As transplanted New Yorkers (of 17 years), we must take exception and disagree (to the point of being un-Minnesotan) with the July 13 commentary “Minnesota Nice? Like ice.” I don’t know where the authors did their research, but it is completely contrary to our experience in Minnesota. Yah, you betcha! The authors speak of many anecdotal negatives, but they take a backward approach to the positives of living here. Minnesotans are the friendliest, most helpful people you will ever meet. Just don’t sit around waiting; take a positive approach.
First, as you should do whenever you relocate, do some research in advance to learn about your new environment and the culture. If you can, avoid moving in during January to March, when your neighbors either are cloistered in their igloos or are “snowbirds” escaping to Arizona or Mexico. You brought that loneliness on yourself; don’t blame the natives.
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.
Invite your neighbors to a restaurant dinner, and when driving there, if you arrive at a roundabout and there is no traffic in any direction, come to a full stop anyway, to show that you’re absorbing the local culture. If you talk about favorite foods, tell your new friends that with your morning “cawfee” you generally have lutefisk on a bagel, and when they inquire as to what a bagel is, explain that it’s a doughnut that went stale. Don’t ever admit that you have been a Yankee fan, but instead speak of the incredible Joe Mauer as the best singles hitter to come down the pike in decades.
Tell them about your first outing to the Mall of America, where you were rescued by a search party after two days lost. These are the things that will set you on your way to becoming a Minnesotan.
And I don’t accept that we’ve just been lucky. We have neighbors who walk the dog if we’re out, who shovel our driveway for us, who inspect our storm drains and remove any excess leaves, who invite us to their barbecues and into their homes and family events, and who are the nicest people we’ve ever met. You can’t convince us that Minnesota Nice doesn’t exist or that the “quality of life” in this state is just a phrase — it’s the best, and we’ve never been happier anywhere.
Alan Miller teaches in college and is an author. Sharon Miller is an election judge, and an officer in two local organizations. They live in Eagan.