Baltimore is changing. People from elsewhere are starting to populate the city in a way they haven’t in recent memory, and the city’s Black population is fleeing to the suburbs due to a lack of investment in their communities. Because of this, things feel like they’re in constant flux. Naturally, these demographic shifts are going to have some sort of impact on the current culture of the city. (Our neighbors down the road in D.C. are more familiar than most with those kinds of changes.)
To get everyone on the same page, I’m taking direction from a funny guide that New York magazine released in February in which its staff gave a controversial and comprehensive breakdown of proper etiquette in a post-COVID world. So in that tradition I’m presenting a bit of Baltimore etiquette for those new to the area — or for those who need reminders.
When the 12 O’Clock Boys take over the street, just sit back and enjoy the show.
Dirt bike riding is, as we all know, an integral feature of inner-city Baltimore life. But some (uncool and uptight) people have a special disdain for it. When they see the pack forming for their collective ride, they sometimes feel the urge to honk horns, throw arms up in frustration behind the safety of their windshields or get in the way of poetry in motion. Don’t be this person. Sit back and enjoy a showing of daredevil expertise. It never lasts longer than a couple of minutes anyway.
Don’t be weird and unpleasant with the squeegee boys.
These are mostly kids trying to make pocket change. Yes, some grown men are out there taking up space, but for the most part these are harmless children. Check your discomfort, classism and irrational logic at the door. Don’t drive off before they make it back to the sidewalk, unless you’re actually trying to run over their feet. Don’t stop your car 100 feet before the light because you’re trying to avoid them; you’re creating unnecessary traffic. And save the reductive pep talks if you’re not supporting the hustle.
Wait until the light turns green to cross the street.
I’m not sure why, but people in Baltimore have always done this. Be cautious, because your patience will definitely be tested.
TURN ON RED.
Unless a sign states otherwise, you’re holding everybody up.
Leave the Baltimore accent to Baltimore people.
I don’t care how present you are on Baltimore TikTok or Baltimore Twitter, leave the üü, ew, and õ sounds to people who couldn’t speak a different way even if they tried. It’s insulting. You also sound ridiculous.
They’re called fronts, not grillz.
Black people rock gold or diamond teeth throughout various regions of the country — specifically the South. Baltimore, being under the Mason-Dixon, is no different in this regard. In 2005, a collaboration of St. Louis rappers Nelly and Ali, Houston rapper Paul Wall and Atlanta rapper Gipp titled “Grillz” celebrated this culture and hit the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100. Because of this, people not in the know refer to all teeth jewelry as grillz. But in Baltimore we say fronts or golds, so if you like someone’s gold teeth, don’t say, “I like your grillz.” You’ll get a side eye.
Leave the high school rivalries in the past.
If you’ve been out of high school for a decade, please don’t use that academic experience as a conversational icebreaker. Don’t playfully scoff at me because our Baltimore schools had rival sports teams. We’re not children.
Hoopers: Learn how to play 50.
The every-man-for-himself pickup game in Baltimore is 50. Not 21. Not 33. Not Tip. Each bucket is five points until you reach 50. Then you hit a half-court shot before eliminating all the other players. Learn it before you hit a local outside court.
Chicken in a box ≠ a chicken box.
A beloved Baltimore chicken box can only come from a neighborhood carryout and typically comes dressed with all the condiments you asked for, or at least a self-serving station to dress it up. The seasonings and sauces are supposed to marinate on your wings and fries as you drive home to eat. Hip Hop Chicken isn’t a chicken box. Popeyes isn’t a chicken box. A fancy restaurant calling something a chicken box and doing weird things like including sweet potato fries isn’t a chicken box.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE NEVER SAY B’MORE.
It’s Baltimore. And, more specifically, Baw-da-more. B’more is the corniest route you can go. Don’t be that person.
Crab mallets and claw crackers are for weaklings.
Gain some courage and use your teeth like a real Chesapeake Bay inhabitant would.
Respect people’s chairs during a snowstorm.
Climate change may nullify this tip, considering this region hasn’t seen a real blizzard in seven years. But just in case one does hit in the near future, take this from me: Do NOT move chairs out of people’s designated parking spots if you’re not prepared for a physical altercation. It takes a lot of work to dig through multiple feet of snow. And, even if there isn’t snow, some older folks who cannot walk long distances may reserve spaces year-round. Be mindful.