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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Minnesota Nice: Aspect One

I’m hearing a lot about “Minnesota Nice” lately. Who talks like that? This is a term that has come up no doubt through the efforts of the U.S. Advisory Board on Pigeon-Holing or some other such made-up agency.

There are many aspects to this two-word synopsis. It’s unlikely that I can do it justice, but I’m going to give it a shot, one blog at a time.

A little background on Minnesota: After some initial unpleasantness with the Native Americans, followed by further unpleasantness for the Native Americans, followed, eventually, by casinos, the land was settled by Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Germans, Czechs, and Finns, groups that left their home countries and then named their new towns after the ones they’d just left: New Prague, Mora, New Ulm, Uppsala. A hard-working group, they were men and women of few words. A standard greeting, for example, was a quick smile or a nod but not much more than that. No use in wasting time with talking while there’s work to be done.

Even today, the typical Minnesotan, the ones with family in small towns, the ones who live in the suburbs, the ones who go to “The Cities” to buy school clothes, to go to Manny’s for steaks and see Lori Line play her Christmas concerts, are a modest, unassuming lot. Take as much as you need, but for cryin’ out loud, don’t go on and on about it. The Swedes even have a word for it: lagom. It basically refers to having enough but no more, not too much, not too little: the perfect amount. It works for both intangible and tangible things. You don’t have to be Swedish – it’s in the water, taught in the public schools, stuck to the seats on the bus. The Midwest has a reputation as solid, reliable people for a reason.

Lesson Number One: Minnesotans don’t call attention to themselves.

A man walks into a bar.
Him: Can I sit here?
Her: Sure.
Him, to the bartender: I’ll have a Pabst.
There is silence as a beer is drawn.
Him: So what’s on the TV there?
Her: Oh, some show. It was on when I came in.
There is silence.
Him: Can I have that newspaper over there?
She hands it to him.
Her: Say, I wanted to thank you for plowing my car out. That would’ve taken me all day to do.
Him: Oh, I was out anyway. No big deal.
Silence.
Him: Says here that the Wild are ahead the Leafs by one.
Her: That so?
Him: Yep.
Her: Well that’s interesting.
Bartender: So I hear ya won pretty big down at the Bingo the other night.
Him, smiling: You mighta heard that.
Bartender: Gotta trip in the works?
Him: Gonna pay off some things.
There is silence.
Bartender: Say, Jim?
Him: Yeah, Cyril?
Bartender: Hey, ya left here the other night with a bit of a tab. If it’s not too much of a hassle, ya think maybe we could settle that up?
Him: Oh, hey, I didn’t…
Bartender: Well, I checked my records twice, Jim, and there it is. Of course, Shirley was the one that was on and she was the one who brought it to my attention or I woulda never bothered ya with it…
Him: Oh, no, Cyril. No, of course. We were all pretty excited, I guess, what with the win and all.
Jim pays bar tab, finishes his beer.
Him: All right, then. Well, I better get going.
Bartender: See ya, Jim.
Her: See ya, Cyril. Thank you.

So there’s Lesson One. Minnesotans? A little dull, maybe. A little polite, a little quiet. The kind of people who dig you out of a snow bank.

Next? Passive-Aggressive Minnesota: What does that smile mean and why do they agree to things they won’t do?

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