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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Theall

Communicate the Alaskan Way

Updated: Feb 9

I grew up in the Lower 48, and over the last decade, I’ve come to realize the differences between people who live in Alaska versus those who don’t. My clients, who I take on Alaska tours, also note these distinctions and point them out—usually with amusement, and other times with shock. Of course, these are generalizations—but indulge me for my years on the ground in the north and attempts at self-deprecating humor.


One of the first things you need to know about Alaskans is that they prefer to communicate by phone or in person. Many businesses don’t publish their email address for correspondence, not even a basic info one or automated form. Because I have social anxiety and will always choose to write rather than call or meet in person, I have spent hours researching email contact information just to avoid speaking to a live human being. I hunt down website pages, Facebook posts, and public records, and do extensive Googling. What could easily be solved in a few minutes of conversation might take me a day. When I eventually give up and pick up the phone, I’m rewarded with a personal exchange of information and pleasantries. I’ve come to consider this as a form of aversion therapy, where an individual with a phobia is forced to face their fears—again and again—with a positive result, which over time, reinforces how ridiculous and irrational their worries were in the first place. I always knew that Alaska was better than Prozac, so, thanks for that.


Alaska is huge, and so is its propensity to exaggerate. This isn’t lying. Alaskans are as honest as they come. It’s perspective. Because Alaska has no comparable rivals, it tends to compare itself with—well—itself. A five-star rating for an Alaskan establishment means that it is the best you’ll find in Alaska—top notch. That’s not the same as a five-star rating in Cabo or Scottsdale, for example. A few stars in Alaska get awarded simply because of the view, fishing success, or wildlife accessibility, and not necessarily the spa offerings, caviar, or turn-down service. Likewise, a trail that an Alaskan tells you is “easy” for hiking or biking or skiing (or even birding) means that it’s easy for Alaskans. When you’re hanging upside-down and sideways off the mountain after following your friend into grizzly country, you’ll remember this article. Finally, the VRBO that sleeps four, has a water view, and is close to town might be a one-bedroom dry cabin with a pullout chair and sleeping bags, and your luxury rental car could have a cracked windshield, bald tires, and a check engine light on that you are told to ignore. That said; fear not: The VRBO will be located in the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen, and the rental car will get you where you need to go, which is exactly why it looks the way it does.


When Alaskans give directions, they might mention road markers including, but not limited to: moose antler sculptures, a grizzly-clawed Sitka spruce, a birch syrup stand, the third sled dog kennel on the right, the “Aircraft Have the Right of Way” highway sign, a pair of used XTRATUFs with flowers planted in them, the old landslide area, the new landslide area, the house with the yellow Cessna in the front yard, the Santa Claus House, the hammer museum, the old cannery, or the musk ox farm.


In addition to giving precise directions, Alaskans tell it like it is—often without filters—and they are master storytellers with no shortage of unique material. They’re also the must resourceful and industrious folks you’ll ever meet. They can fix the motor of your ATV with a paperclip and duct tape, create a four-course meal hunted and gathered completely from the backyards, and survive winter in a snow cave. Most have a “live and let live” attitude coupled with the stance that we’re all in this together, which means that if you need to use my snow machine or want moose to fill your freezer—I’ve got you covered. Still, you might want to call first—I’m trying to stop using my email so much these days.


Senior editor of Alaska Magazine, Michelle Theall, runs Wild Departures where she enjoys spending time with Alaska’s flora and fauna, and occasionally speaks to humans.

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