A letter to the East Coast (5×8 – 11/15/11)

We’ll give you a second chance, no cake for same-sex couple in Iowa, the new normal is no fun, Tom’s walk, and how a felon in Duluth got his gun back.


1) WE’RE READY TO GIVE YOU ANOTHER CHANCE

Frank Sonntag, the executive director of the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, resigned yesterday, 10 months after being hired. His announcement was dripping with a not-too-veiled shot at Minnesota:


I have the utmost respect for the leadership of Artspace and I’m confident that The Cowles Center will continue to thrive. I came to Minnesota because I believed in the mission of The Cowles Center, and I still do. But after spending most of my professional life in New York, I don’t feel the Minnesota culture is one I’m well suited for. It has been a struggle, but ultimately I think this is the best decision for the organization.

As a transplanted East Coaster, I’ve seen this sort of thing many times in the nearly 20 years since I’ve been here. I’ve been that person, which is why I need to send this letter to the East Coast and our new, incoming friends.

Dear East Coast:

So, you’re leaving, then. That’s it. You showed up with your “I’m from the East Coast and I’m made of tough,” and you couldn’t make it here. We’d like you to stay and let us give you another chance and I hope you’ll think about this before you go back to your comfort zone and talk about us. We know what you’ll say; we’ve heard it before. We’re willing to give you another shot, anyway. We don’t like people to miss out on a life-changing experience.

I was you, East Coast. I showed up here 20 years ago and before I unpacked I was already wondering where I went wrong. Minnesota? Who aspires to move to Minnesota? I was a little shot in New York once in a business which considers New York the capital and everything else flyover country. I get how easy it is to wonder whatever happened to your life, that the world was spinning somewhere else and you were missing out on the fun.

It wasn’t until I watched other East Coasters come here that I began to understand where people like you and I went wrong. We come here and we spend most of our early time looking for the East Coast — our comfort zone. We tell ourselves that the North Shore is like Martha’s Vineyard with different boats. We squint on Nicollet Mall and convince ourselves we’re in New York or Boston. We want to honk when a car goes by with an East Coast license plate and resist the urge to ask them to pull over to the side of the road so we can talk about the days when we could find decent pizza. I’d bring up the whole “merge on the highways” thing, but you probably take the bus.

It takes at least a year to even begin to work through those issues and understand the cultural riches here — not necessarily your kind of cultural, but cultural nonetheless. Like the arts, new experiences challenge what we think. Though uncomfortable, we grow to understand and appreciate the performance. We might even fall in love with it. That’s how we grow. Say, maybe that’s why they call it “culture.”

If you had stuck around for at least a year, however, you’d realize that the Minnesota culture isn’t about you, and that it’s OK to experience a little bit of life that isn’t about you. It’s another way you grow and become something you’re not now, and that’s a good thing.

You don’t like the culture? Grow a little.

We newcomers strut into our jobs as if we’re saviors from a more civilized land. We look at the natives funny when they ask questions like, “do you want to come with?” We invite the passive aggressive we get and then convince ourselves that it’s a backlash against our East Coastness. It’s not; it’s a backlash against us being full of ourselves. Trust me, East Coast, years from now you’ll think about how you approached your new land and bury your head in your hands in continuing embarrassment like the time Becky Slater rejected your invitation to the 8th grade dance. It never ends, kiddo.

It’s a cold state. And the weather’s pretty chilly, too. But until you begin to understand why you think it’s cold, you can’t begin to absorb the culture and appreciate where you are.

You’ve been here under a year, so you probably never really got to meet that many Minnesotans; you probably surrounded yourself with people who you thought were like you — and were disappointed when they didn’t turn out to be just like you. Maybe you had a run-in with a work colleague or two and determined it was an entire state’s culture.

The Minnesota culture? After 20 years, I’m still not sure what that is, East Coast. Where you come from, you don’t change as much as merely assimilate — you’ve been around for almost 400 years. Here, the culture is changing and watching it change is about the most exciting thing you can imagine. Minnesota will take the best of you, it just won’t tell you.

This is a land that can challenge everything you thought you knew about people and cultures. People go to vote in greater numbers here than anywhere you’ve lived — people who will put a wrestler in the governor’s office, a Republican in one Senate seat, and a Democrat in the other and then make sport out of all of them. This culture still gets upset at stories of corruption and wrongdoing because it’s a culture with a compass that points to right from wrong.

Sure, this joint has a massive inferiority complex thanks mostly to you, which is why we drool over all the surveys that show us as the best read, healthiest, and most educated state. But once you get past that, you know what? We’re the best read, healthiest, and most educated. That’s not a culture on which the truly smart and civilized turn their backs.

Mistakenly, we still think the term “Minnesota Nice” was a compliment and, sure, there are times that people who say “have a nice day” are actually saying, “get lost,” but it’s only a problem until you begin to speak the language of passive aggressive. Still, you can’t imagine the people you can meet in this culture who ooze goodness once you shed your issues.

But you probably never got out of the Twin Cities in your short stay here, so the reality is you never got to know the full range of the culture you’re defining and rejecting. If you had, you’d be like most East Coasters who think of Minnesota as home; you’d vow to spend the rest of your days soaking it in from one distinctive town to the next in every direction you can travel, silently kicking yourself for not moving here sooner. There comes a watershed moment when you start referring to yourself as “a Minnesotan.”

If you’re leaving, best of luck. This is a fishing state and sometimes we have to throw back those that are too puny, knowing we’re one fish closer to a “keeper.” So sorry you weren’t one of them.

Have a nice day,

News Cut

2) IF I KNEW YOU WERE COMING I WOULDN’T HAVE BAKED YOU A CAKE

In Des Moines, a baker is refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

“I didn’t do the cake because of my convictions for their lifestyle. It is my right as a business owner. It is my right, and it’s not to discriminate against them. It’s not so much to do with them, it’s to do with me and my walk with God and what I will answer (to) him for,” Victoria Childress said.

3) THE NEW NORMAL IS NO FUN

james_michele_ford.jpg

Today’s required reading is Annie Baxter’s story describing what is probably the new normal: lose a job, wait for a job, get a job, lose a job. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Al and Michelle Ford, from her account, did all the right things. They were educated, saved their money, owned their home, and didn’t accumulate credit card debt. And yet, there they are with resumes showing they can’t keep a job and hiring managers wondering if there’s something wrong with them.

“I guess in this economy the way I feel is not a matter of if you’re going to lose a job, but when,” Michelle Ford told Baxter.

Overnight, the Occupy Wall Street protests ended — at least in the current form — when the police raided the protesters’ encampment. Other cities are using the same playbook. But the issues of economic “fairness” remain. APM’s Marketplace is presenting commentary all week on this question: If the 1 percent had less, would the 99 percent be better off?

It’s a little misguided in its construction because the protests wasn’t about the math so much as the method.

4) TOM’S WALK

Tom Selley has completed a 28-mile walk to honor veterans. It took him four days. He’s 87.

He said he made the trip because of the reception he received from the kids of Abercrombie, ND.

5) GUNS FOR FELONS

Felons aren’t supposed to have guns. The New York Times reports that they’re getting them legally, with little or no review. How is it happening? The Times has produced a video using the case of a man in Duluth and a judge in Two Harbors.

TODAY’S QUESTION

Players have rejected the NBA’s latest contract offer, raising the prospect that there will be no pro basketball games this year. Today’s Question: Does it matter if there is no NBA season this year?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: There’s more medical information available to the public than ever before, but that only seems to have made medical decisions more difficult. Two doctors argue in a new book that the path to the medically correct decision often begins within the mind of each patient.

Second hour: Jazz singer Al Jarreau has been in the music for 40 years, but music was not always a major force in his life. He joins Midmorning to discuss his music and career, and explain when he decided that he would make singing his life.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: NPR reporter Julie Rovner explains what the Supreme Court will consider when it takes up the national health care reform case.

Second hour: Harvard professor Theda Skocpol and former gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, speaking at the U of M Humphrey School about the Tea Party and Republican conservatism.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Finding help for victims of sexual abuse.

Second hour: Author Daniel Blake Smith on the trail of tears.

  • Shane

    Thanks for letter to the East Coasters! As a transplant myself I can identify with the letter and simultaneously pat myself on the back and kick myself in the butt.

  • Chris

    There are so many things to address in that one paragraph quotation from Ms. Childress. First, she needs to pick up a dictionary. “It is my right, and it’s not to discriminate against them.” Discrimination is precisely what she is doing. Maybe she believes it is OK or even divinely-sanctioned discrimination, but it is discrimination nonetheless.

    Semantics aside, assuming Ms. Childress is appealing to the Christian God, Jesus actually did provide some guidance on this issue that I’m surprised she is ignoring. He has said “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.” It always strikes me as hubris and heresy when a devout person takes it upon him or herself to execute what is purportedly the lord’s judgment here on Earth.

  • B.W.

    Regarding your letter, I think it’s interesting that you chastise the East Coaster for never leaving the Twin Cities, but a few weeks ago when Chief Justice Gildea made a comment about Brainerd being in “real Minnesota,” you eviscerated her, Bob. Perhaps the Chief Justice of our highest court knows what she’s talking about?

  • Bob Collins

    // Chief Justice Gildea made a comment about Brainerd being in “real Minnesota,” you eviscerated her, Bob.

    Gosh, if only you’d provided a link to the actual column., then the people visiting here could see that far from your assertion, I was actually defending what I believe she was trying to say, which I believe is there’s a uniqueness about the areas outside of the Twin Cities that needs to be experienced. That doesn’t make one real and one not real, it makes it different and, to my way of thinking, enriching.

    I’m not sure how you’ve determined that’s inconsistent with what I’ve written above, but perhaps you could point to the actual words that lead you to that conclusion.

  • Dave E

    Bob, love the letter to the East Coast. I’m going to bookmark that one for later use.

    Although I will defend the pizza here, dangit! Just because you can fold it doesn’t mean it tastes better. :)

  • C

    Wheile your letter to the East Coast has some valid points, as a transplant to MN, from California, I’d like to take issue with some of your comments. I’ve watched people from all over the US come to Minnesota and try to make friends here. The first year is excruciatingly painful, since cues that work everywhere else (tentative plans to grab a coffee) not only never pan out, but are Insencere to begin with.

    After 4 years here, my friends are those who welcome newcomers, teach new people the culture and social cues,do not exclude based on a mistrust of all things east or west, and who understand how difficult it is to make it here as an outsider. If it weren’t for people like them, I wouldn’t have made it this long. Often they are couples where only one person is from Minnesota, they have lived outside of the state for some time, are from here but have a keen aweness of biting cold attitude of the locals, or are transplants themselves.

    While stop, listen and learn are good tips for transplants, letters like yours only make things worse by perpetuating the smug sense that coasters leave MN because they are weak. Minnesota and the Twin Cities are a great place, but that attitude makes this an unwelcoming and downright nasty place to live a newcommer. The longer Minnesotans absolve themselves of any responsibility for creating a hard place to be new, longer it will take for the Twin Cities and the state to live up to its potential as a cool, hip, fun and great place to live.

  • Bob Collins

    Let’s start this new welcoming culture by not being so afraid of each other. Baby steps. Let’s start by not being so afraid to use our names.

    One of the problems with data is that once you have a conclusion, all of the resulting data is filtered to accept that which confirms the conclusion. The rest is dispatched.

    Is Minnesota a difficult place to feel welcomed. Sure it is. Any outsider can tell you that. You want to sit and wait for it to change? Good luck with that. That’s not the way it works. You have to work at it, evaluate new data, meet new people, and stretch your comfort zone. That’s just the way it is. People have to be willing to take the time to understand the culture, the reasons for it, and the different language that IS spoken.

    The experience of doing that is unparalleled.

  • JackU

    #1 – As another transplanted east coaster (26 years next spring), thanks for doing that.

    #2 – Here’s a question for those concerned about the baker being up front about why she was turning down this business. Would it have been better for her to simply go through the motions and then when they gave her a date say, “Oh I’m sorry I’m booked up for that week”? The result would have been the same, the reasons would have been the same.

  • BJ

    Regarding East Coast Letter and responses:

    As someone who is from Minnesota but has lived in many parts of the country (West and South) I can say the ‘not letting outsiders in’ is not just a Minnesota thing. The not following though on plans thing as well. Strangers and those from other cultures are not ‘welcomed’ just about everywhere.

  • http://linkert.name gml4

    I appreciate your East Coast letter. The fact this guy didn’t even get through a winter says a lot more about him then anything else in my mind.

    It kind of remindes me of the whole Stephon Marbury episode.

    I think I can relate somewhat to my attempts to live and teach in the small towns of Minnesota. I was really looking forward to living the small town ideal, but found myself stuck in a place where I couldn’t relate to many of the people I worked with, and friends were too far away.

    RE:Wedding cake – Could this women refuse to provide her service to an inter-racial couple?! Women like the cake maker make me ill.

  • Heather

    Bob, I just realized that after five years here, I only have one friend who’s NOT a transplant, and I *still* don’t really understand the social cues, or why people seem to think that every river is the Rubicon. You should put together a guide book!

  • Josh

    While technically, I am not a native Minnesotan as I was born in WI, I can help any transplanters become acclimated to our great state.

  • Chris

    In my experience, transplants always find it easier to make friends with other transplants. The difference between Minnesota and the East Coast is that the East Coast has a very robust transplant culture. Places like NY and DC are crawling with transplants, so you can move there and feel “welcomed” by the millions of other non-natives.

    When you’re a transplant into a place like Minnesota, where the transplant population is relatively small (and mostly consists of people who moved from the rural midwest to the nearest “big city”), the culture is not dictated by non-natives.

    The whole notion that natives in Minnesota are less welcoming than natives elsewhere is a convenient fantasy for outsiders to soothe their egos. All the natives I know will go for coffee, make friends with, even go so far as to MARRY a transplant. It helps, to start, if they don’t have a ‘tude.

  • Bob Collins

    //The whole notion that natives in Minnesota are less welcoming than natives elsewhere is a convenient fantasy for outsiders to soothe their egos.

    It’s not an observation without merit, though. It’s just that the concept of “welcoming” is translated by a culture where the concept is different. A heart laugh, a pat on the back, a big hug, and a “where are you from, kid?” might be how one culture translates “welcoming.” Another culture might have a different “language.”

    I think the mistake ECers make is believing that others should change their language so that they can experience it in their own language.

    What I’m saying is the process of learning the native tongue is pretty darned invigorating.

  • C(aryn)

    It is easy to blame the transplants for leaving; it is harder to look in the mirror and wonder if there was anything else the community could have done to make new people feel welcome. Taking the easy route won’t help Minnesota and the Twin Cities grow and prosper in the long run.

    For the record: I worked my a$$ off meeting people, trying new things, attempting to be part of the culture. I bought a bike, I joined meet-up groups. I invited people to go out and see plays and still spent too many nights alone on the couch. After four years I have great friends and don’t always feel like an outsider. I am really lucky to have met the people I did. But I still wonder if I’ll ever feel like I belong here.

  • Mary

    Defensive much?

    I’m just completely in shock over what is clearly a smokescreen for a company and its manager parting ways and the uproar it has caused.

    The real issue here is the turnstile of management at the Cowles…the previous ED was also there for only 10 months. While she was also a New Yorker, she did live in MN for several years while at the SPCO. The issue isn’t our MN culture, it’s what is happening with an institution that is too new and has used too much money to fail. (Where have you heard that before?)

    He might have said he “wants to spend more time with his family”…it would have meant the same thing in the vernacular of people and organizations parting ways.

  • Bob Collins

    // Defensive much?

    I love this response. It’s so … you know… us. (g)

    //He might have said he “wants to spend more time with his family”…it would have meant the same thing in the vernacular of people and organizations parting ways.

    A “lie,” in other words.

  • Question

    I moved from WI to MN in my late 20s and stayed for 15 years before moving to Chicago a few years ago. Making friends in MN was difficult. Very difficult. And, most of my friends turned out to be transplants. Then, when I moved to Chicago, I found it was really easy to meet and talk to people. (People are friendly here). However, making friends is just as hard, particularly when one is in their mid-40s and doesn’t have kids.

    There are things I love about both the Twin Cities and Chicago, but I felt my lifestyle was better there, regardless of the friends I made or didn’t make.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – as a prodigal son who is looking for a chance to return, your letter made me weep.

    Re the Iowa baker who claimed that the Great Chef in the Sky would not approve of her making a wedding cake with two Barbies instead of the traditional Barbie and Ken,

    as long as we continue to permit the freedom of superstitious tradition, er, religion, in this country, strange and wonderous opinions and behaviors will continue.

    But the women who were told to take their business elsewhere were “shocked”? Really?!? Understandably disappointed, sure. But shocked?

    Re the Honorable Judge Moron who restored the violent felon’s right to possess firearms,

    kinda makes ya wish that this idiot would have an up close and personal experience with the operational end of our second amendments rights.

  • John P II

    I read Mr. Sonntag’s statement a few times until it hit me – it’s just a nuanced version of the old “It’s not you it’s me” line. Apparently the AV Club is as slow as me this morning …

  • Caleb

    Bob,

    Thank you for sharing your letter and your insight into assimilation into our “culture” here. The other comments are very insightful as well. It does make me wonder about some of our tendencies and what pathways are available for transplants. I’ve had transplants tell me they felt more welcomed and had an easier time meeting people here than anywhere they have lived, including globally. Yet at the same time I have a friend who confessed to me years into our friendship that I was his first Minnesota (and U.S.) friend after living here for well over a year, and that until I introduced him to other people and brought him into some of our “culture” that not a single person had allowed him into their circle. It makes we wonder what factors are at play here that can lead to such different experiences. What factors local to our “culture” interact with those of the person who comes here to lead to one experience or another. A long hard look in the mirror gives me concern that we have a tendency to give our welcome to varying degrees based on how like ‘us’ the person is, considering my friend is not from the U.S. and is a bit on the brown side. That said I have great hope that our Minnesota Culture is growing to accept people that are less like us and to not make them feel like outsiders.

    Regarding the baker: I’m pretty sure that it’s been pretty well established that denying service on discriminatory factors such as race, gender, etc., is a legal no-no, and that the “I have a right as a business owner to deny service to anyone” is not a valid defense. Denying service to someone because they are lesbian or whatever is the same as saying I won’t serve you because you’re black. A similar situation just popped up in Texas where a firearms permit instructor said in his own eloquent way that unless you were a white republican you shouldn’t show up to his shop. It makes me wonder where all this divisiveness is coming from. Is it just finally coming out into the open because our current social and political climate is allowing it to? Or is this a growing sentiment in our society? Again, I have hope that it was there already, and is fading, giving a last gasp as it begins to die.

  • John P II

    @ Caleb – if you think sexual orientation is as protected as race or gender you are grossly mistaken. There is no federal law and fewer than half the states have state laws regarding employment or housing.

  • Matt McGuire

    I appreciate the sentiment that Minnesota is superficially similar yet unexpectedly and fundamentally different from the East Coast, and that different is not good or bad.

    The challenge comes in recognizing that difference. It’s pretty clear when you go to England or France, or even Canada; you expect it to be different there. It’s not so clear here.

    The expectation is that Minnesota is a satellite of the East Coast. For some people, this must produce a kind of seasickness, where you’re getting conflicting signals to the brain. From your eyes and your consciousness, it seems the same, but some deeper sensor is saying, it’s different here. So you pick out superficial differences like pizza and harp on them.

    But It’s all good. It means Minnesota has a distinct identity and is not just a remote outpost of the East Coast or even Chicago.

    All that said, I don’t think castigating someone because they don’t want to spend the next 10 years of their life figuring out what it means to be a Minnesotan will change anyone’s mind.

  • Bob Collins

    //All that said, I don’t think castigating someone because they don’t want to spend the next 10 years of their life figuring out what it means to be a Minnesotan will change anyone’s mind.

    I don’t think anyone expects it to. Mr. Sonntag has every right to be happy somewhere and I wouldn’t think of chastising someone for asserting that right.

    The “letter” is actually for ECers who haven’t moved here yet. It’s about expectations of a different culture.

    In the extreme, it’s about the data we accumulate and the curiosity we have. Ten months? You can’t begin to understand Minnesota in 10 months. You just can’t.

    Someone at Cowles should have explained that to Mr. Sonntag. That’s on them.

  • Jon

    Reasons why it’s hard to make friends in MN:

    Every one seems to know each other already… usually since grade school.

    5 months out of the year we are huddled in side for warmth, and 3 more months out of the year we are huddled in side for AC… if we never leave, we never actually “get out” to meet people.

    In LA the first question you ask a stranger is “where are you from?” In college the first question you ask a stranger is “what’s your major?” In MN the first question you ask a stranger is “Cold enough for you?” We are an area that is rich in small talk, and not big about discussing our selves… it’s hard to make a personal connection with some one you don’t know anything about, and it’s hard to know something about some one who doesn’t talk about them selves…

    You want a friend in MN, ask then what they do for a living, ask them about them selves.

    In other parts of the country, you can just start talking about your self, and others will do the same…

    I don’t know what the first question you ask some one in New York is, I’ve not spent much time there, but I’d like to know if you have info to share.

    All of that being said, I’m not originally from MN. I still don’t understand why Minnesotans (who I understand do a fair amount of hunting) can’t tell the difference between a grey duck, and what is clearly a goose. I suspect that “hot dish” is a term for plates that are fresh out of the dishwasher and still warm/hot. And While I don’t know exactly what Bob was getting at with the whole “Merge on the highways” thing, I suspect I might agree.

  • Heather

    Heck, you can’t even begin to find your way around Minneapolis in ten months!

    Adequate street signs in consistent locations would go a long way toward making new folks feel less shut out. Sort of like the new ones they finally got at the airport after so much scorn and angst. The ones that actually make it so you can tell where you should go if you haven’t been taking that route since you were a kid.

  • Bob Collins

    // And While I don’t know exactly what Bob was getting at with the whole “Merge on the highways” thing,

    Clearly, you and I need to go for a drive. (g)

  • Alison

    Bob – Loved the letter to the East Coast. Thanks!

    \\#2 – Here’s a question for those concerned about the baker being up front about why she was turning down this business. Would it have been better for her to simply go through the motions and then when they gave her a date say, “Oh I’m sorry I’m booked up for that week”?

    No, JackU. Both reactions are despicable. You gotta love the hypocrisy though. Jesus Christ, the Lord of Love and Prince of Peace, told her to treat the couple like @#$&. What was that second of the two greatest commandments again?

  • Caleb

    @John P II

    There may not be a Federal Law or even many state laws, but my understanding is that there shouldn’t need to be. The problem is actually a lack of case law to reference vs needing an actual law on the books. Unfortunately this will require brave couples and individuals to stand up for their rights through a law suit. Once these cases are brought it becomes clear that discrimination “groups” don’t need to be spelled out to be protected. Age discrimination is an example as well.

  • Joanna

    I’m sorry Mr. Sontagg left the Cowles. I went to the opening, and he was kind and generous with his time, showing me and my daughter around, excited about the local dancers he had included in the show. I don’t know why he really left, but I think it’s our loss as much as his. As for the transplant thing, I left San Francisco 23 years ago, and while I love my life here, I went through several stages of culture shock and adaptation, some of them immediate and some delayed. I’m very fortunate to have joined a family from Crookston so that I’ve had the chance to see life outside the Twin Cities as well as in town.I’ll never be a Minnesotan–I wave my hands too much–but my daughter is, and Bob is right: MN is a new place, it’s changing and growing, and it has been exciting to be a part of those changes.

  • Catherine Schaefer

    Hi Bob,

    As a New Yorker recently transplanted to the Twin Cities by way of Seattle, I’d like to make a few comments. Your letter has the tone of the ugly little sister, somewhat jealous of the more glamorous and worldly older sibling, and I feel that that obscures your more relevant points.

    Your idea seems to be that East Coasters are so highly provincial that they can’t see past themselves to appreciate the unique cultural landscapes of anywhere else without belittling it. I would disagree. Cities on the East Coast are some of the most highly diverse in the nation, and we are confronted with cultures we may not be “comfortable with” every day. You say we “assimilate,” but I would instead say that we combine a rich variety of cultures while still maintaining the unique perspectives of our own backgrounds. There is more of a “me” and a “you” than an “us” and a “them.” Perhaps the problem we encounter here is that the “natives” do not have the same experience of encountering the variety of personalities and cultures that we do, and the resulting segregation makes transplants feel much more like outsiders. You can’t be around for 400 years without learning how to deal with all kinds of shit from all kinds of people, and understanding what it feels like to be different.

    Another point that you make is that we “invite” passive aggressiveness. I would disagree with this point- aggressively, and because I see no support for it in your letter. I find East Coasters to be some of the most up front, direct people I’ve met. It is clear when we like you, and clear when we don’t, and if you can’t meet us with the same honesty, that’s your problem. You say we’re too weak to stay here? Maybe we’re just tired of you being too weak to actually say what’s on your goddamn mind. “Learning to speak the language of passive aggressiveness” benefits absolutely nobody, and while I’ve been told it’s part of the culture here, I’ve made a point of not tolerating it in my personal relationships.

    I would agree that it’s difficult to make friends here, but that’s true of any place where people are deeply rooted. I can understand why people see no reason to leave here- it is a far more lively and interesting place than I expected it to be, and I’ve enjoyed my time here. However, a lot of them, being “natives,” have never known anything else. It’s hard not to long for the salt spray of the Atlantic and the tumbling waves on the sand when you’re knee deep in a lake the size of a pond and a dead duck is floating next to you. I will acknowledge that that is an unfair comparison, but it is hard to disagree with that image. If we stick to talking about the attitude of the people, I would like to at least make the point that in comparison to Seattle, the people of Minneapolis were far more welcoming and whined much less. Seattle is far more passive aggressive and self absorbed, and I’m sure that the reason why hiking is so popular is because people just want to get away from each other.

    So with a soft pat on the head, Bob, I acknowledge your feelings of inadequacy and remind you that if we made it there, we can make it anywhere.

    Love,

    Catherine

  • Bob Collins

    //There is more of a “me” and a “you” than an “us” and a “them.” Perhaps the problem we encounter here is that the “natives” do not have the same experience of encountering the variety of personalities and cultures that we do, and the resulting segregation makes transplants feel much more like outsiders.

    But enough about me. What about you? You don’t describe the extent to which you “encountered” the native population nor the effort you’ve made to understand the culture. You only indicated that whatever that culture is, it needs to communicate with you on your terms.

    What sort of encounters were those? Where do you live? Why do you live there? Where else have you been in Minnesota? What have you learned about it and how has that helped you to understand the culture(s)?

    What is it about Minnesota that you think you understood that time and research made you realize yo were wrong? What research was that?

    You look around the Twin Cities and I see an exciting Somali population that came to a land as far removed from Somalia as I can imagine. I see a Hmong population that survived reprisals from Laos and grew up, in many cases in refugee camps.

    Now, THEY’RE Minnesotans too. Are they native? No. But they’re Minnesotans, and yet we seem transfixed that we must be accepted by — on whatever terms you decide — them?

    By the way, I never said people from the East Coast are too weak to stay here. The East Coast is a wonderful place full of great people. Like you, I found them to be honest and open, but I also know that one of the reasons they are that way to me is because they’re my “comfort zone.”

    It’s not an either – or, Catherine. It’s about being willing to understand the different cultures.

    If people from the East Coast think that you can understand the culture and range of people that exist in Minnesota by stopping in for 10 months, or even a year, then I would opine that they’re really not as adequate, let alone brilliant, as they might think they are.

    I lived in Boston in the ’70s, when the people — mostly Irish — of South Boston, isolated in their neighborhood enclave, rioted against African Americans, isolated in their own neighborhoods coming into theirs. Your assertion that somehow the East Coast has got this whole “cities are highly diverse” thing down is simply wrong.

    If you want, next time I’m back there, we can go for a drive through any city of your choice, and I’ll show you how cities can be “diversified” and “segregated” at the same time. Just like the two big ones here.

    I’m sorry, our hour is up.

  • This is NOT lucy

    Bob,

    I have heard people call you many things in the years I have read your Newscut…but a “Jealous Ugly Little Sister” is a new one…and kinda funny, infact

    I am weeping.

    too.

    and I too think Cake Lady is way too puritanically correct and needs to lighten up with the dutiful genuflecting thing.

  • Bob Collins

    I will stipulate to “ugly,” though I consider it a lucky guess.

  • This is NOT lucy

    Well I disstipulate (I made that word up, like it?)your stipuation with “ugly”.

    It was a nice letter you wrote…although, personally, I think New Yorkers-the ones I’ve met- are a bit too in your face and pushy.

  • kennedy

    Re #2

    You can’t have it both ways. I suspect many readers would cheer the baker that refused to make an Adolf Hitler birthday cake.

    You have to take the good with the bad.

  • This is NOT lucy

    I think being born gay and being the leader in committing genocide are clearly two very different issues.

  • Catherine

    Bob, I’d love to take a ride with you. And thanks for asking, I’d love to talk about myself.

    When I came here, I moved in with a woman from Duluth that I knew only through a craigslist ad. She is now my best friend. Two days off the plane, I went to Books and Bars, and announced myself as a new person in need of friends. I only got two offers, but I took them and I still have them. They were transplants. The rest of the group took much longer to warm up to me, but I stuck it out until they did. I live in Uptown because although I have a license I’m personally not interested in having a car, and the age, relationship status, interests, and income level of that area is the one I found closest to my own. I have been to Duluth and visited friends who have families in the suburbs, and I found it all perfectly pleasant. While it took a little follow up to make sure some of the invites were genuine, once I was there, everyone was kind. Oh, and I founded a womens group that has 50+ members based on the fact that I was tired of passive aggressive behavior. It’s a group for cool ladies. Sorry, you aren’t allowed to join. I have learned that people here are quite content- which is probably going to come off as dismissive, but it’s a state I really very much appreciate. Their families have lived here for several generations, they get along with each other well, and they have made a nice life for themselves. I have nothing against that, though I tend to get restless if I stay in one place for too long.

    I also work in psychological research, which has facilitated my contact with people from a variety of backgrounds. Its necessary to get as close to a true representation of the community as possible when doing that kind of research. We work in local community centers, homeless shelters, and schools. Also, I think riding the bus EVERYWHERE has provided me with a unique perspective on the population of the metro area. I know it’s not fully representative, but quite a variety of people use the bus system for different reasons, and I have willingly engaged in conversations with people who are coming from perspectives very different from my own. I would say I have a pretty good understanding of what life is like in the metro area, and that the suburbs are not unlike those on Long Island. Except for, you know, the penchant for salty language.

    //What is it about Minnesota that you think you understood that time and research made you realize yo were wrong?

    I’m not sure I understand the question, but I think you’re asking me what I was wrong about when I first came here. I guess I had the sort of “fly over” mentality- I was surprised that people would choose to stay in a place that seemed so disconnected to me. I’m used to being able to get to more than one major city in a fairly short time period. There is definitely more to do than I anticipated there would be, and I guess my research was just going out and looking for it. I also anticipated that it would be dead in the wintertime but I was pleasantly surprised to see that people would still go out as long as they were properly equipped.

    //But they’re Minnesotans, and yet we seem transfixed that we must be accepted by — on whatever terms you decide — them?

    Yea, that’s why I put “native” in quotes. You seem to think I demand things only happen on my terms- I really don’t think that’s the case and I’m hope you’ll agree once you see the extent to which I “put myself out there.” I think not expecting everything to be on my terms comes from growing up in such a highly diverse area. I don’t think anyone has to accept anyone, but the discussion here is about how welcoming an area is, and the broader the terms of acceptance, the more welcoming a place is perceived to be.

    //By the way, I never said people from the East Coast are too weak to stay here.

    Sorry, that’s what I got from :”You showed up with your “I’m from the East Coast and I’m made of tough,” and you couldn’t make it here.

    And:

    “This is a fishing state and sometimes we have to throw back those that are too puny, knowing we’re one fish closer to a “keeper.””

    //It’s not an either – or, Catherine. It’s about being willing to understand the different cultures.

    One of my most delighted moments was when I walked into the Starbucks near the hospital on the West Bank and found it to be populated entirely by Somali men drinking coffee and talking like they did in their country.

    //If people from the East Coast think that you can understand the culture and range of people that exist in Minnesota by stopping in for 10 months, or even a year, then I would opine that they’re really not as adequate, let alone brilliant, as they might think they are.

    I think if you really put yourself out there and give a place a chance, you can learn a lot about it in a year or ten months. Perhaps not the entire range of everyone’s existence, but if you know something’s not for you, why waste your time? There are plenty of other places in the world that could be a good fit. Furthermore, I think getting to know a place has a lot to do with how inclusive the locals are. Have you ever seen Under the Tuscan Sun? ;-)

    //Your assertion that somehow the East Coast has got this whole “cities are highly diverse” thing down is simply wrong.

    I never said we had it down. I said we’re learning how to deal with it, meaning there has been a greater ethnic diversity for a longer time, and those riots inspired legislation.

    //If you want, next time I’m back there, we can go for a drive through any city of your choice, and I’ll show you how cities can be “diversified” and “segregated” at the same time. Just like the two big ones here.

    Back where, Bob? You mean you left the cities? Cause that’s where I am. And are you being passive aggressive by not responding to that part of my comment? Perhaps we should extend or hour, it seems like you might have deeper issues you want to discuss.

    XOX

  • Graham

    // I’m sorry, our hour is up.

    No one could accuse you of being passive aggressive. Reread your letter. You did call the guy weak (3rd sentence). Catherine had some valid points but I guess this isn’t about dialog. Too bad. It could of been a great opportunity to be MORE welcoming and open. Maybe this is an example of the culture that sent the guy packing.

    I originally drafted a long comment but, after reading your response to Catherine, it’s not worth posting.

    BTW, the East Coast goes from Maine to Florida. That spans a vast range of cultures. As Bostonian, you know NYC is not the like Boston much less Atlanta or Miami.

  • Tom N

    I too moved here from New York, and here is my conclusion: Minnesota is America’s septic tank. As long as I’m here, I consider it a sort of death sentence. Thankfully, I travel a lot and get to spend time in real American cities where people have souls. The author of this article is plainly trying justify what he KNOWS was a terrible decision (his moving here). People leave the Twin Cities because they suck (as in, suck the life out of you). Minnesota is full of depressing, mean, culturally-inbred people whose idea of a good time is talking about their lawnmowers, eating “food” that a dog on the coast wouldn’t touch with its ass, and falling over themselves in “sports bars” (just so you know, no one else in the world knows what a sports bar is). Minnesotans give lip service to ethnicity while simultaneously fearing it. The men all have military-style haircuts, wear sandals, and think their job working in a cubefarm is “success”. Meanwhile, the women are dumpy and wear sweatpants everywhere they go as if they just rolled off an old couch. If you want proof of the fact that Minnesota is just an overgrown Jerkwater, you need look no further than this very article. Only a human cesspool needs someone to argue why you should stay mired in it and share in its stink. Stephen King based his novels on life in Maine because if he’d based them on Minnesota, they’d be too horrible. Minnesota should succeed from the Union and become a Protectorate of Norway.

  • Kassie

    How many times have I been told that Minnesotans all have their same friends from elementary school? It always kills me. I don’t talk to anyone from high school or before more than once a year. College friends, I have some, but not a lot. Most of my friends who I see regularly are from a) twitter b) an old blog that no longer exists c) my neighborhood association or d) work. Many are transplants. Many, like me, were born and raised here. It is about trying. You don’t go to a meeting and say “I need friends.” You go to the meeting, get involved, keep going back, and make friends. It takes work to keep relationships alive.

    And you know what? I spend some Saturday nights home alone too. And I usually am really grateful for them as I have meetings and commitments almost every night of every week.

  • Tom N

    I too moved here from New York, and here is my conclusion: Minnesota is America’s septic tank. As long as I’m here, I consider it a sort of death sentence. Thankfully, I travel a lot and get to spend time in real American cities where people have souls. The author of this article is plainly trying justify what he KNOWS was a terrible decision (his moving here). People leave the Twin Cities because they suck (as in, suck the life out of you). Minnesota is full of depressing, mean, culturally-inbred people whose idea of a good time is talking about their lawnmowers, eating “food” that a dog on the coast wouldn’t touch with its ass, and falling over themselves in “sports bars” (just so you know, no one else in the world knows what a sports bar is). Minnesotans give lip service to ethnicity while simultaneously fearing it. The men all have military-style haircuts, wear sandals, and think their job working in a cubefarm is “success”. Meanwhile, the women are dumpy and wear sweatpants everywhere they go as if they just rolled off an old couch. If you want proof of the fact that Minnesota is just an overgrown Jerkwater, you need look no further than this very article. Only a human cesspool needs someone to argue why you should stay mired in it and share in its stink. Stephen King based his novels on life in Maine because if he’d based them on Minnesota, they’d be too horrible. Minnesota should succeed from the Union and become a Protectorate of Norway.

  • Bob Collins

    // One of my most delighted moments was when I walked into the Starbucks near the hospital on the West Bank and found it to be populated entirely by Somali men drinking coffee and talking like they did in their country.

    That’s awesome! It’s also one of the things I love about here.

    You know, you should drive out to Montevideo sometime.

  • Bob Collins

    //No one could accuse you of being passive aggressive. Reread your letter. You did call the guy weak (3rd sentence).

    That’s it. You showed up with your “I’m from the East Coast and I’m made of tough,” and you couldn’t make it here.

    I don’t see “weak” in there but this isn’t a letter to “this guy,” he merely prompted it. This is a letter to East Coasters who have come here and maybe haven’t left, but within a short period of time passed a judgment on the Minnesota “culture.” In many ways, it’s a letter to myself 19 years ago.

    My guess is many of them are like the comment above. If I probed, I’ll bet the person couldn’t tell me the difference in the “culture” in, say, Worthington from, say, Fergus Falls or Pelican Rapids.

    The culture they criticize is also a culture they often can’t actually define.

    What they’re talking about, as the commenter immediately above so intellectually seemed to state, is Norwegian. It’s not the Croats, it’s not the Iron Range, it’s not the Somalis, it’s not the Hmong, it’s not the Irish, it’s not the Latinos, it’s probably not the Germans, all of whom have a stamp on the MINNESOTA culture..

    One of my favorite movies is “Sweet Land,” which was filmed out in Montevideo. Seen it?

  • Bob Collins

    // Minnesota should succeed from the Union and become a Protectorate of Norway.

    I realize you’re just trolling, but for the record, we already DID succeed from the Union. I think what you’re recommending is that the state SECEDE from the union.

    Speaking of secession, did you know that the 1st Minnesota Regiment was the first volunteer regiment given to the federal government in the Civil War?

    I didn’t think so.

  • Tom N

    Why don’t you define “culture” for us, then Bob. We’re all hanging on in eager anticipation for you to illuminate us. We shudder and tremble is awe beneath your broad oak. Meanwhile, I’ll define Minnesota culture for you broadly and simply: Heehaw! What’s terrible is probably what living here has done to you. You sound like a little girl.

  • Bob Collins

    Tom, you’re trolling. Maybe it’s your first time here. But communicate like an adult or “have a nice day.”

  • Michele

    I’m a transplant, originally from Chicago, via Miami, the central valley of CA, and SW IA. I came here for college 30 years ago and stayed. Though college (and Macalester to boot) is a unique experience, while there I struck up wonderful friendships with people from Minnesota, from other states, and from overseas. Post college I found some Minnesotans more interesting and, thus more friendly, than other Minnesotans.

    The people I’ve connected with (and connection is always a two way street) are people with a certain progressive and cosmopolitan perspective and yearning. This tends to automatically disqualify the typical middle-aged, lived-in-Minnesota-all-my-life, suburban denizen. As Bob has pointed out, Minnesota is about change and thankfully this typically conservative demographic is gradually shrinking in cultural and numeric significance. I couldn’t be happier. And I suspect the new Minnesota won’t really miss these folks either.

  • Liz

    I’m quite familiar with the charge that it is difficult to get to know people in Minnesota (I’ve lived here most of my life); but I’ve met equally as many transplants who say that they’ve actually had an easier time making friends. It seems to be either/or and I’d be interested to know what’s going on there. I suppose it depends on what part of the country you’re coming from and what sort of job you have and what sort of circles you run in. This is purely anecdotal, but it seems to me that people I’ve met in more white collar professions complain more about the iciness of natives, whereas transplants of a more artistic bent (musicians and writers I’ve met) have a great time and have little problem fitting in. I wonder if the corporate culture here is much different than it is in other places? Less aggressive? Or maybe artists tend to be more progressive and open to outsiders? I don’t know, just an observation.

  • kennedy

    So, the Hitler cake was for a young boy named Adolf by his parents. He did nothing wrong. He was born into a family of white supremists. The baker refused to make a birthday cake for the boy because of his name. Yes, the same name as the man who committed atrocities in WWII.

    Good for the baker who declined the cake for ideological reasons.

    In the more recent cake incident, the baker does not support gay marriage and refused the wedding cake.

    Good for the baker who declined the cake for ideological reasons.

    Bakers (and other artists) have the right to disagree with me or you and express it in their art (or not).

  • Diana

    Having transplanted a few times before returning to MN, I don’t think the transplant dilemma is that different in other states (or countries). It’s a lot like dating. People aren’t going to automatically come to you. You have to put yourself out there, do the initial asking, and accept some rejection until the right pal comes along. The best technique I ever saw was a friend I met in Texas who had the guts to admit her vulnerability and simply state to a group of gals, “I just moved here. My family is all out east. I don’t know anyone and would like to get to know some people.” She had new plans within minutes and that sentence started several friendships that still endure across state lines.

    Also, while we are asking East Coasters to get over their stereotypes of us, could we also please get over our own urban vs. suburban vs. rural stereotypes of who might live in those places and why they might live there, e g. “This tends to automatically disqualify the typical middle-aged, lived-in-Minnesota-all-my-life, suburban denizen.” Choosing a place to live can be a complicated decision driven by many factors. With the housing and labor market what they are, consider it a luxury today if you even get to choose, rather than your circumstances dictating it for you.

  • Susan

    I will say the letter to the East Coast was one of the very few things that I have ever heard on a NPR station nationwide that have ever offended me.

    I have lived in many parts of the country (East Coast, the South, the North, the Midwest, Hawaii) and out of the country (Mexico and Canada), and will say objectively, that the Twin Cities have been the most difficult to make friends.

    The TCs are a lovely place to live, and God knows there is plenty to keep you busy and fill your time.

    It is a lonely place to be a transplant, even for people who have moved a lot and know what to do.

    The thing that upset me the most about the letter was the tone that the ‘unfriendliness’ was due to behavior on behalf of the transplant, and that Minnesotans were superior and that the rest of us just don’t get it. It seemed a bit snobby and callous. To be rebuffed for neighborliness and casual friendship seeking behavior seems like a form of coldness I’m not sure I want to be a part of. It reminds me of cliques from my high school days. And a bit like bullying.

  • John

    I read this yesterday, and thought it felt familiar. Then I realized what it was. I grew up in northern MN, and really, all you have to do is replace “Dear East Coast” with “Dear Twin Cities” and pretend you’re writing from up where I grew up.

    Then, the letter sums up how people from up-north often feel about people from the metro area who transplant in (or even visit for a few days in the summer) – a lot of the same issues, inferiority complex, cold state (weather too), etc. seem to apply.

    MN as a microcosm of the country? Maybe not, but perhaps worth thinking about for those of us who are traveling out from the metro to the rest of the state (or at least relating to people moving into the state from other places).

  • http://juliabarton.com Julia Barton

    Wow, Bob, you picked a fight with East Coasters and you thought it was going to turn out nicely?

    Very entertaining, though. As someone who lives here with a New Yorker, I can’t even tell you. Please, more trolls! It’s getting cold out.

  • Michelle Anderson

    I moved to outstate Minnesota nearly three years ago after living all over the States. Perhaps, being a native of Seattle, the culture just seemed similar and I felt at home…but I just don’t understand the problems people apparently have with Minnesota. Frankly, I really love it here and have no intention of leaving!

    I’ve enjoyed more opportunity in MN than anywhere else in my past, accompanied by a higher standard of living and surrounded by good people. What’s not to love?