Minnesota Part 1: So what’s all this business about Minnesota Nice?

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”.

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12 thoughts on “Minnesota Part 1: So what’s all this business about Minnesota Nice?”

  1. I can’t speak for anyone else, nor can I argue with your experience of life in Minnesota. I can say that we (Scott and I) have actually meant the relatively few offers we’ve made…we really would love to have watched your kids so you guys could go on a date…I really would have loved to get together to work on scrapbooks…I really did want you to come over to look through the paper….In my experience (not just with you, but in general), the things that don’t happen have the most to do with how busy we all are. I wish I wasn’t so busy! But accepting the need to work outside the home and other callings on my life has been necessary, too. I’m sorry that you hate it here. I’m glad to know you and your family!

    1. Oh Connie I totally know that. These are not absolute experiences, these are my overall experiences. I have made a few wonderful friends here, but overall this has been what I have experienced 😉

  2. Hey Nicole,
    Welcome to the blogosphere. I’ve been writing for a couple of years now on my own secret corner of the interwebs – it can be very cathartic 🙂
    So… you’re moving? Sorry that I’m so out of the loop.
    One of my best friends is a MN transplant, and I think we’re really close – except we don’t discuss politics, religion, marriage – basically anything we might disagree about, because she would never be impolite, and arguing with friends is impolite I guess! I think I would have a really hard time adjusting to that culture too.
    Anyway, I hope you keep blogging, it can be a great way to see yourself develop over time.
    Love Grace from the Garden State!

  3. Hey Nicole!
    Looks like we are both thinking about leaving Minnesota, maybe for different reasons. You could come be farmers with us. The people in Viroqua actually seem genuinely nice and they have the time to be nice. I think people here mean well, they just don’t have time to because all of the unnecessary things in their life consume them. I look forward to reading your blog.

    1. When we heard you were going we laughed and said that’s one more reason to leave! We can’t believe you are moving!!!! And I started my blog after I read yours! Totally swiped the idea!

  4. While I can corroborate your experiences in Minnesota on many levels, I really do feel as though your experience is influenced in large part by living (in the particular town where you live). No offense to anyone who lives out there, but it really is a totally different social experience – insular, cliquey, everyone keeps to themselves and treats you as an outsider. It’s also the suburb that all the suburbanites love to hate. (I know this from living in Eden Prairie and St. Louis Park and my wife is from Hopkins – the animosity is not just about high school sports rivalries!) Not only is it the suburbs, though, it’s the suburbs in Minnesota, which is like a socially isolating double-whammy.

    Joanna and I have had a completely different experience living in Minneapolis. People are quite a bit more genuine, and while they give you plenty of space, they also care to get to know you. I think this comes from the fact that most people who live in the city actually, y’know, LIKE living around other people and have no interest in barricading themselves at the end of a cul-de-sac.

    As for the ‘U’ experience, here’s mine: the people I find myself hanging out with the most are generally either not originally from the Cities, or live immediately IN the city. There’s a lot of suburban kids and other people around, though, and these tend to be the ones who are neither interested in engaging in the class or interested in engaging with anyone outside of their old high school posse. Thankfully, these do not make up the majority of the student body.

    These are, of course, broad and biased generalizations coming from an Urban Studies major, but having lived in both places here I really do think the Minneapolis experience is quite a bit different than the suburban experience.

    1. I did a little anecdotal research on this with the moms at dancing school in Chaska and you may be onto something Ian! I’ll blog about it soon 😉

    2. We’ve lived in both Brooklyn Park/Maple Grove and (where we live now). The northern suburbs are TERRIBLY insular and the people can be just plain grumpy. Trust me, if (where we live now) wasn’t better than that, I wouldn’t be sitting in this arctic blast zone – I’d be in Texas!

  5. I’m a Ky. native who has lived here twice… and actually chose to move back here when widowed young. The culture varies greatly here. My family is somewhat insulated from the real culture because we’re in a Christian home fellowship and sorta have instant friends/”family” wherever we go.
    In the Deep South, I’ve found people often say “Come over” and you have to dance around to figure out when they mean it. Actually I’ve found people here don’t invite you unless they mean it. It took 10 years before the parents of my son’s good friend started treating us like real friends! But I suspect we’ll be forever friends.
    Our neighborhood in southern Bloomington is very friendly. We have 2 or 3 block parties a year and families with kids seem to visit back and forth constantly. We look out for the oldsters in the neighborhood, pet sit for each other, etc.

    1. I think one of our biggest problems is that most of our neighbors have lived here since the neighborhood was built and they have grandkids now. They really don’t need or want to get to know us or any other young families that move in. See, but this teaches me for when I am older-how NOT to treat your neighbors!

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