parents from Buenos Aires told me, “We make enough money to put meat on the grill on Sunday afternoon while we enjoy watching the soccer match.” It made so much more sense!

I just moved to Miami from Minneapolis on February 7, 2011, and I’m posting my adventures on my blog, “Here Goes Nothing: Miami” http://www.pjinba.blogspot.com If you look at my posts from 2008 and 2009, this was when I was living in Buenos Aires.

Viva la Argentina y viva Miami!

Posted on 02/15/2011 at 10:11 PM

ShannonSoBe says:

“We make enough money to put meat on the grill on Sunday afternoon while we enjoy watching the soccer match.”  I like it! smile

Posted on 02/16/2011 at 11:22 AM

R. Toledo says:

I find the first part of this interesting, in that I’ve never really experienced this. Of course, it’s quite possible that I’ve never met a true Miami local.

Every time I’ve met someone new, one of the first things I ask and have been asked is, “What do you do?”

For me it’s always been a good way to begin to understand who that person is.  It’s never been an issue for me.  Everyone always politely tells me and I will reply if asked.

Posted on 07/21/2011 at 2:58 PM

ShannonSoBe says:

Yup.. still love this article and still love sharing it with friends.  I never have asked what people do my whole life, I simply don’t care. If they want to tell me they will. If I ask I feel like I’m prying. Maybe they don’t want to say because its not legal, maybe they just got laid off, maybe they still live at home, either way, not my business :p

Posted on 08/06/2011 at 6:22 PM

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