Minnesota Part 2: Minnesotans love Minnesota

Trouble Spot #2: Minnesotans love Minnesota.

This is actually a really good quality and one that I desire for myself and my children. I want us to love the state where we live. It does however create a bit of a cultural conundrum. Because Minnesotans love Minnesota they never leave, and if they do leave, they often come back. This produces a tightly woven community of people held together by shared history and common experiences. Generations of families often live in the same town or within an easy drive of each other. People raise their children alongside friends they’ve had forever. It’s actually a beautiful thing, unless you’re an outsider trying to break in. In which case it feels like an impenetrable fortress.

I don’t fault the Minnesotans for this. By the time you are thirty-something your friendships are fairly well-established. And if you have generations of family surrounding you, along with the friends you’ve had your whole life, you really have no need of new people. And if you have little need of new people, you’re much less likely to open your eyes and really see anyone new who might be around you.

Now mind you, I love people. I enjoy meeting new people, reaching out to people, hearing their stories, understanding where they are coming from, making them a part of my life. So arriving in a place where that is such a monumental task has been really unexpected and difficult to deal with. And three years in, I haven’t made much headway.  There are two people I hang out with on a very regular basis, and then another two that I see at least once a month or every other month. It isn’t that I don’t know anyone else, but I am just talking about those people who I get together with regularly or who I call just to chat. Of those four, three are transplants. There is my friend from Mississippi, my Colombian friend, a friend from New York, and a friend who has lived here since she was five. (She is the closest thing we have to a Minnesota friend. We have joked with her about why she bothers with us and thank her for being a friend to us outsiders). Over and over again I hear the same story from people who are not originally from here. They can’t break in, they can’t make friends. As a result we transplants are drawn to each other. Perhaps our inability to be accepted as a part of this place is like our own little bit of shared history that draws us together, and we create these mini-communities of folks that are not from here.

Because of all this, holidays can be especially hard. As if it isn’t bad enough to be thousands of miles from your actual family, there is no supplementing it with your new-found Minnesota family. When it comes to holidays here, it is all about “Us and Ours”. In our experience, there is little opening of doors to people outside the fold. So, if you can’t come up with other family-less transplants to spend the holidays with, you are on your own. It’s kind of sad to drive past the neighbors’ homes and see the driveways filled with cars, knowing that inside the generations are gathered, telling stories, eating yummy food and wonder, “Couldn’t we just come in for coffee?” It’s a strange feeling to be so surrounded by people and yet to be all alone. I sometimes wind up feeling like a little kid standing outside in the cold and peering in with my nose pressed up against the glass (No, I haven’t ACTUALLY done that 😉 ).


8 thoughts on “Minnesota Part 2: Minnesotans love Minnesota”

  1. I really like your ‘Why a Blog’ statement! It is exciting to think of the freedom we have in the gospel and in America. Of course there are tons of limitations, many or most beyond our immediate control (economics being huge), but hey, just like you guys are planning…we can look at what ‘fits’ us and what we want to do and then go for it! It is fun to think about where you might end up and what you’ll be doing! It’s also a blessing to me, when things aren’t what I want, to know that the gospel tells me I don’t have to ‘pretend’ that I feel something I don’t (like happy to live in a certain place). I can feel what I feel and pour my life out to the Lord…and also know that my feelings aren’t all there is, that He is working in and through the circumstances of my life, even the ones that I HATE. Seriously, I am really looking forward to seeing what the future brings to the Smerillos! And it’s very nice to know what the ‘ultimate’ future holds. xoxo

  2. I’m going to love responding in long-form to basically every blog you write! :o)

    Once upon a time, when I first moved to Minnesota, I attended a little house-church deal that I got connected with through my old youth group organization. It was mostly made up of people who had lived here most or all of their lives. One of the things that these people always prayed against was, in good ol’ Pentecostal-speak, the “spirit of isolation that clings so heavily to this town.” Or, as one of the less word-mincing elders put it, “This cold and isolated f*cking place.” Here was a group of Minnesota lifers who felt out of place, disconnected, and isolated from their own tribe. It wasn’t for lack of connections, or of history in the region… it was flat-out feeling distant from everyone and everything.

    I’ve talked to other Minnesota lifers as well. Many feel the same, outsiders in their own home. I’ll bet if you talk to other Minnesotan-types about it, they might surprise you by saying similar things.

    Being the armchair sociologist that I am, I think it comes from that Scandinavian-Lutheran-Pioneer ethic. It’s a breach of the social code to complain about things, and if there’s something that you feel is going wrong, it’s probably “just you”. People don’t have much respect for those who admit to not being strong enough, or to being wrong, or whatever… so people keep their insecurity to themselves and continue to propagate the “suck it up, it’s just you” ethic. This is the soil from which “Minnesota Nice” grows.

    It’s all, of course, the most hypocritical way of living one’s life, but it is what it is. But you’ll find – as I’ve often found – that when you start to express your feelings to a Minnesotan, they will confide the same thing, and name about 4 or 5 other folks who’ve confided the exact same thing to them. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to do anything about it.

    Because Minnesota is a land of tight social networks, people tend to act much more collectively than individualistically. It takes more than one person, or 4 or 5, standing up and saying “Hey, I am really unhappy about ____!” It takes a significant groundswell of people who want to see something happen. Things are much more classically conservative, i.e. not serving “individual desires” but favoring the “collective good.” This collectivity leads to centralized institutions which can be, in turns, impossible to move or incredibly simple to mobilize – depending on how the “collective good” is made out to be affected by such movements. (This is probably also why the Twin Cities have more megachurches per capita than any other city, and why politics and political institutions are more progressive than many places.)

    This is what I perceive to be “Minnesota Ice”: proving your “value” to the social network. I know people who’ve moved right in from someplace totally off the map and “made it happen” here. They’re usually the creative, artsy, tech-savvy type or socially adept and politically active. Others have a more difficult time. I, personally, am outgoing but not the most forward sort of person. I have no real valuable skills or “special” things about me. Therefore, it’s taken me 6 years to feel as though I “fit”, though I’m still not quite there yet – and I’m only from 250 miles away!

    We’ve talked about moving to another city several times for various reasons – now that I think of it, it was almost exactly 3-4 years after I moved here I got the itch. But we’re kind of deciding for various reasons (not the least of which is because there’s now a kid on the way!) that we’re going to stick it out here. Yes, the social network is more difficult than usual to break into. But the benefits of the social capital available here are also equally more difficult to come by in any other place.

  3. “Scandinavian-Lutheran-Pioneer ethic. It’s a breach of the social code to complain about things, and if there’s something that you feel is going wrong, it’s probably “just you”. People don’t have much respect for “those who admit to not being strong enough, or to being wrong, or whatever… so people keep their insecurity to themselves and continue to propagate the “suck it up, it’s just you” ethic.”

    I think this is a really good point. I even get a sense that people from here think I’m weird for being so transparent. But, I think for me, my New Jersey forwardness, coupled with my security in knowing Jesus loves me, lets me just put it out there. I already don’t “fit” here, might as well make the most of it in the hopes of making some sort of difference for someone!

  4. Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog – This was fascinating, I will be interested to see what other things you bring up as part of your search for the right place. As one of those “lifers” you talk about, I had no idea it could be so hard to come here. But then I guess my world is a little bigger than the average person since I work with new immigrants – but then again, most of my close circle are other lifers. hm. I will definitely have to think about this!

  5. I’m going through the earlier entries now. Just to be very clear, I am not religious. You can now discount anything I say with that in mind.
    I know that when my family lived in New York for a few years, we also were outsiders. All of the outsiders gathered together and became a family. It is not just Minnesotans who have a barrier which is difficult to penetrate. That may partially explain why Minnesotans return after moving away. Just as you are planning to do in the future.
    We have also invited “outsiders” to our home over the holidays. They have become a part of our family. It is a two-way street when it comes to acceptance.

    1. Why on earth would I discount what you say because you are not religious? I am sorry if religious folk have made you feel that way before. Not here though! Anyhoo-I don’t want to go back east either. It is too much of a rat race! We like the pace away from the east much better. We would like to go south where it is warmer and hospitality is more a part of the culture. You seem different and maybe that has to do with where we live. Maybe the western suburbs are different than other parts of the state. I do know that my experiences are not unique. Most transplants that I talk to here say the same thing and they often move away because of it. For the record, we often invite people to our home, we have had game nights, coffee parties, dinners, hosted holidays. It has not really made a difference though.

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