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How to talk Minnesota Nice
January 13, 2013 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I grew up in Minnesota, home of a particular passive-aggressive communication style which is summed up nicely by this chart and subsequent comments. Of particular import is the difference between "that's different" and "that's sure different" (though there isn't mention of "that's real different," which I think means just about the same thing) and examples of Minnesota Enthusiastic Neutral. Also worth noting is the classic book by sometime A Prairie Home Companion regular Howard Mohr, How to Talk Minnesotan.

An example:
"That's sure different": like "that's different" but really anybody ought to be able to SEE that I hate your choices what is WRONG with you do you not have a combination of manners and sarcasm on your planet. "That's different": your hair smells of coconut, and I personally hate coconut. "That's sure different": your hair smells of rotten coconut. "That's different" could be an honest difference of opinion; "that's sure different" indicates that no sane person could do what you have just done. But we don't want to be rude about it!
posted by larrybob (170 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite

 
You know when Lake Superior sneezes, all the snot ends up on Duluth, eh?
posted by HuronBob at 1:35 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Real good, then. Ba-Bye.
posted by Malla at 1:37 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


MST3K taught me a lot about this. Those guys are all from the area. I picked it up quickly, because it's similar to the way Southern women speak when we are being sweet.
(Warning: does not apply to Southern men or to Southern women who have been drinking.)
posted by Countess Elena at 1:40 PM on January 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


Oh, honey, bless your heart for this post!
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:41 PM on January 13, 2013 [32 favorites]


The hardest thing about living in Minnesota after growing up in New Jersey was not being sure if the person I was talking to hated me or not. At least in New Jersey, if we want to kill you we let you know.
posted by mollweide at 1:42 PM on January 13, 2013 [55 favorites]


The chart makes translating seem way too easy, and the dialect/attitude difference way too comprehensible, because it doesn't give you the other side of the problem — that almost all these things are sometimes said in earnest. The whole problem that Minnesota Nice poses, for outsiders, is that pleasantries are not always sarcastic or passive-aggressive, because if they were, they'd become unveiled insults rather than veiled ones. Telling the difference, identifying the unmeant pleasantry, is the problem: figuring out if the person saying these remarks is being passive-aggressive, not translating them once you figure that out. People say "it was so nice to meet you" and mean it all the time too.
posted by RogerB at 1:43 PM on January 13, 2013 [32 favorites]


I can deal with Minnesota Nice, understatement as Extreme Sport. You can still read between those lines.

I can deal with NY/NJ/Philly Go Fug Yaself straight talk.

What I find hard is the LA thing about saying totally vacuous and insincere positive baloney up to the cliche "I'll call you" and "that was great"with dates and times, instead of anything as direct as "this isn't going to work", or "we gave the gig to our first choice". The entire culture of LA is steeped in a fear of speaking a negative response, and the word "no" is deeply unsettling there, so they wrap up piles of positive BS that leads one to feel crazy while all sorts of promised actions don't happen when they are said just to avoid having to say No.
posted by C.A.S. at 1:46 PM on January 13, 2013 [14 favorites]


Sounds like High-Context Culture.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:56 PM on January 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure what any of this has to do with Minnesota. I've never even been to Minnesota and as far as I know this is how everyone in the world communicates.
posted by bleep at 1:57 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Related, this lovely explanation of the Midwestern Social Acceptability Index, from Eyebrows McGee:

"I have this theory I call the "Midwestern Social Acceptability Index" and the goal is to score 100 points. If you can get to 100, everyone (in the Midwest) will thereafter excuse all of your oddities as charming and interesting rather than threatening. So, like, are your kids fed and clothed? 50 points. Do you take good care of your pets? 25 points. Are your kids polite to adults? 25 points. Look! You're at 100 already! You could be circus people riding unicycles everywhere in brightly-colored clown outfits and everyone will say, "Oh, that's just the Smiths, they're great, they're in the circus!" Other point-gathering opportunities: Dressing appropriately for weddings and funerals, being employed in some gainful fashion, maintaining the exterior of your home to neighborhood standards, liking beer, cheering for the appropriate sports teams as local fandom demands, volunteering for some community organization, etc. Note you don't have to do ALL these things, just enough of them to get your 100 points. And then everyone will be like, "Well, she's a Pagan lesbian single parent keeping goats for organic cheese-making AND she cheers for the Miami Dolphins, which is a clear sign of mental illness, but gosh-darn doesn't she keep her house up nice and her kids are so polite! And have you tried her cheese? So good." So as long as you've got your 100 points, I'd just operate as if OF COURSE other people find you likeable. What's not to like?"

I love this so much.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:09 PM on January 13, 2013 [111 favorites]


Ah, I'm not the only one still using Livejournal. (excludes furries, slashfictioners and their ilk)
posted by jcruelty at 2:13 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


My mom grew up in Minnesota! She rebelled, as did Bob Dylan. She loved him until he got religion.
Too much religion is really bad for artists.
She spoke of people being 'nicey nice'
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:15 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"You know, other guys might shovel the snow downwind."

I'm stealing this.
posted by NedKoppel at 2:18 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love "the other guys," which we learned as a family from PHC in the 80s, as "A lotta guys would," For years in my family we adopted this as a joking critique of one another's efforts.

For Texas values, see "That's nice."
posted by Miko at 2:31 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


In Nova Scotia, where I grew up, there was a handy scale one could use to indicate the degree to which something was true. Something could be "good", "some good", "right some good", and in certain extreme cases "right some Jesus good."
posted by bowline at 2:33 PM on January 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


For some reason, Minnesotans (and I'm born and raised and live in Mpls now) think that being passive-agressive and not calling someone a jackass to their face qualifies as "Nice". I really feel sorry for the expats that I work with, particularly those from the east coast who are constantly wishing that people would just be direct with them.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 2:34 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


You know, I'm starting to think that California (outside of LA) is the only place in the English speaking world where "Have a nice day" means anything other than "Fuck you."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:49 PM on January 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


My observations are that all that nice talk don't mean a thing unless you are invited to someone's house. Everyone will be polite and helpful but your friend? Well, that depends on various factors including whether you went to school with the person in a formative period or not.
posted by jadepearl at 2:51 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


sometime A Prairie Home Companion regular

How can a body be a sometime regular?
posted by kenko at 2:52 PM on January 13, 2013


How can a body be a sometime regular?

It's tricky, because every sometime regular has to be above average.
posted by radwolf76 at 2:55 PM on January 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


How can a body be a sometime regular?

I'm sometimes irregular, so it stands to reason...
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:55 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well bless all your hearts.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 2:56 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's also nothing quite like the mental war that erupts when someone with the upper midwestern quirk of pathologically needing to politely refuse offered hospitality is a guest in the home of someone with the forceful upper midwestern quirk of never being able to accept the smallest refusal of hospitality. It is as brutal as it is awkward.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:56 PM on January 13, 2013 [27 favorites]


Thinking about it, it's a little like one of those Mrs. Doyle "go on" bits in Father Ted, but steeped in guilt, shame, distrust of motive and competitive humility, but also quieter and more pleasant when viewed by an outsider.
posted by jason_steakums at 3:03 PM on January 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


how well does this map on to Canadianglish?
(sorry if this is a double comment, the 1st try didn't go through for some reason?)
posted by Bwithh at 3:03 PM on January 13, 2013


I grew up in Nebraska, mostly. The times I've been out to the US East Coast, and most of the urban Easterners I've met, have convinced me that varying levels of culturally accepted / encouraged directness don't have massive bearing on the underlying decency of people generally. I like y'all, really.

That said, most of the time I run into someone who complains constantly about how they wish people in the Midwest and West would just be direct like they are, what they're really communicating is "I'm a right asshole and I sure wish the culture here didn't make it quite so obvious".
posted by brennen at 3:04 PM on January 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


As is said in Toronto, “Sorry."
posted by scruss at 3:05 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I can just imagine if H. P. Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror" had taken place in Minnesota. People would look at Wilbur Whateley's corpse and say, "That's different."
posted by ovvl at 3:06 PM on January 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


You don't need to be from the East Coast to find Minnesota infuriating.

I grew up in Central and eastern Wisconsin. If someone disagreed with you there they typically wouldn't be a dick about it, but he or she wouldn't lie about it, either. Couching language in code, like often happens here in Minnestoa, isn't just misleading, it's culturally-endorsed dishonesty.
posted by mrbula at 3:07 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


kinda (previously)
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:08 PM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's also nothing quite like the mental war that erupts when someone with the upper midwestern quirk of pathologically needing to politely refuse offered hospitality is a guest in the home of someone with the forceful upper midwestern quirk of never being able to accept the smallest refusal of hospitality. It is as brutal as it is awkward.

This happens frequently between my Father (life-long Minnesotan) and my wife (ex-pat Hungarian). I feel that I have to provide some awkward cultural translations about "no dad doesn't need extra towels" and dad: "just eat the massive amount of food that she feels she needs to cook for you".
posted by Divest_Abstraction at 3:12 PM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm from Chicago, and I spent my first two or three years in Minnesota being terrified that everyone secretly hated me.

Even now, I hang out almost exclusively with people that aren't from Minnesota, though that's mostly because people who are from Minnesota met their 'new' friends in junior high, and don't really have the inclination to hang out with anyone new.

Other question: 'Why did you move here? No, really, why did you move here?' It took me years to understand that this wasn't because no Minnesotan could understand why one would want to live in Minnesota, but because Minnesotans couldn't imagine moving away from family/support networks to live somewhere new.
posted by dinty_moore at 3:14 PM on January 13, 2013 [21 favorites]


That's where that Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann is from, bless her heart.
posted by hal9k at 3:20 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's also the drive to not express anything too forcefully. I said to one of my classes (I am now on the East Coast), "All in all, you guys were a pretty good class." Sue said "Come on, Professor, we were great!" I looked at her for a moment, shook my head, and said "Sue, I'm from the Upper Midwest. "Pretty good" is as high as it goes."
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:21 PM on January 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


They seem to have left out "Oh, can't complain." (The pinnacle of enthusiastic, upbeat responses to the question, "howzit goin'?") In Cambridge, Mass., I had a housemate from MN (alumna of St. Olaf College), and she and another friend from there would constantly riff on various Minnesotisms. For some reason their pronouncing the phrase "toaster pastries" in a thick Swedish accent always had them in stitches.

Some old friends who grew up in Iowa (one of whom now lives in Minneapolis after years in the East) tell me that "Well, *that's* different!" is part of the lexicon there, too. Makes sense.

About the insincere "have a nice day":

I can deal with NY/NJ/Philly Go Fug Yaself straight talk.

What I find hard is the LA thing about saying totally vacuous and insincere positive baloney up to the cliche "I'll call you" and "that was great"with dates and times, instead of anything as direct as "this isn't going to work", or "we gave the gig to our first choice". The entire culture of LA is steeped in a fear of speaking a negative response, and the word "no" is deeply unsettling there, so they wrap up piles of positive BS that leads one to feel crazy while all sorts of promised actions don't happen when they are said just to avoid having to say No.


You know, I'm starting to think that California (outside of LA) is the only place in the English speaking world where "Have a nice day" means anything other than "Fuck you."

Yeah, LA is where sincerity goes to drown in a sea of New Age positiveness. (You can find large pockets of the same atmosphere in the Bay Area or elsewhere in Calif., but nowhere is it as pervasive as in LA.)

One of my old Berklee College classmates, a long-time New Yorker, likes to tell this joke about the difference between New York City and LA:

In LA they say, "Have a nice day!" but they mean "Fuck you!"

In NYC they say, "Fuck you!", but they mean "Have a nice day!"
posted by Philofacts at 3:22 PM on January 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


Minnesotans couldn't imagine moving away from family/support networks to live somewhere new.

If you go outside of driving distance to family holiday get-togethers and end up missing them, shit's about to get Minnesota Nice in the weekly phone call chain amongst your grandparents and parents and aunts and uncles and come back on you via your poor mother who was put on the spot by your thoughtlessly missing Christmas. Thus, the midwesterners huddle within about 300 miles of grandma's house, unless they make a decent enough living to guarantee plane travel each year.
posted by jason_steakums at 3:26 PM on January 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


The biggest problem I encountered as a native Minnesotan when I went to college in Boston was that people don't offer things 3 times on the east coast, and you're not expected to refuse an offer on the first 2 times it's given. In Minnesota, "Does anybody else want the last roll?" is followed by "Are you sure?" and "Last chance... Joe? Sarah?" before someone will just eat the darn thing. So if you've been eyeballing the last roll but somebody else speaks up, the polite thing is to wait at least until the "Are you sure?" before admitting "Oh, I guess I wouldn't mind splitting it with you, twist my arm." In Boston, if anyone even bothers to ask before taking the last of something, you lose out on that half a roll if you politely say "go ahead" when first asked.
posted by vytae at 3:28 PM on January 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


dunkadunc: I hadn't heard of High-Context Culture before, but the Minnesota Nice wikipedia article mentions it in a paragraph which lacks citations.
Scandinavian culture is "low context", whereas Minnesota nice is characteristic of a "high context" culture. Presumably, the immigrants from Norway and Sweden adapted their low context Jante Law to the seemingly similar but very different Southern United States high context polite society, forming the unique Midwest culture amongst Western cultures that is called "Minnesota Nice." The integration of Jute Law and Polite Society, epitomized by the rules of a Southern belle, likely occurred when the cultures met and merged during the pre-American Civil War migration of pro-slavery southern farmers north into the Midwest Territory (documented, for example, in the well known Bleeding Kansas conflict).
posted by larrybob at 3:39 PM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


In NYC they say, "Fuck you!", but they mean "Have a nice day!"

Technically in NYC "fuck you" can mean many many things:

- I grumpily concede the point you have just made in our casual friendly argument
- I laughingly concede the point you have just made in our casual friendly argument
- I am going to get the last word here if it kills me
- I am seized with an impotent rage and cannot express myself coherently
- the only thing worse than your driving is your stupid face
- shut up your face
- you are standing far too close to me
- you are the wrongest you have ever been (so far)
- you think you're funny but you are wrong
- fuck you
- have a nice day
- we should totally do it
posted by elizardbits at 3:40 PM on January 13, 2013 [101 favorites]


Time zones
Breakfast
Christmas
posted by growabrain at 3:42 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am a longtime Minnesotan who also lived quite a few other places, and currently lives in Nebraska.

I read Howard Mohr's book when I was younger and it didn't really ring a bell to me, but, then, I was an urban kid, having been born in Minneapolis and, but for a brief move to Minnetonka in my teen years, always having lived close to downtown. I never had or heard of hotdish growing up. My parents, native New Yorkers, called it casserole, and my mother, a snob, certainly didn't make the cream-of-mushroom concoction that I heard about. My mother doesn't do the Minnesota goodbye when the evening is done. She says "Bye bye," and continues to say it until people leave. "Thanks for having us, Claire!" "Okay, bye bye!" "Should I call you next week?" "BYE BYE."

People in Minneapolis generally have fairly neutral midwestern accents. That "Fargo" accent seemed as weird to me as it did to everybody else in the country when the film came out. Californians, learning I was from Minnesota, would slip into the Frago accent. "Oh yah!" the would say. "MinnesoDah?" I'd get irritated. "DO I SOUND LIKE THAT? NO I DO NOT. WHY ARE YOU TALKING LIKE THAT?" I've always been quite direct in what I want to say, to the degree that, as I have grown older, I have had to learn to modify my bluntness, so that people don't immediately go on the defensive when I talk to them. I am no more passive aggressive than any typical person, and considerably less so than many. When I am angry, I am visibly angry. The only thing about Mohr's book that felt familiar was that I tend to face away from people when speaking to them, and am tremendously uncomfortable with eye contact, and I have a taste for Scandinavian modern furniture, which seems to be a cultural legacy of Minnesota. Other than that, I dunno. I grew up with a Jewish family and was connected with the local Irish-American community, and we seemed like Jews and Irish everywhere, and none of these Minnesota stereotypes made sense to me.

Until I started meeting people from the suburbs, and then from rural Minnesota. I had a friend from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, who thought she was awfully tough, and carried herself like a bruiser. And she would describe how she would get super aggressive with people who irritated her. But her stories sounded like this: "Somebody brought a BABY into work. I was trying to work, and everybody was around this horrible little baby and making noises at it, and I just couldn't concentrate. SO I SAT IN MY CUBICLE AND COUGHED A LOT UNTIL THEY LEFT." Her favorite technique to express anger at somebody was to glare at them. After their back was turned. And she genuinely thought this was aggressive aggression, instead of passive aggression. And I got the sense that, in her home town, they saw her as somebody with a temper problem who acted out a lot.

I go up to Anoka, MN, frequently now, as that's about where my girlfriend's family is, and it's where Garrison Keillor lived as a boy and is one of the models for Lake Woebegone. It's the sort of place where, if you accidentally block somebody's way, they will say, just quietly enough so you can here them "Don't you hate it when you are walking and there is somebody in your way? I mean, when that happens, it's just so annoying."

The trouble with passive aggression is it's so easy to ignore. If people don't communicate directly and clearly with me, I assume it really isn't a big issue for them, and ignore it. I wonder how many people have long seen me as an incredibly awful person because they thought they were very clearly expressing anger and I just ignored them?

By the way, part of the reason I left Minnesota is because of Jante's Law, which I think is a very real thing there. It is very hard to be in the arts in Minnesota, because, while they love the arts, they also don't like it when locals get a little too big for their britches, and so it can be very hard to find meaningful support for whatever you're working on. They want to support you. Just not so much that you think you're too special. It is one of the things I noticed throughout growing up in Minnesota. Whenever you accomplish something that you feel pretty good about, there will always be somebody to knock you back down. I wrote a whole essay about it when I was an art critic, and, as far as I can tell, most people were completely unsurprised by my conclusions: The only way to know if you're famous in Minnesota is if everybody is trying very hard to ignore you.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:51 PM on January 13, 2013 [30 favorites]


This thread is making me wonder if there are any unspoken rules to Southern Ontario/Toronto culture that I am following without knowing it, or that I am missing entirely.
posted by orange swan at 3:52 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


That "Fargo" accent seemed as weird to me as it did to everybody else in the country when the film came out.

Except the people from Fargo and Grand Forks who most definitely know a lot of people that talk like that.
posted by flaterik at 3:56 PM on January 13, 2013


Except the people from Fargo and Grand Forks who most definitely know a lot of people that talk like that.

But for the opening scene, much of the move Fargo is set in Minneapolis and Brainerd. I have heard a lot of that accent in rural Minnesota, and, you're right, it's very thick in the Dakotas. The person with the thickest "Minnesota" accent I have ever heard came from South Dakota.

When the Coens did a film about the Jewish community in St. Louis Park, nobody had that accent. I think they were making fun of it in the film, as they did not grow up hearing it either, and they don't have it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:01 PM on January 13, 2013


Minnesotans couldn't imagine moving away from family/support networks to live somewhere new.

See, I actually moved to Minnesota and stayed - voluntarily! - and the "Minnesota" that gets described in these articles is never recognizable to me. Granted, I've only lived in a college town and Minneapolis, but it's at least worth noting that the blanket descriptors aren't that useful everywhere.

1. People leave all the time. Heartbreakingly often, in fact - for jobs, for school, for relationships, for family, to travel, to join the military. Just like anywhere else. Everyone jokes that the way it works is that Minnesotans move to Chicago and Omahavians move to Minnesota, and it does seem that not too many folks move all the way out east, although lots of people seem to go out to the west coast. I've lost two brilliant hairstylists to New York and Birmingham respectively in the past couple of years, for example, and now my old college buddy who moved here from the south has to cut my hair.

2. I don't know whether it's that I come from the famous Passive-Aggressive culture of the Chicago metro area, but I haven't noticed a lot of passive-aggressiveness or "I'll tell you that you're really cute and sweet but I really mean that you're badly dressed and your hair is gross" stuff here.

3. I do notice that people give each other a lot of space most of the time - eye contact and chitchat between strangers are not typical things unless there's a precipitating event, nor are they customary between work colleagues if you know each other by sight but have not been introduced or if there's a great difference in rank.

4. Everyone is always "oh Minnesota land of white people and whiteness", but it's worth remembering that this state has a large Native population both on reservations and in the city, a substantial East African immigrant population, many people from Mexico and South America and a big Hmong population, plus a smaller but significant US-born/not-from-recent-immigrant-families African-American population. All these people have a broad variety of social norms.

And I add that through the eighties this state was super-duper liberal and we still have a lot more in terms of infrastructure commitments and public health stuff than most states (while not having enough, of course). (I was just thinking of this today looking at the Native clinic, art gallery and retirement housing in my neighborhood and how nice it was to see it.) This whole "Minnesotans, humorous poison-pots of fake politeness" business...well, if the price of new public transit and retirement care for Native elders and a slightly-less-hostile-than-other-parts-of-the-US attitude toward political refugees is a little bit of guess culture...huh, I suppose I've already signed up for that.
posted by Frowner at 4:02 PM on January 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


kenko: How can a body be a sometime regular?

Over the course of A Prairie Home Companion's 30+ year existence in one form or another, various performers have been seemingly permanent fixtures, only to disappear from the show's context, either never to reappear or to show up only as occasional guests. According to this PHC timeline, Howard Mohr was a regular beginning in 1982. In a response to a 1997 listener letter, Garrison Keillor states "I haven't seen nor heard from Howard Mohr in years and years." However, a How to Talk Minnesotan: Revised for the 21st Century is coming out in May 2013. While the blurb mentions Twitter and Facebook, whether it's revised to reflect the cultural influences of Minnesota's plentiful Hmong and other Southeast Asian and Somali immigrants, there is no indication.
posted by larrybob at 4:03 PM on January 13, 2013


I lived in MN for 6 years and, honestly, just generally found people to be quite pleasant and friendly. I always lived in the Twin Cities, so it's possible that city livin' gives Minnesota Nice just enough of an edge to seem friendly, not maddeningly passive agressive. One thing that never failed to amuse me is that even, like, the gutter punks in Minneapolis would look all tough and bad but then they'd start talking and it would be like sunshine came out of their faces.

I will say, though, that for part of that time I was a fundraiser, and I was horrible at it, because I could never tell when people were really interested or just being friendly. I was always good at it in the Northeast, because people would tell you straight out if they weren't interested, and I knew not to take it personally. I cleaned up in Jersey, damn.

However, I live in Seattle now, on the other end of the "Nordic Belt" and I found the passive aggression really hard to deal with when I first moved here. Because you could go from what seemed to me (as a Boston native) a civil, agreeable conversation to an all-out war in 15 seconds flat. In Minneapolis, when you accidentally mistake the passive-aggression for bland friendliness, everyone goes on with their day. In Seattle, if you miss those cues, some people get seriously butt hurt.
posted by lunasol at 4:07 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Everyone jokes that the way it works is that Minnesotans move to Chicago and Omahavians move to Minnesota, and it does seem that not too many folks move all the way out east, although lots of people seem to go out to the west coast.

Except that, if you tell people you're from Chicago, they start telling you how they moved to Chicago, but it was a bit much, so they had to come back! I think what we're really talking about is not that no one leaves, it's that those of us who ended up in Minnesota from elsewhere are, almost by definition, the sort of people who move away from their families, whereas the people who are already here are, almost by definition, not that sort of person.

Everyone is always "oh Minnesota land of white people and whiteness", but it's worth remembering that this state has a large Native population both on reservations and in the city, a substantial East African immigrant population, many people from Mexico and South America and a big Hmong population, plus a smaller but significant US-born/not-from-recent-immigrant-families African-American population. All these people have a broad variety of social norms.

That 'everyone' includes Minnesotans, though. It includes MPR. It's like 'real' Minnesotans are descended from Swedes (which I think isn't even true of the majority of Minnesotans descended from that wave of immigrants) and everyone else is a unicorn, regardless of how long their family has lived in Minnesota.
posted by hoyland at 4:10 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and thank you Frowner, for bringing up the stuff about MN's diversity. Honestly, Minneapolis is one of the more cosmopolitan-feeling cities I've lived in, (and incidentally has some of the best Mexican and Vietnamese food I've ever eaten). And yes, an amazing legacy of progressive politics and activism. It always sort of bugs me that many of the people I talk to from the coasts seem to want to stick MN into this "lol white people" box.
posted by lunasol at 4:11 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, I couldn't comment here and in the linked post, no no no. That would be downright ungracious of me. Thank you anyway though. That's so nice of you.
posted by jiawen at 4:12 PM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, well, if you insist, I suppose I could, just for a bit.

I'm from Minnesota, and have lived here most of my life. Minnesota Nice is, in my experience, a very real and frustrating thing. Yes, the Twin Cities have have gotten more diverse, and they're generally more liberal than some places... but Minnesota Nice is still a plague that I'd rather be rid of.
posted by jiawen at 4:15 PM on January 13, 2013


Philofacts: They seem to have left out "Oh, can't complain."

One of the early comments points that out, and has an explanation of the term that I find amusing as hell:
The pinnacle of human existence, of course, is "can't complain." "Can't complain" comes when you have that several million dollar book deal and also the terminal diagnosis someone close to you got last week turned out to be a mistake and what they really have is a hangnail. And also your feet finally got warm for the first time in three months.
posted by Malor at 4:18 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod: I like the Scott Seekins reference in your article.
posted by larrybob at 4:18 PM on January 13, 2013


Bunny Ultramod: How interesting; I didn't know there was an English rendering of the Swedish "jantelagen."
posted by professor plum with a rope at 4:19 PM on January 13, 2013


It includes MPR. It's like 'real' Minnesotans are descended from Swedes (which I think isn't even true of the majority of Minnesotans descended from that wave of immigrants) and everyone else is a unicorn, regardless of how long their family has lived in Minnesota.

See, that's precisely why I wanted to comment - there's this particular kind of liberal discourse about Minnesota which whitens the state - "oh, how cute all the Swedes are with their comical nordic passive aggression and reserve!" (and it's not even fucking Swedes - I'm a Swede and believe me, it's the 'Wegies around here).

In fact, I caught myself talking to a friend - a Latin@ friend, no less, although he didn't say anything because he's a kind guy - about the dinner we were planning to cook and how he should make the [thing] more spicy than "average Minnesotans" but not overwhelmingly spicy, and I realized that I too often revert to "regular Minnesotans are white people". I mean, what about all those "average Minnesotans" from East Africa who eat that powerful hot red sauce whose name I don't know? One little drop of that on the injera is all I can eat. What are those people, chopped liver?

Actually, one reason I wanted to stay here was that there's always exciting racial justice projects going on. "Average Minnesotan" is a contested quality.

(I actually suspect that what killed Minnesota liberalism was racism, though - though there's a meaningful quantity of white folks here who (although I know we have lots of failings) want Minnesota to be a multiracial state established on a racial justice framework, I think that when Hmong and Mexican and African-American people started moving here more steadily in the eighties, an awful lot of white people who had been liberal on social programs became conservative pretty quick.)
posted by Frowner at 4:24 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Frowner: Very good point about the white fright. See this 1995 Christian Science Monitor article about "Moneyapolis" and fears of a gang-member influx. Michele Bachmann represents the sort of outer suburbs to which whites fled.
posted by larrybob at 4:43 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


dinty_moore, very true. I lived here for here for about four years before I had the realization that none of my close friends here were native Minnesotans.
posted by mrbula at 5:01 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will never forget the first time I read Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior and she said the one correct procedure for family dinner conversation is that everyone speaks boastfully of their day's finest achievement once around the table for their opening salvo and then polite realistic conversation ensues. If I ever boasted at my dinner table when I was a kid about jack shit I would have been shamed so badly I wouldn't have been able to speak up for weeks. I swear to God my family would just as soon raise a serial killer as raise a braggart.

One thing I have always wondered about Garrison Keilor is the authenticity of his rural descriptions. According to wikipedia his hometown is like 50 miles from Minneapolis so I imagine a lot of people grew up there completely ignorant of the facts of slaughtering hogs, spreading manure, and milking cows.

The first time I heard Sarah Palin talk was on CNN and they were showing the highlights of her acceptance speech at the Republican convention in '08. My first brief impression (I have rarely listened to her since) is she came from off Prarie Home Companion radio show and some skit about tuna hot dish.
posted by bukvich at 5:06 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


"This whole "Minnesotans, humorous poison-pots of fake politeness" business"

I don't really understand what people think politeness is for if not to be nice to people you don't feel any genuine warmth for. That's not FAKE politeness, that's just politeness. I don't know what the rest of the world does, escalate minor conflicts to shouting and face-punching so as not to suffer the horrible insincerity of being polite to someone annoying?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:07 PM on January 13, 2013 [25 favorites]


"Minnesota Nice" makes me want to write a porn flick called Minnesota Naughty, where the actors just never really pick up on each others' incredibly subtle advances and nothing really happens.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:11 PM on January 13, 2013 [32 favorites]


Later they all seductively eat tater tot hotdish.
posted by elizardbits at 5:16 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


...is there a different way to eat it?
posted by jason_steakums at 5:18 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


In Minnesota, "Does anybody else want the last roll?" is followed by "Are you sure?" and "Last chance... Joe? Sarah?" before someone will just eat the darn thing.

I think it is a fact known to all midwestern caterers that no one will ever take the last of something off the tray. If there's a little bit left, it doesn't mean people don't want more. It's just that no one wants to be the ill-bred buffoon who takes the last serving.
posted by BrashTech at 5:19 PM on January 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't really understand what people think politeness is for if not to be nice to people you don't feel any genuine warmth for. That's not FAKE politeness, that's just politeness. I don't know what the rest of the world does, escalate minor conflicts to shouting and face-punching so as not to suffer the horrible insincerity of being polite to someone annoying?


It's true in Texas too, and sure, I guess you could just call it actual politeness. The difference, in Texas anyway, is that someone can be treacly, syrupy sweet to your face -- in other words, polite -- but what they're really doing is gathering intel so that when you walk away they can spread highly informed, framed-as-objective-truth, um, news about you to other folks in the fellowship circle. Politeness, in the South, is a finely honed weapon as much as it is a social standard.
posted by mudpuppie at 5:20 PM on January 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


The bulk of my working life has been spent working in call centers with a nationwide footprint. When I see 218, 651 and 507 show on my caller ID I immediately smile, I know that within the next 3 minutes I will have the dignity of not being treated with discourtesy.
posted by banal evil at 5:24 PM on January 13, 2013 [15 favorites]


That's where that Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann is from, bless her heart.

As well as the first Muslim in congress, Keith Ellison... But y'know
posted by edgeways at 5:26 PM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


According to wikipedia his hometown is like 50 miles from Minneapolis so I imagine a lot of people grew up there completely ignorant of the facts of slaughtering hogs, spreading manure, and milking cows.

Wait, why would you think that? Garrison Kiellor was born in 1942, and that was certainly a pre-sprawl era in which farmland began a couple-three miles outside of cities, not hundreds of miles away. Almost anyone outside a major urban center, and plenty of people within, knew a lot about farming. My impression is that Kiellor lived a "town" life and that cities were certainly within easy day-trip travel, if you could afford to do it, but that farms were part of the town and surrounded the town, as was absolutely not unusual not too long ago- even not in New Jersey, where I grew up in the 1980s, let alone Minnesota in the 40s and 50s. Even now you can do a Google "search nearby" for Anoka, and though it's pretty suburbanized now, there are still tons of farms.
posted by Miko at 5:29 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's just that no one wants to be the ill-bred buffoon who takes the last serving.

Or, you know, the breaking of the last cookie in half so as to leave something for the next person. This is called squiffling.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:30 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


As a MN native, I guess I'm one of the few people who doesn't mind my state's "passive-aggressive" nature - I'll even put it in quotes because I was taught that's an appropriate response to being defined by outsiders. There's something endearing about a culture whose people don't talk about themselves, brag, or (heaven forbid) talk about others in a mean-spirited manner. That's just not very nice and I still sometimes find it very difficult to maintain relationships with people who don't feel the same way.

Just reading the comments in this thread kinda make me wonder how much of this is just having fun with the hyperbole, or maybe it's that folks just don't like/trust "people-pleasers," as those types, when found elsewhere, often have ulterior motives.
posted by antonymous at 5:31 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not just MN. It happens all over the Midwest. My mother's step-niece called me in early November 2012. I had not talked to this woman since I was about 22, when I permanently moved away from my home town in central IL. That was over 35 years ago.

Here is what she said: "Hello, Caryatid, this is (married name, which I have never heard). I am calling to invite you to Thanksgiving dinner."

After a stunned silence, followed by "Who did you say this is, and how do you know me?" and many other questions, it turned out that this is what she meant: "Your mother's dementia is getting worse and we are finding it impossible to deal with her so would you please get back here and DO SOMETHING?"

(Well why didn't you say so?)
posted by caryatid at 5:36 PM on January 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


Just reading the comments in this thread kinda make me wonder how much of this is just having fun with the hyperbole...

Well that is certainly how I am choosing to read it, the other way would lead to a long list of "this-is-what-is-annoying-about-AL,AK,AR,AZ,CA,CO,CT,DE,FL,GA,HI,ID,IL,IN,IA,KS,KY,LA,ME,MD,MI,MA, MS,MO,MT,NE,NV,NH,NJ,NM,NY,NC,ND,OH,OK,OR,PA,RI,SC,SD,TN,TX,UT,VT,NA,WA,WV,WI,WY... etc fucking c.
posted by edgeways at 5:39 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The person with the thickest "Minnesota" accent I have ever heard came from South Dakota.

Draw a line across South Dakota from Pierre through Brookings, and in the area north of that and east of the Missouri River is where that accent lives in SD. It's not everywhere, but it's there, and it gets more prevalent the closer you get to some vague epicenter between Fargo, ND and Bemidji, MN and (from what I've noticed) the closer you get to a Hutterite colony, with the Hutterites in far northeastern SD having the strongest show of that accent I've experienced outside of native Norwegians. I think the epicenter is somewhere in the Fargo/Grand Forks/Bemidji triangle.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:43 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a MN native, I guess I'm one of the few people who doesn't mind my state's "passive-aggressive" nature - I'll even put it in quotes because I was taught that's an appropriate response to being defined by outsiders. There's something endearing about a culture whose people don't talk about themselves, brag, or (heaven forbid) talk about others in a mean-spirited manner. That's just not very nice and I still sometimes find it very difficult to maintain relationships with people who don't feel the same way.

I tend to think of this as an upper-Midwestern trait more generally--it's all the German Catholics and sensible Lutherans. I grew up on the Wisconsin-Illinois border, and I saw a lot this growing up.

(Though, judging from my Facebook "friends" from home, either some of the politeness has vanished, or was all illusory to begin with.)
posted by professor plum with a rope at 5:54 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


"You know, other guys might shovel the snow downwind."

For a while, a friend of mine and I used the "A lot of fellas..." variant on this whenever one of us was doing anything even slightly ill advised.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:07 PM on January 13, 2013


larrybob, i don't know owt about Scandanavia and high-context low-context nothing like that, but in Northern English English "It's ok" or "that'll do," is high praise and "it's fantastic!" means the speaker is probably lying.
posted by glasseyes at 6:08 PM on January 13, 2013


in Northern English English "It's ok" or "that'll do," is high praise

<Sudden Clarity Clarence now gets the last line of Babe>
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 6:15 PM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Babe doesn't happen in Britain though does it? I thought it was in a sort of 1950ish mid-Atlantic no-persons-land. Rather to the West of no-persons-land at that.
posted by glasseyes at 6:20 PM on January 13, 2013


When talking about Minnesota and the immigrant and refugee populations that have made the Twin Cities more diverse over the last few decades, I think it is important to remember that a lot of those groups ended up in this area because there were well-funded social services agencies working on refugee re-settlement. Its not fair to see it as a bunch of lily-white racists who just happened to have a bunch of brown-skinned people sent into their cities. For generations, Minnesotans have been giving generously to organizations like Luthern Social Services, Catholic Charities, and Jewish Family and Social Services. This area is known for high rates of charitable giving and volunteerism. I remember when I was kid. Lots of churches, including mine, were sponsoring Hmong families.

I think it has become a bit too fashionable to claim that Minnesota is hypocritical and that all the niceness is fake.
posted by Area Man at 6:36 PM on January 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


Also, my favorite silly Minnesota bit of manners is The Long Goodbye. My wife and her friends can spend hours saying standing at the door saying goodbye. I'll wander away after a few minutes and start doing something else.

I grew up here and don't have a problem with the local manners, except for that long goodby. I do, however, see where they could be confusing to a newcomer. I knew of one instance where a woman originally from New Jersey mistakenly believed that she was highly regarded by her Minnesota co-workers. She didn't understand the difference between politeness and real affection.
posted by Area Man at 6:42 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Over the course of A Prairie Home Companion's 30+ year existence in one form or another, various performers have been seemingly permanent fixtures, only to disappear from the show's context, either never to reappear or to show up only as occasional guests.

What you've got there is a former regular.
posted by kenko at 6:47 PM on January 13, 2013


I think it is a fact known to all midwestern caterers that no one will ever take the last of something off the tray. If there's a little bit left, it doesn't mean people don't want more. It's just that no one wants to be the ill-bred buffoon who takes the last serving.

This must be why I ended up on the East Coast. I was always the guy who didn't mind taking the last piece of something. I guess I was a bad midwesterner.
posted by nolnacs at 6:55 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


a porn flick called Minnesota Naughty, where the actors just never really pick up on each others' incredibly subtle advances and nothing really happens

Another problem with a MN porno is that it's too cold to get naked, but if you try to have sex while mostly still wrapped in fleece you end up electrocuting someone.
posted by vytae at 6:59 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm a transplant to Minnesota. Whenever I talk to a native (much less often than you'd think), I feel like we're speaking different languages. And it's not the accent.
posted by miyabo at 7:25 PM on January 13, 2013


I'm a lifelong Minnesotan [50yo], grew up in a small town. I'm traveling a lot to TX these days. A couple weeks ago I had some new thing on the menu at the Plano restaurant I eat at regularly. The manager [who is familiar with my face since I'm there almost every night] came out and asked how it was. I told her it was "pretty good" and her face fell so fast you would have thought I'd killed her dog, fer crying out loud.
posted by chazlarson at 7:39 PM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't really understand what people think politeness is for if not to be nice to people you don't feel any genuine warmth for. That's not FAKE politeness, that's just politeness. I don't know what the rest of the world does, escalate minor conflicts to shouting and face-punching so as not to suffer the horrible insincerity of being polite to someone annoying?

Politeness is not for being nice to people you hate. Politeness is for avoiding being an asshole to people you hate. Just because you're avoiding being an asshole doesn't mean you have use phrases that swing the pendulum so far the other way that people think you actually like them.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:44 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


> "In Boston, if anyone even bothers to ask before taking the last of something, you lose out on that half a roll if you politely say 'go ahead' when first asked."

Well, I was hungry.
posted by kyrademon at 8:09 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


> The biggest problem I encountered as a native Minnesotan when I went to college in Boston was that people don't offer things 3 times on the east coast, and you're not expected to refuse an offer on the first 2 times it's given.

This has been my experience, as well. Three years ago, I moved from outside of Portland, OR to a small town in Wisconsin just across the state line from the Twin Cities. I'm still struggling to work out which are genuine invitations which I should accept, and which are polite invitations that I should decline.

For example, last Christmas, it came up that a married couple I'm friends with were planning on driving (with their infant) to the same city as I was (a 12-hour drive), and they invited me to ride along with them. I accepted, but though the offer was made at least twice, I still have no idea if they really wanted me along for the trip or not.

Another time, while fixing some screw-up at work, my whole group had worked three 12-hour days. On the fourth day, we were nearly finished, so when the Active Directory server went down, my boss decided that even though out network access was technically still working, and even so, we could work offline so long as we had a local copy of the file, she was sending us home for the day. Apparently I gave myself away as a transplant because even though my back was killing me, and I was losing focus, when she said "Go home" I just said "Okay" and left.
posted by yuwtze at 8:10 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


See, that's precisely why I wanted to comment - there's this particular kind of liberal discourse about Minnesota which whitens the state - "oh, how cute all the Swedes are with their comical nordic passive aggression and reserve!" (and it's not even fucking Swedes - I'm a Swede and believe me, it's the 'Wegies around here).

I get it now. I think you're making me realise part of why I'm so frustrated with Minnesota and it's that I don't find myself able to challenge this discourse. It's not like I was any good at anti-racism anywhere else, but it feels very obvious here. I'm not sure why this is. I suppose some of it is that I grew up with Chicago's racism, which makes it less obvious to me. It seems normal that Chicago is ridiculously segregated, even though, intellectually, I know it isn't. Some of it is probably my own hangups, too. I suspect I'm sort of doubly bothered by this discourse because I came here from the Bay Area and living there was the first time in my life where my status as a 'real' American didn't feel contested and suddenly I'm in a place where there's this notion of all Minnesotans being white when it's obviously false.

Its not fair to see it as a bunch of lily-white racists who just happened to have a bunch of brown-skinned people sent into their cities.

Good intentions don't mean they handled the reality well, though. Or that people are actually good at remembering not everyone is like them and that's okay. After nearly five years of living here, I still don't have a good idea of what's a good neighbourhood and what's a bad neighourhood. Why? When I moved here, people kept telling me my perfectly reasonable neighbourhood was sketchy. As far as I can tell, the indicator of sketchiness was 'not everyone who lives there is white'. So I had no idea whether to trust what they say about some other neighbourhood. There are loads of parts of the city I've still never been to and have no idea about, but I at least now know who I'm not going to ask about them.
posted by hoyland at 8:11 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Y'know, I lived in MN for nearly 20 years, was born n' raised and am living again with my people, Norwegian and Swedish Lutherans in North Dakota. My wife is of German from Russia descent but those peope are a whole 'nother story don't you know. And I've had some darn good hotdish in both MN and ND, then.

And yes, my wife will complain that goodbye takes half an hour but her people do that too, because it's just polite. And the most hated family on my block are not the inbred rednecks here for the oil boom, it's the local family who can't maintain their house to save their lives for crying out loud.

Seriously, it's not that freaking hard to score 100 points, even if you're an outsider. Be polite, keep your kids in line, mow the lawn, help out around town, or shop local. I've seen all kinds of deviants and eccentrics in this area embraced by everyone because as long as they could score 100, they could dress in woman's clothing, sleep with the same sex, or drive into town with chickens in their car. We just don't care.
posted by Ber at 9:09 PM on January 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


I go up to Anoka, MN, frequently now, as that's about where my girlfriend's family is, and it's where Garrison Keillor lived as a boy and is one of the models for Lake Woebegone.

Also home of my Mother's family. My grandmother will have you know that his name is Gary and he's just putting on airs. Also home of Michele Bachmann who was in my Mother's graduating class - Anoka High Tornadoes 1974! And every member of my family speaks in the Fargo accent. All of them. Very loudly. (And Anoka in the 50s was indeed farm country and wasn't subsumed in the MPLS sprawl until the 70s.)

I grew up in Vermont, but raised to be Minnesota Nice. It all balanced out that I ended up an exuberantly friendly New Englander - too direct to fit in in MN, but too friendly for Boston.

The one thing I can never get used to on family visits is the Minnesotan refusal to leave the table after a meal. You have a perfectly good living room RIGHT THERE since this is an open floor plan! Why are we not sitting in it?!
posted by sonika at 9:29 PM on January 13, 2013


Some of the "sketchy" neighborhoods really were dangerous in the 1990s. My mom's block in Powderhorn is pretty safe today. In 1998, there were crackhouses, drive-by shootings, and druggie squatters who started a fire that burned down the vacant house next door. We had one of the highest murder rates in the country. I've lived in Minneapolis most of my life, but probably couldn't give you a good sense of which neighborhoods are really dangerous. So much of my mental geography is based on how things were when I was a kid.
posted by Area Man at 9:33 PM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I also clearly try to score 100 at all times, which in New England is pointless because no one cares to start with and they're never GOING to care no matter how nice your lawn looks, would you just go away already I'm sure your kids are great just shut up.

I try explaining this to friends from the Midwest who are enchanted by how "Liberal" we are. It's sort of true... but it's also sort of "I don't care if you marry your cat, just get out of my way."
posted by sonika at 9:34 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm moving to Minneapolis next month with my native-born husband whom I met here in New York City, and reading this thread has me terrified about job interviews and the workplace now.

I recently had a phone interview where when the interviewer—who didn't have any questions to start with—asked me to go first, I summarized and re-capped my resume with a lot of emphasis on how cool I was, and here are all my accomplishments, yadda yadda, and the interviewer's response was very understated and after she asked about specific things I brought up, we talked about expectations/compensation/etc., and what her situation was, the last thing she said was that she'd know more about who she's likely to hire next week. So do I take that as a sign that she was impressed, or do I take that a sign that I should do a cursory follow-up and then keep looking?

In the Minnesotan workplace, could I get away with asking something like, "Do you really mean that I can take my time on this project, or do you really mean that you need it right now?" Is it considered rude to ask people to unpack their language for you?

I try explaining this to friends from the Midwest who are enchanted by how "Liberal" we are. It's sort of true... but it's also sort of "I don't care if you marry your cat, just get out of my way."

That's the same attitude New Yorkers have about tourists. It's like, "Thank you for coming to our city, really, here's how to get downtown on the subway. Now stop blocking traffic on the sidewalk, you fucking idiot."
posted by TrishaLynn at 9:58 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"After nearly five years of living here, I still don't have a good idea of what's a good neighbourhood and what's a bad neighourhood. Why? When I moved here, people kept telling me my perfectly reasonable neighbourhood was sketchy. As far as I can tell, the indicator of sketchiness was 'not everyone who lives there is white'."

No, no, "sketchy" means "in a city." Midwesterners are still not comfortable with the fact that we don't all live on farms and can't leave our doors unlocked at all times and wander uninvited into other people's houses and know everyone who lives within a 50-mile radius; cities make us nervous. Midwesterners vastly overestimate how dangerous cities are, even their home city, and are fairly convinced that while their own neighborhood is safe, other neighborhoods are nothing but crackhouses and wandering knife-wielding maniacs. In fact, one's own city's neighborhoods are typically perceived as "really dangerous" in comparison to other cities' neighborhoods. People tell you they live in a "nice" neighborhood; people who actually live somewhere slightly dangerous will call it a "perfectly nice" neighborhood (the "perfectly" being a pre-emptive defensive statement). All neighborhoods but their own are "a little sketchy." You don't know which neighborhoods are good because your friends and colleagues have NO IDEA and are secretly convinced crack deals are going down on literally every corner outside their little slice of the city.

If someone's trying to indicate a neighborhood isn't white enough, they'll say it's "urban." But not "too" urban -- "so" urban: "Oh, you live in the Heights? That neighborhood's so urban." Which is generally a true fact (as per "Minnesota neutral" above) that one cannot dispute ("too" urban would invite dispute) or call out as a racist dogwhistle. People who aren't making a comment about race will typically say the neighborhood is "urbanized" or "built-up" or "old-fashioned" or "dense" or "new urbanist" or "pre-War" or "redeveloped" or "walkable" or "close to everything." (But the reason it works as a dogwhistle is that plenty of people say urban and just mean "urban" ... so you can't quite tell if they're commenting on housing density or the racial makeup of the neighborhood.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:02 PM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Is it considered rude to ask people to unpack their language for you?

In my experience... you won't get a clearer answer to your face and you may be the subject of stories told about "New Yorkers." But my family might also be a bunch of jerks.
posted by sonika at 10:03 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work in the midwest for a boss from west coast, who is really cool about things like working from home when you need to, or generally just working with you to accommodate your needs, and I have a hell of a time really accepting it when he says it's fine because the midwest has primed me to think that actually means the opposite. I always think I'm a hair's breadth away from unemployment if I'm, like, down for two days with the flu instead of just one.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:15 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


All y'all folks who are all "WTF we Minnesotans don't talk like that at all?!"

Yes, you do.

Look, I've been there before. Until recently I believed that, as someone from the Cajun parts of Louisiana, I had certainly never had a Southern accent. Southern accents are for people from Mississippi and, like, Shreveport and stuff.

I am here to tell you that I did, in fact, have a Southern accent. Just like you certainly have a Minnesota accent.
posted by Sara C. at 10:20 PM on January 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


"In the Minnesotan workplace, could I get away with asking something like, "Do you really mean that I can take my time on this project, or do you really mean that you need it right now?" Is it considered rude to ask people to unpack their language for you?"

The thing about this kind of niceness (or guess culture or whatever you want to call it) is that it is a face-saving, relationship-protecting form of communication. People aren't just being polite to your face and then being nasty behind your back, or making you guess what they mean for the fun of it. The little rituals of "Does anyone want the last roll? No? Bob? No? Well, I guess I'll take it," are ways to build and affirm relationships by offering generosity to one another in a reciprocal fashion. You don't take the last appetizer off a tray because you are offering it to everyone else as a show of goodwill. You don't immediately jump into a "Where shall we have dinner?" conversation with a firm "Pierre's!" right at the beginning because you don't impose yourself on others; you let everyone express a lack of preference (to show their input is important) and then suggest Pierre's. It takes a little longer, but you're not just farting around not making decisions, you're performing a little ritual of social bonding where you communicate the importance of your relationships with these other people.

So the thing that really makes Midwesterners writhe is when you force them to say "no" in a direct fashion (I understand the Japanese are similar in this respect) in a relationship-harming way. "Can you babysit for my kids Thursday?" with no preamble is SO awkward because saying "no" hurts the relationship. Instead you say, "I'm sure you already have plans because this is such late notice, but I'm looking for someone to watch my kids Thursday because I got tickets to the opera -- is there any chance you're free, or know someone who might be?" That turns the default answer into "Sorry, I do already have plans" so they have a socially-acceptable no, whereas a "yes" is a delightful, relationship-affirming surprise. It also allows them to perform a little relationship-building favor for you even if they say no, by helping you think of who else you might ask.

"Do you REALLY mean X or do you really mean Y?" seems relationship-attacky and people will recoil. But "Could you help me out and clarify the timeline for this project?" Now it's a favor! Now them giving you exactly the same information is a way they can build the relationship!

There's not one right way to do it, and people will come to appreciate your bluntness with them as a form of trust (in that you trust them to understand you value them even though you're not going through the dissembling speech rituals) though it might start off a bit rocky. Really the key point to keep in mind is that people are building and affirming social ties through this form of communication, and creating opportunities for others to build and affirm social ties. When you recognize that's what's going on, it's a lot less puzzling.

But really deadlines aren't the kind of thing that requires this sort of social dissembling. Midwesterners can be pretty roundabout in social relationships while still being fairly direct in business.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:28 PM on January 13, 2013 [50 favorites]


Minnesota Nice is one aspect of Minnesota. Minneapolis rap duo Atmosphere is another. Ain't no Minnesota Nice in Slug's rhymes.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:31 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


you're not just farting around not making decisions, you're performing a little ritual of social bonding where you communicate the importance of your relationships with these other people.
Some might say that a true relationship is based on honesty and being who you are. But more importantly, a lot of this niceness isn't that hard to unpack - it's pretty clear when someone is trying to make it easy for you to say no. IME, the real issue is that people often adopt an attitude of "You have to say yes to what I'm asking because I made it easy for you to say no!" Basically they use niceness to mask coercion.

A truly nice person would realize that their own niceness provides cover for manipulative behavior, and stop doing it. It follows that all remaining people who act nice either don't care or actively manipulate, so they aren't really nice at all.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:56 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


IME, the real issue is that people often adopt an attitude of "You have to say yes to what I'm asking because I made it easy for you to say no!" Basically they use niceness to mask coercion.

A truly nice person would realize that their own niceness provides cover for manipulative behavior, and stop doing it. It follows that all remaining people who act nice either don't care or actively manipulate, so they aren't really nice at all.


This is a complaint I've heard about Southern "niceness", too. I suppose it occurs in *any* cultural context where a particular value (social bonding rituals, the New Age obsession with being "positive", whatever) tends always to be prized over other values. There will always be jerks who turn the tacitly-agreed-upon habits of social mores to their own uses. I don't know if it would be possible always to differentiate them from others, but certainly a lot of the time you can tell if someone's just being selfish and demanding under cover of "niceness".
posted by Philofacts at 2:00 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Shit's about to get Minnesota Nice
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:37 AM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


All y'all folks who are all "WTF we Minnesotans don't talk like that at all?!"
Yes, you do.


Passive aggression is the topic of the thread, not a demand. You may as well address Bunny Ultramod directly.

Anyway, the North American English Dialects map exists for education on this topic. It should be obvious, but not everyone from the South sounds like the cast of Oh Brother Where Art Thou and the majority of people in the upper Midwest do not sound exactly like fictional small town persons as interpreted by Hollywood actors.
posted by Winnemac at 3:19 AM on January 14, 2013


As long as Atmosphere has been mentioned, Shhh is their lovesong to Minnesota.
posted by Area Man at 5:24 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Midwesterners vastly overestimate how dangerous cities are, even their home city, and are fairly convinced that while their own neighborhood is safe, other neighborhoods are nothing but crackhouses and wandering knife-wielding maniacs

Midwestern cities are about as dangerous as cities with similar populations in other regions: sure, Minneapolis is one of the nice ones, but Chicago and Detroit are midwestern cities, too.

And being from a majority-minority community where people don't get shot in Chicago, the assumption from white people that black people=shitty neighborhood totally holds true there.

How to tell that it's an actual shitty neighborhood: if someone pauses for a second and says 'oh, well, it varies block by block'.

Lots of people are wary of public transit, though, which I'm not used to from Chicago and points east. Also, the cursing. Grown women saying holy balls and holy buckets without a trace of irony. So strange.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:07 AM on January 14, 2013


Good intentions don't mean they handled the reality well, though. Or that people are actually good at remembering not everyone is like them and that's okay.

Note that I've done the the very thing Frowner was talking about. It's not like everyone in Minnesota was white in 1980, either.

No, no, "sketchy" means "in a city." Midwesterners are still not comfortable with the fact that we don't all live on farms and can't leave our doors unlocked at all times and wander uninvited into other people's houses and know everyone who lives within a 50-mile radius; cities make us nervous

But by this logic, Chicago can't be the Midwest. It's true that people I went to high school with in the Chicago suburbs (and their parents, perhaps moreso) thought Chicago was uniformly at least somewhat dangerous, but it was totally (and sometimes quite transparently) about race.
posted by hoyland at 6:11 AM on January 14, 2013


Minnesota Nice is one aspect of Minnesota. Minneapolis rap duo Atmosphere is another. Ain't no Minnesota Nice in Slug's rhymes.

Although there is a Minnesota Nice in their song titles.
posted by dubold at 6:27 AM on January 14, 2013


this particular kind of liberal discourse about Minnesota which whitens the state

Why I can't stand A Prairie Home Companion, Chapter 1.
posted by clavicle at 6:58 AM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I have a regional midwestern accent, there's no doubt about that. But not the near-Scandinavian accent that everybody now thinks of as Minnesotan; most people in Minneapolis, if they have it, have only a trace of it. The accent map places Minneapolis squarely in an area where the accent is subtle and sometimes not there at all, so that's consistent with my experience. But I also think accents tend to be stronger the further you go outside a city. When I am in New York now, I almost never hear a typical New York accent until I go into the far boroughs (or talk to my older relatives.) When I lived in New Orleans, the yat accent was far stronger in Metarie than in the Quarter or around downtown.

And this makes sense. I was raised in a Jewish enclave in Minneapolis, where a lot of the people were not raised in Minneapolis, but elsewhere (my brother has a recognizable New York accent he picked up from my parents). We lived in England when I was a boy, which has left recognizable traces in my accent -- Minnesotans always thought I was from the east coast. Minneapolis is majority German, whereas rural Minnesota has a larger percentage of Scandinavians. Minneapolis has large immigrant communities and transplanted communities, and so in the city there is a wide range of accents -- I heard Detroit accents in South Minneapolis more often than typical Minnesota accents. And, of course, there are a ton of Omahans quietly living in Minneapolis, speaking their almost entire affectless accent and pretending they were always Minnesotans. And a few from Council Bluffs, recognizable by a slight twang.

But, once in a while, I'll hear that ø sound slip back into my speech, and must stop myself and say the word again. And I find myself saying yah instead of yeah, which my father made fun of when I was a boy. I have also heard that the expression "Come with" is pretty typically Minnesotan, as in "Headed out to get drinks, you wanna come with?" Apparently, in other parts of the country, this sounds weird. I think "for sure" might be similarly odd elsewhere. But for sure you can count on Minnesotans to say it.

We all have our shibboleths.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:14 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


One thing I have always wondered about Garrison Keilor is the authenticity of his rural descriptions. According to wikipedia his hometown is like 50 miles from Minneapolis so I imagine a lot of people grew up there completely ignorant of the facts of slaughtering hogs, spreading manure, and milking cows.

I live about 40 miles north of Minneapolis (and a fair bit farther from the cities than Anoka is). I'm currently facing a corn field & a hay field is to my left.

Most of the people I encounter around here aren't farmers, but they definitely are more familiar with things like horses, chickens, hay, & corn than my neighbors in St. Paul were. Even if they don't farm, they probably have a neighbor or relative who does. Or they are familiar with the process because they drive by fields every day & see th process of plowing, planting, & harvesting. When you get 40-50 miles out of Minneapolis, you are definitely getting into the area where county fairs with 4-H displays & tractor pulls are a normal part of life, rather than an ironic hipster form of weekend entertainment.

I'd guess his descriptions were probably pretty accurate for the time he lived in the area & are more accurate now for areas an additional 20-60 miles farther away from the cities.
posted by belladonna at 7:56 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've lived in various parts of Minnesota for all but 3.5 years in the Milwaukee suburbs and people keep asking me if I'm from Canada.

One customer from Rhode Island actually pulled me aside after a presentation my team members and I made and asked me where I was originally from. My team members all being from central and northern Minnesota. And *I* was the one with the accent.

All I can say is those Rhode Islanders sure talk funny. I tried to say "Boston" in the most obnoxious Boston-type accent I could and they corrected me. Apparently, I wasn't over-the-top enough.
It's just that no one wants to be the ill-bred buffoon who takes the last serving.

Or, you know, the breaking of the last cookie in half so as to leave something for the next person. This is called squiffling.
I think those 3.5 years in Milwaukee corrupted my Minnesota Nice because this irritates me to no end. I have a coworker who likes to bring in donuts from her local bakery and usually after lunch all that is left is one donut. Two hours later, someone will have cut it in half. At the end of the day, some jack ass will have cut that HALF in half. At that point I eat the bite of donut that's left and throw the damn box away.
posted by jillithd at 8:24 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Do you really mean that I can take my time on this project, or do you really mean that you need it right now?"

I thought that clarifying this was pretty standard office behavior - at least, I frequently see work advice columns that advise people to clarify deadlines, so I assume that unclear statements about deadlines are pretty common unless everyone who writes to the columnist is from Minnesota.

I will admit that I've been known to say that my neighborhood "varies block by block", as described above - due to a former canvassing job, I've actually walked every single one of those blocks, most of them at least twice, and it's a big neighborhood. (It's big because it's always been working class and recently been mostly POC, so the city wants to cut down on its influence by making it one super-neighborhood instead of multiple ones.) And my neighborhood does vary block by block.

Honestly, as a white person who is not some kind of towering paragon of racial justice awesomeness themselves, I still hate talking to standard middle class white people about where I live, because no matter what I say, I know people are thinking something stupid, and I hate hearing myself say "it's perfectly nice", because I know that really translates into "you think it must be terrible because it's a low income POC neighborhood but it's not terrible". And I hate the assumption that because I am white I must have bought a house "as an investment" to fix up, with the intent to gentrify where I live, instead of having lived in this neighborhood for fifteen years and having no money to fix up the place I live.

Certainly it's a damn vexed question, being white and living where I live - and it's inescapable that the presence of white people in a majority POC neighborhood leads to gentrification. And yet, my neighborhood has always had a lot of working class white people in it - and I'm a secretary, I may have a college degree but I don't have a middle class job or a middle class wage, and I'm rising forty so it's not like I'm just slumming til I decide to go to grad school, and living somewhere less central and less cheap would be a serious ding in my budget. And I've lived here since 1998, and I like it just fine, not least because there's no havering around about race the way you find it in supermajority white neighborhoods. I would rather say to people that I don't want to live anywhere else.


Midwesterners vastly overestimate how dangerous cities are, even their home city, and are fairly convinced that while their own neighborhood is safe, other neighborhoods are nothing but crackhouses and wandering knife-wielding maniacs


This is very true of white Minneapolitans. If you live in Uptown, then Powderhorn is a bit dodgy and adventurous; if you live in Powderhorn, then Phillips is a bit dodgy; if you live in Phillips, people talk about how it's different "over north".

At the same time, there is a direct correlation between "dodgy" and "police violence against people of color plus curfews and other shit, general neglect by the city and the reckless location of light industry where it pollutes people's back yards". I cannot overemphasize how the heavy policing and general neglect of "sketchy" (a term I never heard til I moved here) neighborhoods is about maintaining an immiserated labor pool. You see this every day if you take the really early buses in poor neighborhoods - people heading in for simply miserably scheduled shifts in lousy jobs.
posted by Frowner at 9:01 AM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just like you certainly have a Minnesota accent.

Well, now, I don't know, that's certainly something you can think, but geeze....

When I moved to Texas, I used to get "Are you from Canada?" a lot. On the flip side, I was slightly aghast that shop keepers don't take Canadian quarters down there. "That's not American money!" I was told. "It is in Minnesota...."
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:02 AM on January 14, 2013


By the way, part of the reason I left Minnesota is because of Jante's Law, which I think is a very real thing there.

OH YOU THINK YOU'RE SO SPECIAL
posted by COBRA! at 9:53 AM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


my brother has a recognizable New York accent he picked up from my parents

This, plus the notion that people in New York City "don't really have accents" makes me think that the issue is that you don't have a Minnesota accent but a New York accent, or some hybrid of the two that makes it difficult for you to notice either one.

Because I lived in New York for twelve years, and yes, New Yorkers have noticeable accents, even in the city. The New York accent is an urban one, by nature.

You also don't have to be ethnically Scandinavian to have a "Minnesota" accent. You get your specific local accent based on where you live and how people speak around you, not where your ancestors were from.

Bottom line, everybody has an "accent". People in Minnesota, including Minneapolis, have, well, "Minnesota" ones. I've talked to people from Minneapolis on the phone. They sounded like they were from Minnesota. This isn't really that controversial of an idea.
posted by Sara C. at 10:13 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I used to think I didn't have an accent. Then, the movie Fargo came out and folks from the East Coast with whom I was studying abroad were kind enough to correct my misimpression (fortunately, those Long Islanders will never know the shame of a silly accent). I'd protest that I didn't, but, unfortunately, my usually mild accent becomes much thicker when I'm defensive. I'd say, "I don't have a Minnesota accent," but the words would come out in a sing-songy intonation and the letter "o" would last forever. I sounded like my counsins, who actually are from Fargo.
posted by Area Man at 10:17 AM on January 14, 2013


Native Minnesotan here and they left out a big one: when asked if hungry and the Minnesotan responds "Yeah, I could eat something" that means "Yes, goddmanit, I'm starving". Now that I've left Minnesota I've learned not to say this phrase anymore because it always ends badly.
posted by Dead Man at 10:22 AM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: "(I understand the Japanese are similar in this respect)"

In addition to being from Minnesnota and having lived here most of my life, I have a MA in the History of Asian Religions (specialization in Neo-Confucianism) and lived in Taiwan for eight years, so I can say this: Confucianism is like Minnesota Nice on steroids.
posted by jiawen at 10:29 AM on January 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


Since only Minner-sote-ins are probably reading this thread any more, as a transplant I have a few observations about Minnesota:

Anoka is the real life Aurora from Wayne's World.
You can say you are from "The Cities" even if you live 60 miles from either downtown. Mostly this is in effect at the local bar on cabin weekends, and especially the case if your cabin is in WI.
If you are not a local with the aforementioned junior high connections, it is highly possible that you may never enter your neighbor's house, or maybe only get invited over once every 5-7 years.
Drivers are pretty good, all things considered.

Tis true
posted by lstanley at 10:33 AM on January 14, 2013


TrishaLynn, I wish I had some good advice. Job searches here are downright painful because of indirect communication styles. It's certainly good to do follow-up (it's that relationship protecting that Eyebrows was talking about above), but it's also good to be looking at other things in the meantime. It's hard to say what exactly your interview meant.

And Frowner, I wonder if we've met in person? If not, we should.
posted by jiawen at 10:38 AM on January 14, 2013


I grew up in St. Paul and moved to Boston (then Rhode Island) twenty years ago. Since then, ti occurred to me that the only possible rejoinder to "Oh, can't complain." is to agree cheerfully, "Who'd listen?"

I miss Minnesota Nice out here, because it was a useful social lubricant when encountering new people, or when dealing with people that I detest.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:38 AM on January 14, 2013


If you are not a local with the aforementioned junior high connections, it is highly possible that you may never enter your neighbor's house, or maybe only get invited over once every 5-7 years.

God, yeah, and that's really weird. I've lived here for 20 years now (holy SHIT), and probably 65% of my social circle still consists of the high school friend-network of my freshman-year roommate in college, which I was lucky enough to penetrate.

My wife and I have lived in our house for 7 years and have never entered any of our neighbors' houses.
posted by COBRA! at 10:41 AM on January 14, 2013


People in Minnesota, including Minneapolis, have, well, "Minnesota" ones. I've talked to people from Minneapolis on the phone. They sounded like they were from Minnesota. This isn't really that controversial of an idea.

You seem to be responding to me, but I have not said otherwise. I am not sure the controversy you are locating in this thread. I have said that Minneapolitans don't generally have that full-blown Fargo accent.

I will say that I have probably spoken to more people in Minneapolis than you have, so my suggestions for the diversity of accents to be found there is likely based on a larger sampling than yours.

This, plus the notion that people in New York City "don't really have accents" makes me think that the issue is that you don't have a Minnesota accent but a New York accent, or some hybrid of the two that makes it difficult for you to notice either one.

Could be. Or it could be that people in cities don't have as strong accents as people in suburbs or more rural parts, in part because cities have a much more diverse group of people and a wider array of accents, and so accents that are invisible when everybody talks the same as you suddenly become detectable to the speakers, who then take steps to address the accent, even subconsciously.

It happens. You used to hear the Archie Bunker accent all the time in New York, and then Archie Bunker became a character, and suddenly people heard their own accents in the context of a figure of fun. I spoke to Heather Quinlan, who is making a documentary about New York accents, and she theorized that people actually got embarrassed to have their accent associated with Archie Bunker, and took it down a notch. "Even tough guys get their feelings hurt," she told me.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:52 AM on January 14, 2013


Drivers are pretty good, all things considered.

I feel like you and I have driven in different Minnesotas, or else you left out "unless road construction is involved." Five miles of bright orange signs warning that the road narrows to one lane in the construction ahead, and traffic is stuck at a crawl because nobody wants to get out of the closing lane until the last possible opportunity. Iowans love to do that, too.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:56 AM on January 14, 2013


I actually suspect that what killed Minnesota liberalism was racism

This is something I've thought about a lot. Somewhat contrary to the stereotype, racist people are more openly racist in Minnesota than elsewhere I think... A lot of white folks will say completely un-self-consciously that they would never go to the North Side (black neighborhood with some ghetto parts and some nice parts), which no one would say on the more-PC West Coast. On the other hand it's the first city I've lived in that's actually semi-integrated -- my neighborhood is roughly 1/3rd Latino, 1/3rd black, and 1/3rd white and it's one of the nicer/higher-status parts of the city. On the third hand it is vanishingly rare to see minorities in public-facing jobs here (retail, servers, etc.), which is not true at all in Chicago or the South and I think indicates pretty severe discrimination in the job market. In summary Minneapolis is a complex and interesting place.
posted by miyabo at 11:00 AM on January 14, 2013


Or it could be that people in cities don't have as strong accents as people in suburbs or more rural parts

Not to derail too far, but this is just straight up not true at all, in any way.
posted by Sara C. at 11:02 AM on January 14, 2013


A lot of white folks will say completely un-self-consciously that they would never go to the North Side (black neighborhood with some ghetto parts and some nice parts), which no one would say on the more-PC West Coast.

It's the same with Omaha and North Omaha.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:05 AM on January 14, 2013


which no one would say on the more-PC West Coast

Not true for SoCal, at least. Maybe northern California and the PNW are more PC? I've had people scowl openly when I told them I live in East LA. Or refuse to believe I literally mean East LA, and probably am talking about Silverlake. Or tell me my neighborhood isn't safe and I should move out ASAP.
posted by Sara C. at 11:11 AM on January 14, 2013


Minnesota liberalism was, I think, always pretty much skin deep. What finally tore away the facade? I think it was 9/11, more than racism. (Minnesota has been racist for a very long time; many Minneapolitans once proudly considered the city to be the center of antisemitism in the US, and the mass execution of Dakota people 150 years ago is part of that history, too.) Reactions to 9/11 were based in racism, too, but I don't think racism was the primary, proximal cause.
posted by jiawen at 11:15 AM on January 14, 2013


Not to derail too far, but this is just straight up not true at all, in any way.

It's consistent with my experiences in New Orleans, Minneapolis, Omaha, and New York. Admittedly, that's a small sampling of American cities, but it doesn't make it not true in any way.

Some support:

Professor Jochnowitz, for example, argued not only that homogenization has prompted the gradual fading of the New York accent but that its force was perhaps most acutely felt in Manhattan

* * *

The New Orleans suburban area of Chalmette is known for the strongest Yat accent of the Greater New Orleans area, due to the massive population of White Ninth Warders relocating to Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.

* * *

Minnesotans can be touchy about this subject, since many of them (particularly around Minneapolis) speak General American English.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:22 AM on January 14, 2013


The biggest phony moment was when Humphrey called for civil rights when speaking at the 1948 democratic national convention. Other phony moments include a majority white city electing a black mayor at a time when that sort of thing was rare, Humphrey and Mondale recruiting black candidates to run for office in Minnesota, and Minneapolis electing the first Muslim congressman.

Minnesota is no paradise and there is plenty of stuff and racism here, but that doesn't make all the good stuff "phony."

(Also, any argument that Minnesota is fundamentally racist must include a reference to the famous 1906 Duluth lynching. Come one. I shouldn't have to do your work for you.)
posted by Area Man at 11:28 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Accents aren't dialects, though.

There are two different accents that are pretty common in Minneapolis: one of which is more of the Wisconsin/Chicago stereotypical flat A's, the other a more subdued version of the accent parodied in Fargo. I hear both. I have both, to a certain extent, and the keen insistence that people up here don't talk like that strikes me has hilarious: not only do people up here talk like that, they've infected me, too.

Okay, okay, I had the Chicago part of the accent earlier, but I lost it while living on the east coast for four years. The sing-song o's are new.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:30 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


1920 lynching, not 1906. Sorry.
posted by Area Man at 11:32 AM on January 14, 2013


Five miles of bright orange signs warning that the road narrows to one lane in the construction ahead, and traffic is stuck at a crawl because nobody wants to get out of the closing lane until the last possible opportunity.

Technically they are doing it right, at least per MNDot.
posted by lstanley at 11:35 AM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Minnesota liberalism was, I think, always pretty much skin deep. What finally tore away the facade? I think it was 9/11, more than racism. (Minnesota has been racist for a very long time; many Minneapolitans once proudly considered the city to be the center of antisemitism in the US, and the mass execution of Dakota people 150 years ago is part of that history, too.) Reactions to 9/11 were based in racism, too, but I don't think racism was the primary, proximal cause.


The biggest phony moment was when Humphrey called for civil rights when speaking at the 1948 democratic national convention. Other phony moments include a majority white city electing a black mayor at a time when that sort of thing was rare, Humphrey and Mondale recruiting black candidates to run for office in Minnesota, and Minneapolis electing the first Muslim congressman.


I think it's really easy to miscommunicate around the history of liberalism and radicalism in MN, probably via sloppy language use.

If we take "liberalism" to mean "a broad social consensus about radical reform and populism, based in working class and farmer self-interest and extended somewhat into labor and class solidarity", that has never been more than skin deep - of course, how could it be in the absence of some kind of amazing mass movement? Real solidarity with people different from you is pretty darn difficult even for people who work hard at it.

If we take "liberalism" to mean "radical activists (operating at times under the banner of liberalism) who have been willing to put themselves at some inconvenience and risk to forward racial and economic justice even if they were not perfect", then we certainly do have a strong history of liberal figures ranging from People Who Could Have Been A Whole Fuck Of A Lot Worse If They Hadn't At Least Tried like Governor Olsen to the people at the Legal Rights Center here in MPLS.

I think that one way the "Minnesota liberal history" problem happens is not putting enough emphasis on organizing - talking about liberalism as if it's an inherent quality like a good sense of balance or a green thumb, instead of being the product of a lot of work and constituency building. So it becomes a question of character rather than a question of doing things, and the radicals who did/do a lot of the legwork get left out because they are too radical. And the organizers of color who did/do a lot of work here - AIM, for example, or the innumerable immigrant projects - get written out.

I think that white people raised in basically liberal but not organizing-oriented settings find it easy to talk about liberal projects as if they are the generous gifts of a kind state (because we experience them that way!)- like we have the library and the Native clinic and so on because the government has good values, instead of because a big coalition of folks from center to radical left fought for those things.

The thing is, if you look back to the hanging of the 38 and the concentration camp at Fort Snelling, the counterweights to that are AIM, the Legal Rights Center, the organizing against Highway 55, the people who work to get Little Earth and the reservations more resources - and all those projects are either wildly radical or else pragmatically boring and fiddly, easy to dismiss because they are so small and require so much work with, you know, the kind of people that the great despise - women and children and poor folks. The history of Minnesota "liberalism" has to be the history of Minnesota radicalism/radical community organizing or it's nothing - that organizing is what brought Humphrey to speak up, what got Ellison elected. As someone who has been part of a variety of small projects here for many years now, I see how those small projects - even when they fail - build the networks that lead on to the bigger projects, and how the cultural projects become the organizing projects.

In one sense, Minnesota liberalism is a total sham; in another, we have our shining stars.
posted by Frowner at 12:02 PM on January 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


That comment is really a good general one for American liberalism writ large, Frowner.

Regarding the Mankato execution, I just learned about that via a recent (Thanksgiving week) episode of This American Life titled Little War on the Prairie. This episode might be of interest to folks in the discussion here. "Niceness" has some bearing on it, especially when the reporter explores how this event is talked about and taught today.
posted by Miko at 12:07 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Area Man, is that snark directed at me? If so, I don't understand why - it feels like you're arguing with something I didn't say.
posted by jiawen at 12:11 PM on January 14, 2013


Anoka is the real life Aurora from Wayne's World.

Isn't Aurora the real-life Aurora from Wayne's World?
posted by hoyland at 12:13 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Communication styles like Minnesota Nice tend to be hell for those who by default take everything at face value, and can't unpack any of it except with effort.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:16 PM on January 14, 2013


As a former Twin Cities resident I will swear to you that 50% of the drivers in that area don't know what the hell they're doing on ice or snow. They also have a strange tendency to slow down when crossing bridges even though the lane width remains the same. Out-state drivers are far better at driving in adverse conditions. They don't panic at the first snowfall either. I've seen drivers in the Cities panic when IT'S RAINING.
posted by Ber at 12:33 PM on January 14, 2013


I think there's something a little silly about claiming a particular state in the United States has been racist for a very long time. Guess what? They all have been racist for a very long time. Every single state, including Vermont, Hawaii, Washington State, and every other supposedly liberal state.

It is good for Minnesotans to grapple with their own dark history and continuing injustices. I support that, but I think it is fundamentally incorrect to claim that liberalism in Minnesota has always been merely skin deep. I see that as the sort of easy cynicism that doesn't actually help anyone deal with racism and injustice. Contempt for those horrible, hypocrytical, racist Minnesotans won't achieve anything other than a sort of emotional satisfaction.

(Bridges tend to ice up more than other roads. That's why I sometimes slow down on them in the Winter. Some bridges have automatic de-icing systems, but most don't.)
posted by Area Man at 12:41 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Again: Area Man, was that directed at me? I can't tell who you're talking to, or what you're arguing with. Please be less indirect.
posted by jiawen at 12:44 PM on January 14, 2013


Yes, I was attempting to respond to your claims that (1) Minnesota has been racist for a very long time (true, but an odd sort of claim); and (2) that liberalism in Minnesota was always just skin deep. Sorry if that wasn't clear enough.
posted by Area Man at 12:52 PM on January 14, 2013


Thank you.

Well, I was responding to Frowner's point about what caused the shift in/loss of Minnesota's liberality; I think it wasn't so much racism, because racism isn't a new thing here. (Maybe I should've linked to Frowner's comment in my original statement.) I'm not trying to claim special status for Minnesota's racism; I'm fully aware that racism isn't particular to one region. And with liberalism being skin deep, that was again my response to Frowner's point about what (if anything) killed Minnesota liberalism. And I strongly appreciate Frowner's point that "In one sense, Minnesota liberalism is a total sham; in another, we have our shining stars." So as I said, it feels like you're arguing with positions I didn't take.
posted by jiawen at 1:03 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I misunderstood what you were getting at. Sorry about that. Thanks for taking the time to explain.
posted by Area Man at 1:08 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


MARK TWAIN: FROM St. Louis northward there are all the enlivening signs of the presence of active, energetic, intelligent, prosperous, practical nineteenth-century populations. The people don't dream, they work. The happy result is manifest all around in the substantial outside aspect of things, and the suggestions of wholesome life and comfort that everywhere appear....

THE big towns drop in, thick and fast, now: and between stretch processions of thrifty farms, not desolate solitude. Hour by hour, the boat plows deeper and deeper into the great and populous North-west; and with each successive section of it which is revealed, one's surprise and respect gather emphasis and increase. Such a people, and such achievements as theirs, compel homage. This is an independent race who think for themselves, and who are competent to do it, because they are educated and enlightened; they read, they keep abreast of the best and newest thought, they fortify every weak place in their land with a school, a college, a library, and a newspaper; and they live under law. Solicitude for the future of a race like this is not in order.

This region is new; so new that it may be said to be still in its babyhood. By what it has accomplished while still teething, one may forecast what marvels it will do in the strength of its maturity.

Life on the Mississippi 1883
posted by ohshenandoah at 1:11 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


No problem! A triumph once again for semi-direct communication! :)
posted by jiawen at 1:13 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


there's this particular kind of liberal discourse about Minnesota which whitens the state

Well, yes, but on the other hand Minnesota is something like 87% white. When you're almost 90% white it's not a big surprise when the popular view of your area is that it is lily-white. 'Cause it mostly is.
posted by Justinian at 1:44 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, yes, but on the other hand Minnesota is something like 87% white. When you're almost 90% white it's not a big surprise when the popular view of your area is that it is lily-white. 'Cause it mostly is.

I think you misunderstand me. The issue is not "oh, people say that Minnesota is all white and they are incorrect, someone is wrong on the internet, someone has insulted my home state, I must clutch my pearls"; the point is that to write the narrative about Minnesota as if people of color do not live here and have not been important in this state's history is racist. It contributes to racist policies and to a misunderstanding of how social change occurs. More, I'd argue that white people who are in the habit of writing US history as if it is exclusively white should get out of that habit right quick, and into the habit of assuming that people of color are important historical actors in virtually every corner of this great nation. No, every corner - considering that every corner of it was taken by force or stratagem from indigenous people.

If the "popular view" of history is that "87% white might as well be 100% white", then the popular historians need a kick in the ass.
posted by Frowner at 2:53 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well how about this! Isn't this something?
posted by Wild_Eep at 3:29 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Anoka is the real life Aurora from Wayne's World.

Isn't Aurora the real-life Aurora from Wayne's World?


Yeah, that would make more sense on many levels - not the least of which being that Anoka bears no resemblance to Aurora in any way shape or form.
posted by sonika at 4:37 PM on January 14, 2013


After an ill-conceived running of rapids in the Boundary Waters, we went to turn our canoe in to the rental place. I advised the guy that he might want to take a look at the now fairly-misshapen Kevlar canoe before we settled up. This was the entirety of the conversation of the damage (after which he charged us 50 bucks. My husband was sure we'd end up owning that canoe):
Him: Whadja do?
Me: Oh, you know...
Him: Well, good on ya!

I'm a Southern gal who pretty much adores Minnesota.
posted by thebrokedown at 5:52 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am always kind of amused when people talk about being from MN and they say they live in the Cities. I come from MN, and I mean that there are a few counties where you can't swing a dead cat without hitting one of my relatives. I would sauna, and eat lutefisk and hot dish, and I went to school with one of those szchzechopwicz (check-o-wich) kids.

It seems to me that the Cities aren't that different than any other large midwestern town, except maybe St. Louis. Just bigger.

Get out of the Cities and the state takes on a different character. Wisconsin is a lot like Alabama with snow, but (northern) Minnesota is really more like western states than any of the eastern ones. It is very unique in that respect.

I think you have to visit the iron range to really understand where the MN liberalism comes from. Duluth and Hibbing were centers of tremendous wealth at one point - for example, Hibbing High School and Glensheen. Because of the amount of money in the area - and sacrifices the state and towns had to make (whole towns were moved, houses and all, sometimes multiple times) in order to mine the iron there. And the state and those towns, mindful that the iron would be gone someday got all sorts of concessions from the companies to get it. Concessions that wouldn't have happened without the labor movement.

I could go on - I am certain others have said it better and more completely than I have. And if you have never gone to the North Shore, and Boundary Waters - you really should. It's amazing, and there is nothing like falling asleep as the loons call.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:33 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I grew up on Long Island but have lived in Minneapolis for about 25 years. Minnesotans are generally nicer and more cooperative when dealing with strangers than Long Islanders are. For example, I quickly learned that in MN it's not cool to give other drivers the finger for minor offenses; on Long Island that level of hostility is no big deal. MN Nice may be superficial but we have so many superficial interactions with strangers in our daily lives that for me the benefits outweigh the loss of good pizza.
posted by wmoskowi at 8:44 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a quickie update, last night I phoned the person I was interviewing with and she told me how busy she was in that she wasn't able to interview all the other candidates she'd earmarked because she lead a very long meeting yesterday. She appreciated the phone call, I was able to subtly (I hope) slide in the fact that I'm also willing to work after normal work hours by mentioning that I was also at work because my boss had a long after-hours meeting, and she said I was one of the top candidates. I told her that I was still interested and available (but still looking) and I'd let her know if anything changed in my interest.

So, we were both fairly direct with each other, and I hope I "Minnesota nicely" left the ball in her court.

jiawen: Job searches here are downright painful because of indirect communication styles.

ARGH. Who knew looking for a job also meant you had to do cultural-regional-language tap dancing? This whole thread is so worrying to me as I prepare to move to Minneapolis.
posted by TrishaLynn at 5:16 AM on January 15, 2013


You acclimate pretty quickly! Just be expected to be referred to as 'from the east coast' a lot. I got that, and again, I'm from Chicago. It's not an insult, it's just an acknowledgement that you have a different communication style. Minnesotans don't really expect non-Minnesotans to be Minnesota nice, I don't think.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:08 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is true that when I came here for school several people asked me if I was from New York - now, I grew up in an inner ring Chicago suburb and at the time had a very, very faint trace of a Chicago accent with the sort of flat "a" and that was enough to signal "East Coast". I add that I've actually gotten a little bit of voice recording work based on my "neutral" pronunciation, so I'm pretty sure that whatever Chicago vowels I had at the time were pretty minor.
posted by Frowner at 7:12 AM on January 15, 2013


I grew up in an inner ring Chicago suburb

I think you've just given yourself away as living in Minneapolis. I don't think Chicago suburbs have rings.

No one has ever told me I sound like I'm from the east coast. Minnesotans seem to think my accent is acceptably Midwestern (or correctly think it's rude to interrogate people about their accents), noticeably British or generically 'foreign'. The only 'noticeably Chicago' vote I've gotten here was from someone not from Minnesota. (My accent is what happens when someone from Yorkshire raises children in Chicago, followed by a detour to California.)
posted by hoyland at 7:47 AM on January 15, 2013


Chicago suburbs have rings in the sense that those closer to Chicago are older and more established. I imagine that if one isn't exposed to an accent, one doesn't really pick it up.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:51 AM on January 15, 2013


Chicago suburbs have rings in the sense that those closer to Chicago are older and more established.

Yes, but in the Twin Cities, you hear people talk about 'inner ring' and 'outer ring' suburbs, which you don't in Chicago.
posted by hoyland at 10:38 AM on January 15, 2013


dinty_moore: "Minnesotans don't really expect non-Minnesotans to be Minnesota nice, I don't think."

Although you may get people saying "Oh, she has such a different way of communicating!" with the full force in meaning behind that Minnesota "different" (i.e., "bizarre, foreign, uncomfortable, not to my taste, bad").

I may not be the best person to give advice on how to communicate in Minnesota. I'm from here but, as I said, I find Minnesota communication styles incredibly frustrating at times. Can other people give TrishaLynn advice on how to deal?
posted by jiawen at 10:43 AM on January 15, 2013


Can other people give TrishaLynn advice on how to deal?

Maybe not until after you've got the job, but the advice upthread about giving people the opportunity to do you a favor is a good one. You can't pull this all the time, but if you wrinkle your brow a bit and confide to your boss, "I'm starting to realize that Minnesota Nice really is a bit different than what I'm used to, so I want to make sure I'm understanding you right. Is it really not a problem if this project isn't done until next week, or are you just being a really nice boss? Because I can stay late tonight if I have to. I'm just so nervous about misinterpreting things!"

This approach will
(a) give your boss a chance to reassure you, mentor you in MN culture, and demonstrate that s/he is a nice person,
(b) actually clarify expectations, and
(c) demonstrate that you're starting to learn Minnesota Nice, because you're counter-offering their generosity (don't worry about the missed deadline) with your own generosity (I'll stay late to get it done).

For bonus points, if the response is AT ALL wishy-washy about whether it's ok to leave the project until next week (like if it starts with, "Weeellll..."), insist on staying late to get it done. If the response is an insistent, "No, it's really ok, we don't even meet with the client until next month anyway, we just built a buffer into the deadline," then you're safe. But you could still follow up with an, "Are you sure? I really am willing to stay late if you need me." 2 back-and-forths is standard, 3 for when you're really not sure if the other person means what they're saying. More than 3 is just silly, even Minnesotans know that.

If you keep your eyes and ears open at work, you'll figure out before too long who is a straight shooter (we really do have them here) and who will say one thing when they actually mean another. Your coworkers' responses to each other can be good clues too.

Don't worry. It's not as hard as it sounds. The beauty of the system is that it's built to give you a chance to clarify expectations. It's just that the process is kind of longwinded.

Also, if somebody doesn't believe you when you're making a generous offer, it's ok to say "I'm not from here, so this isn't just Minnesota Nice. I really would be happy to pick up your mail while you're on vacation/drive us all to the lunch restaurant/whatever." Nobody will take offense to that. It's actually kind of refreshing.
posted by vytae at 1:24 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think you've just given yourself away as living in Minneapolis. I don't think Chicago suburbs have rings.

Yes they do! What do you call Oak Park then? (Which is not where I grew up.) "Inner ring suburbs" are the first couple of stops on the Metra or the last couple on the el, mostly older ones built on a walking plan around the train station and an actual downtown, mostly well-off, mostly more cultured and with better schools than the ones further out. There's a very clear cultural distinction between the near suburbs and the far.
posted by Frowner at 1:33 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


At my work, people are pretty straightforward about deadlines and schedules. Where I see a problem in the workplace is with getting criticism / feedback regarding job performance. Again, however, you can sometimes use the "do me a favor" gambit and ask for advice regarding how to improve your work.
posted by Area Man at 6:18 PM on January 15, 2013


near suburbs and the far

When I lived in Illinois, that's what they were called, with a directional modifier (e.g. Near North, Far South). "Rings" just doesn't make sense in Chicago, because there aren't any suburbs to the east so it would be more like "semicircles", and because the culture varies more by direction than by distance from the city.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:33 PM on January 15, 2013


Yeah, I've always classified suburbs by region in Chicago. The near south suburbs (Alsip, Evergreen Park, Calumet City...) don't really have much in common culturally with the near north suburbs (Evanston, Park Ridge, Skokie). They're all the closest suburbs to Chicago, but the demographics and amenities in them are pretty different. The south suburbs were very much shaped by white flight in a way that the north suburbs were not, and none of them were part of the 19th century 'spoke' model that you're talking about.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:33 PM on January 15, 2013


Off the derail, to Trishalynn: I think being aware that there's a layer of politeness covering everything will be a big help. You're aware of the three times rule now. You realize that if there's a bit of hesitation, it's probably a couched no. That's really half the battle right there.

A healthy work environment includes good communication, wherever you are. Unhealthy work environments are more likely to include passive-aggression rather than aggression, but which one of those is better is debatable. I've worked at places where everyone secretly hated each other with Minnesota Nice, sure. I've also worked at places where the communication style was more direct, or people made their point clear even in a Minnesota nice way.

Also, keep in mind the 100 point thing: it's easy to be considered a pretty okay person. It's hard to make friends, yes, but people won't object to you just because you're from New York. And you can always make friends with the non-Minnesotans :D.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:03 PM on January 15, 2013


I'm enjoying this thread, having moved from Chicago to Minneapolis for work myself. I'm terrible at "guess culture" and indirect communication. Still, it seems to me that it is possible to take a job here without any kind of indirect communication skills and still get by, so long as you keep in mind a sense of what's fair, and try not to be unfair to people. Then again, a lot of other people at my job are transplants too...

Frowner, I feel like I have learned a lot about my new state from you, in this thread and others.
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:12 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it is a fact known to all midwestern caterers that no one will ever take the last of something off the tray. If there's a little bit left, it doesn't mean people don't want more. It's just that no one wants to be the ill-bred buffoon who takes the last serving.

Or that they don't want to be an old maid, which is what my mother was told would happen to those who took the last piece of something when she was growing up.

I took the last piece quite regularly as a child.
posted by orange swan at 7:28 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it's weird that people get Minnesota nice mixed up with Southern politeness. Contrary to what people seem to think in this thread, Minnesotans don't say "Bless your heart", and they don't say "Isn't that special", especially not with the barely-submerged daggers implicit in those phrases. The difference is that Minnesota nice consists of being genuinely pleasant, and maybe only accidentally or unconsciously betraying the fact that you're aggravated, or disgusted, or whatever, while Southern politeness involves communicating as clearly as possible the vicious rebuke that you intend, while still maintaining some socially mandated facade of civility.
posted by w1nt3rmut3 at 11:13 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


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