Minnesota’s obsession? Is it really ‘nice’?

Whenever Minnesota examines its Minnesota Niceness, we are prompted to make popcorn, prop our feet up and watch the unfolding entertainment. We’d invite the neighbors over for the fun but we’ve never met them since they moved in two or three years ago. But that’s a story for another day.

The Star Tribune kicked off the latest self-examination last week with an op-ed detailing the usual difficulty people have when they move here:

Take Pam, a transplant from Colorado. When she and her family moved to a Twin Cities suburb, no one ­— not one neighbor — greeted her or said hello, much less invited her into their home (for two years and counting).

Or take Todd, who is originally from Chicago and came to the conclusion that something must be wrong with him. Though he had made many friends during stints in Iowa and elsewhere, since moving to Minnesota, he had yet to make a single one.

Today, transplants Alan and Sharon Miller of Eagan defend the honor of the native with their own op-ed.

“They (the authors of the first op-ed) take a backward approach to the positives of living here,” they write.

Next, imagine you’re on a cul-de-sac (as we are) as the moving van pulls up. The neighbors are clustered together; all they know is that New Yorkers are moving in, and they don’t know whether to call in the children and animals or to list their property with a broker. Be positive, be friendly, take the initiative. Instead of knocking on that neighbor’s door feigning a request to borrow some sugar, knock on that door, smiling, and say: “Hi, we just moved in next door, and we’d like to invite you to coffee or dinner in a few days.” There. You broke the ice (which will be absolutely necessary if you must move in during the winter, in any event).

Next, when your neighbor says, “Are you from the East?”, don’t reply, “How’d ja know?” Say instead, “Is it that obvious?” and she’ll reply, “Yes, we don’t call it ‘cawfee.’ ” Immediately smack the palm of your hand against your forehead and exclaim, “Uff da!” And when her husband asks where in the East and you reply “Longuyland,” laugh along with them. When they ask if you have children, reply, “Yes, but we didn’t leave a forwarding address,” which is certain to be met with empathy. Tell them that you’ve already signed up for “Minnesotan as a Second Language” as an adult ed course.

To show that you have familiarized yourself with the state’s history, don’t bring up the fact that the largest mass execution in the nation’s history took place in Mankato near the end of the Civil War, but rather use names that will be sure to get smiles, like “Arne Carlson.” If you want to go for a big laugh, say “Jesse Ventura.” Now you’re on your way. Talk about the fact that you’ve always wanted to go ice fishing, but don’t do that until May or June, in the hope that they’ll forget by next winter.

Sure, this all sounds familiar. It’s the discussion that never ends (See my “Letter to the East Coast” from 2011).

Thank goodness.


  • jon

    Minnesota (for god sake be) nice (to us!)

  • John

    I’ve lived here (in MN) for the bulk of my life. Since I’ve been and adult (by age, if not by attitude), I’ve lived in two different parts of the state. The first, a small town. Now an inner ring suburb of Minneapolis.

    I think that the Millers got it about right when it comes to how to meet people. You have to be proactive. When we moved back to small town MN from IA, I immediately started trying to get involved with various community things (one of which I still drive back once a year to help with – 2 years after we moved to “the cities”).

    Part of “MN Nice” is the insecurity/fear that we (as natives) don’t want to be an imposition on the new people, so we don’t go knock on the door, because we might be bothering or interrupting something. It’s strange, but that’s how it appears to me. (it’s especially difficult when you’re the new person and you’re from MN, and so suffer the same malady.)

    Take some initiative. I made a lot of really great people and some likely lifelong friends by just stepping out of my house and offering to help with things. (Bonus – they’re also the people who are interested in doing the kind of things that I like to do.)

  • Kassie

    I hate this stuff. I hear it all the time. Then I look at my many friends from out of state and realize how ridiculous it is. I’m MN born and raised, but almost all my friends I met after high school, with the majority after college.

    It isn’t hard, you just have to try. And trying doesn’t involve telling a Minnesotan that their pizza is bad or that there is no good Mexican (then admit to not having tried any of the taco joints on Lake Street or on the west side of St. Paul).

    • Ma Barker

      I have to disagree about the Mexican food. I’ve been living in the twin cities since the late 1970’s but this month I’m visiting my sister in Austin TX. I’m pretty confident in saying that Minnesotans have no clue what good Mexican food tastes like….and I have tried the taco joints on Lake St and St Paul. Head south, way south for good Mexican.

      • Tex

        Austin has Tex-Mex. Not real Mexican food. For that I go to New or Old Mexico. If you can’t find decent Mexican food in St Paul or Minneapolis. I’ve been able to get-by here in St Paul on the decent Mexican food, but nothing compares to New Mexico in my book.

  • daklute

    Minnesotans are very nice, but not friendly. When you stand in line at the grocery store in Minnesota, no one talks to each other. When you are walking down the street few people will simply smile and say “Hello”. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here, but as a reasonably social extrovert who has lived here for 30 years it continues to amaze me that at 6:30 in the morning when I am walking my dog the person walking towards me for three blocks, as we pass, will usually avert they gaze and not respond to a simple “Good morning!”. I travel a fair bit, and while people “out East” aren’t always nice, they don’t think you are odd if for a few minutes while you are waiting for a train, on a train, in line, etc you speak to them. They speak back too!

    • http://www.fark.com/ Onan

      Huh, I always seem to be able to get other Minnesotans to say “hi” and usually can strike up a conversation almost everywhere I go…

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Minnesota Passive-Aggressive doesn’t have the same ring to it.

  • Jerry

    Minnesotans show our Niceness by trying to not bother or impose on you. And respecting your privacy and personal space.

  • C

    Anyone who tells a New Yorker moving to Mnnesota to take initiative clearly does not understand that by approaching people, the new person is considered to be overstepping their bounds, rude, imposing, and does not fit in Minnesota. When I moved to Minneapolis, I tried to invite people to coffee, ask for recommendations (where do you like the sandwiches?) and I clearly came across as too abrasive. Only now do I realize that by being a New Yorker trying to make my way in Minnesota that my biggest challenge was that Minnesotans don’t trust New Yorkers.