Minnesota. I never meant to hate Minnesota. I meant to like it. Actually, I meant to love it. This was, in our minds, the glory land. A friend of ours who moved here ahead of us had made it sound so great. While we were living in NJ but waiting to sell our house we would break out in spontaneous song sometimes and sing “California here we come…”, only we’d replace the word California with Minnesota. We were going to hit the ground running and our life was going to take off. Well, that never happened. We got here and hit a road block, well a few road blocks. Cultural, social, climatic…
In large part I blame myself. Usually, I research EVERYTHING. It’s actually what I do for a living. But for whatever only-God-knows reason I never researched Minnesota. I never looked into the climate, the culture, the treatment of outsiders. All I had to do was google it or go to city-data and I would have had plenty of my questions answered. But nope, I never did that. It didn’t even cross my mind. I was a happy, flexible, life-loving girl who could go anywhere and be anything. I blindly moved 1,200 miles on the basis of a recommendation from a very persuasive and charismatic friend. I didn’t realize that I was moving to a place so foreign that I would have irreconcilable differences with my new home state. I have no one to blame but myself.
Trouble Spot #1 : So, what’s all this business about Minnesota Nice?
I always thought Minnesota was like the other midwest states I had been to. I had spent some time in Indiana and a good deal of time in Ohio. Everyone in those places was very friendly. People would just say hello for no reason or talk to you in the aisles at Walmart. They seemed genuinely happy to see you, even if they didn’t know you. I just assumed Minnesota was the same way. What I soon learned is that people in Minnesota have generally good manners, which causes them to want to make you feel like they are interested in knowing you so that they won’t appear rude. In actuality, they want to get through the necessary conversation, on with their business and back to the people they know and actually care about ASAP. And, if they can avoid having any conversation with you at all, even better, thus they avoid eye contact at all costs in stores and on the streets. I experience this daily at the University of Minnesota. I feel right at home, like I am back in New Jersey.
Sadly, this Minnesota niceness occurs even with people you actually know. The old, “We should get together” line gets a lot of mileage out here. I have wised up over the years though. Many times, they don’t actually mean it. I learned this pretty early on. We have a friend here that we know through some of my husband’s family that lives here. She would always mention get togethers with her friends and how I should come and join them. I thought she was serious. Here I was, in a new state with no friends and a little bit of family, and here was this kind offer to get to know some people. I followed up with her a few times, trying to get a date on the calendar, but it was always the same response. “Oh yah, that would be so much fun. You should totally join us…” Ok, I’m not a social moron. Eventually, and much to her relief I am sure, I stopped asking. That, my friends is the “Minnesota Nice”. Of course this woman needed to ask me to join her and her friends, it would seem rude not to. She just didn’t realize that I didn’t know the game yet. Silly me. I wasn’t actually supposed to follow up with her. Had I known, my proper response would have been, “Yeah, that’d be fun,” and then I would have left it at that. Ok, got it, now I know.
One of my husband’s professors at the University of Minnesota, who came here from England, has observed the same thing. She describes it as “pathological politeness”. It is a driving need to always, at all times and in every situation, have people think you are, well, nice. Thus sacrificing all truth and honest communication on the altar of niceness. I am very careful not to participate in this cultural phenomenon. If I offer something to someone, I make sure they know I mean it. I actually have made a verb out of it. I often tell people, “I’m serious, I’m not Minnesota Nice-ing you”.