Theft of the Blog: Minnesota Nice – What is it?

A Theft of the Blog (details here) submission comes to us from reader Carol MacAllister, who has just become a resident of St. Paul.

Wherever you go you hear the term, Minnesota Nice with clarifications ranging from: it’s not really ‘nice’ at all; it’s passive aggressiveness, it’s sarcasm meaning, “I am smiling at you and saying welcome to MN but geez, I wish you’d stayed where you were;” to its genuinely pleasant and polite, it’s just who we are…. pleasant.

So, what exactly is this Minnesota Nice? Ask 10 natives and you will get 10 answers. “We are polite because we don’t want to offend and we want to make a good impression even when we don’t like the person we are trying to impress.”

A friend, who has lived here in Minneapolis for many years, warned me—everyone will be pleasant and polite but, they will not invite you into their home even if you have invited them into yours.

An MPR staffer told me, “After a day of being nice to people, I just don’t want to be “nice” anymore at home after work. I get that. We felt like that in New Mexico where I lived for 29 years, but we didn’t call it anything special.

No, I think there is something more going on here.

When I am asked where I moved from and I reply North Carolina, 9 times out of 10, I will get an incredulous, “Why?” as in God Lord, “Why??? You do know about our winters, right?”

Well, yes, I do know about MN winters. And, it has occurred to me that, whether at work, home, in the barn or on the bus, I suppose being pleasant at least on the surface is a matter of survival at least in winter time. After all, close quarters can breed contempt.

So, being the homo sapiens that we are, living in close quarters, in a very cold climate, where stomping off in a huff slamming the door behind you is really not an option, evolution would demand “pleasantness.”

But what do you do with those irritations, disgust, and frustrations that are a natural part of interacting with others let alone living with them, especially in close and closed in quarters? Well, you naturally suck them down, bite your tongue, take deep breaths and utter, “whatever.”

Then it starts, you see those repressed undercurrents of irritation leak out in forced smiles, teeth-clinched grimaces, mumbled sarcasm, and outright passive-aggression. “They don’t do that here, … dear.”

Ah, Minnesota, the land of understatement; the land of excessive modesty; the land of “that’s not bad, or it’s okay” which really means, that’s great!” but let’s not say it out loud. Emotions are muted because if big good ones get out then it’s just a matter of time before the big bad ones get out and then what? It’s a slippery slope to being sent packing after you have let it all hang out, which could leave you frozen … out…. literally.

So, this is my idea about Minnesota Nice: It’s an example of evolutionary behavior, born of and solidified by months of enforced close quarters while the plains winds howl and those Canadian temps sink south dropping the thermometer well below zero for days and weeks. Summers are short so why change what you know. Go to the lake and swear at the black flies and mosquitoes, they won’t be offended.

And what of this business of not inviting new people across the threshold? “Are you kidding? Keeping the “lid on” with family and friends is hard enough. You want me to add new people to the pressure cooker of long repressed emotions? What? Are you crazy?”

Evolution is a slow process, and often boring. And Spontaneous Evolution, the current evolved Theory of Evolution, is about the survival of those species who learned to cooperate. Cooperation needs pleasantness and self-control of those offending intense emotions, the good, the bad and the ugly.

So, looks like Minnesotans have got it figured out. Survival of the nicest…and coolest.

  • Jerry

    It’s just important to remember the term isn’t “Minnesota Friendly” or “Minnesota Hospitality”

  • JMR

    I moved from North Carolina to Minnesota about 5 years ago and the first thing people would comment on is “you know it get’s cold there right????” – I chuckled when I read your comment about winter and southerner’s responses. Thank you for the insight on Minnesota Nice 🙂

  • daklute

    Well, OK then.

  • ec99

    Minnesota Nice is what people believe it to be. I learned from my late sainted mother that it was a euphemism for passive/aggressive. Never tell a person anything critical to his/her face. So, that hot dish another woman brought to the church basement potluck, which my mother praised her so much for? Was subject to nothing but criticism all the way home in the car.

  • SchlepCar

    From Fargo Season 2:

    Mike Milligan: I like him. I like you. Met another fella from Minnesota yesterday. Big guy. Sheriff, I think. I liked him too.
    Lou Solverson: We’re a very friendly people.
    Mike Milligan: No! That’s not it. Pretty unfriendly actually. But it’s the way you’re unfriendly. How you’re so polite about it.
    [in a more stark tone]
    Mike Milligan: Like you’re doin me a favor.

  • Debby

    I was born and raised in Minneapolis. Many of my friends were not. So apparently my “Minnesota Nice” worked with them. I have invited many non-Minnesotans into my home, usually for a meal. Most of them have never invited me in return. I weary of the generalizations about “Minnesota Nice”. People are people. Some are hospitable, some are not. Some return invitations, some don’t. We aren’t all the same.