In Defense of Minnesota Nice

PAshirt2.jpg

Written by: Austen Macalus

I first experienced the abrasive and tough attitudes of New Englanders when my parents moved from Minnesota to Connecticut my freshmen year of college. Sitting in a pizza shoppe in New Haven, CT, I physically cringed seeing a man literally snap his fingers at the waitress. Looking around, I wondering if his partner would walk back this egregious display of aggression. Nope. Even the waitress seemed completely unfazed by the customer's rudeness.  

 

During my short time on the East Coast, I was amazed by the utter lack of friendliness. New Yorkers were hyper-focused and singularly independent, Connecticuters were brutally honest and constantly crabby, Bostonians were brazenly loud and outright aggressive. Clearly my Midwest sensibilities--although mild compared to other Minnesotans--did not match the dominant attitude on the coast.

After coming back to the Twin Cities, I realized that Minnesota Nice is a real thing. It’s not just some stereotype you see on TV, or worse, an excuse for passive aggression. Minnesota means just being nice, and that is a good thing.

I’ve lived in Minnesota my whole life. I was born and raised in an east metro suburb, and stayed in state to attend the U. Like a fish surrounded by water, I didn’t realize what was around me this whole time. I took Minnesota Nice for granted. Perhaps too many of us fall into this trap.

In recent years, Minnesota Nice has taken an almost negative meaning. It’s become a shorthand for passive-aggressiveness, shying away from honesty, and a guilt-laden way of communicating. Some commentators have highlighted what they call  “Minnesota Ice,” the flip-side of Minnesota Nice, a phenomena that makes it difficult for newcomers and outsiders to find a community here.

wide_thumbnail.jpg

But I think that Minnesota Nice, most of the time, is just being nice. Minnesotans can still speak their mind and disagree with one another, we just aren’t mean about it.

Now, I am not saying that Minnesota’s perfect--I am definitely not a fan of the slow-paced merge characteristic of many Minnesotan drivers (a stereotype that is undoubtedly true). But I do believe that Minnesotans maintain a unique brand of kindness and generosity. We are courteous. We look out for one another. We follow the golden rule and treat people with respect.

There’s a kind of social altruism--often forgotten in other areas of life. A quaint kind of community-focused living. A down-to-earth attitude about our individual achievements and a collective pride in our success as a state.

I think fondly of hockey trips up to Northern Minnesota, where the host families would open up the local VFW and throw banquets for visiting teams, complete with an array of hotdishes. I remember the willingness of neighbors to help out with shoveling driveways in the winter and invite you over for a bowl of chili afterwards. I for one appreciate waving to complete strangers on the lake and having drawn-out conversations with your friends’ parents in the supermarket.

There are benefits to our more pleasant temperament. We have one of the highest retention rates for residents. A surprising amount of Fortune 500 companies. Higher than average income earnings and extremely low rates of uninsured residents. Some of the best public education schools and a high quality of living. It may not all relate back to Minnesota Nice, but who’s to say for sure.

As a 20-year-old college student living in Minneapolis, there are moments when I feel myself losing touch with this mentality. I feel Minnesota Nice slipping away. But just when I start to think all is lost, I am met with someone who pays for my coffee ahead of me in line or holds the door open or apologizes five times when asking a server for their check, instead of snapping at them.

In a time like today, when Americans are so divided on politics and social issues, Minnesota Nice is something to hold onto.