There was a huge political scandal here last week.
Ashley Kalus, the Republican going after Gov. Dan McKee’s job, made a major Rhode Island blunder.
A narrator in one of her ads pronounced Pawtucket wrong. Instead of the correct “P’tucket,” it came out – horrors – as PAW-tucket.
Memo to candidates: no matter how hard you work on your policies, you’re sunk if you get local culture wrong.
So as a public service, I’m today offering a clinic on how to get Rhode Island right.
Let’s start with wieners - also spelled weiners by some. You know, the kind at New York System.
Food for thought
God help any pol who orders a “hot dog” there. They’re wieners.
And never ask for one “with everything on it.” The proper phrase is, “Gimme three, all the way.”
Also, wash them down with coffee milk. Which is very different than milk in your coffee.
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Navigating local food is a minefield in many places. Ex-NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio almost killed his career when filmed eating pizza with a fork and knife. You don’t do that in New York.
I imagine the same would happen here if a candidate drank a Del’s with a straw. Just…don’t.
But it’s fine to order an iced coffee in December.
And though it’s acceptable to put ketchup on fries, you’ll look more local if you use vinegar.
Same with asking where the water fountain is. Now that it’s 2022, that’s acceptable, but I’m guessing “bubbler” will get you two extra points on your next poll, especially if you drop the "r".
Similarly, it’s not a scandal anymore to order a sub and milkshake in Rhode Island, but better to use words reminiscent of a power tool and a piece of furniture. If you don’t know what that means, you shouldn’t be running.
Another food warning: if someone here mentions they like doughboys, do not say you also appreciate World War I British infantrymen.
Don't get the lingo twisted
I feel bad for candidates who end up campaigning in Quonochontaug. No one gets that pronunciation right. But KWANa-k’-taug is close enough.
Let’s talk about the state’s southerly section from North Kingstown to Westerly where everyone hits the beach. The accurate name is Washington County. But don’t dare refer to it as that. It’s South County, which technically does not exist, yet that’s what everyone calls it, and you should, too.
Moving on, if you want to look local, it’s better to begin a sentence with “not f’nuthin” than something like, “Just thinking out loud …”
Also, try to describe locations by landmark. It’s OK to say, “I was in Burrillville yesterday,” but you’ll have more credibility if you make it, “I was up near Wright’s Farm.” Which is not a place that raises cows; it serves chicken.
And if you do use place names, there’s no such thing as close enough. I once wrote about someone living in Providence’s Elmhurst neighborhood but said they were from Mount Pleasant, which was only blocks away. Didn’t matter. I got beat up bad for that — didn’t I know anything? So if you’re campaigning in Rumford, never say how glad you are to be in Riverside.
Be wary of Rhode Island’s app world. By which I mean the first course at dinner. A politician caught ordering Manhattan clam chowder instead of New England is done. Also, get the calamari, which, by state law Section 42-4-19, is Rhode Island’s official appetizer, seeing as how we supply the world with it.
Picking the right team
Danger also lurks each year in early December. That’s usually when the annual URI-PC basketball game is scheduled. Fall into the trap of taking sides and you’ll lose half your votes. You are rooting for both of them.
On a similar note, if you don’t know that you are decidedly not a Yankees fan, I’m sorry, but even the country’s best political consultants won’t be able to save you.
Although a historically blue-collar state, you don’t have to pander to that here. Rhode Island has often embraced wealthy candidates, like U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell and Gov. Bruce Sundlun. But don’t flaunt it.
Sundlun, owner of a Virginia horse farm, was known to ride in jodhpurs once during a horse event in Providence. This raised eyebrows in Olneyville. When running for office here, it is best not to wear jodhpurs.
Speaking of Olneyville, that of course is home to the most prominent New York System wiener place.
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So let’s end this clinic with a test.
How do you like them?
Correct, all the way.
And make sure to wash them down with coffee milk.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI politicians guide to state culture from wieners to Pawtucket