While passing the Jolly Green Giant sign on Hwy. 169 near Le Sueur, Minn., it occurred to me that I've become a real Minnesotan.
Here's what I was thinking the moment before my Minnesota epiphany: "Uh-oh. I'm not going to get my good parking spot if I hit that light in St. Peter."
I'm not a Minnesotan by birth. I grew up in Wisconsin among yah der heys who liked to high-five strangers. (If you didn't know, yah der heys are Wisconsin people who attach the words yah, der and hey to sentences, as in: "Yah, you left your beer bong out on the lawn der, hey.")
Minnesotans don't high-five strangers, generally. We've got too much work to get done over here.
How do I know I'm no longer a Wisconsinite? No more beer-soaked high-fives for this guy. I'm too busy. I have lunch to eat. I have good parking to get. I have to get my snowblower fixed before my driveway blows shut.
But sometimes I wonder if becoming a real Minnesotan is a good thing. Lately there has been a slew of opinion pieces in local media claiming that we Minnesotans are closed, passive-aggressive, uninviting.
Here's my question: Why would a newcomer want to get invited to my house anyway? Aren't our exchanges in the grocery store painfully awkward enough?
We don't talk, we do
I work at Minnesota State, Mankato. It was just before 7 a.m. when I passed the Jolly Green Giant sign that day. I was driving back to Mankato from the Twin Cities for a meeting, which was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. If you know the geography of southern Minnesota, you know I was way early.
But here's the truth: I wasn't early enough, not if I wanted to nab one of the best parking spots on campus. Those fill up by 7 a.m.
Minnesotans tend to get to work early and they tend to leave early, probably so they can get supper going and maybe do a little craftwork in front of the TV before bedtime (which is 9 p.m. or earlier).
I make that bedtime claim based on the habits of my maternal grandfather, a sturdy Lutheran fellow who immigrated to Austin, Minn., from Germany after World War I. I remember him best as a retiree in Florida, but he was the most stereotypically Minnesotan guy ever.
He didn't like to talk. He liked to do. He would get us in the car at 4:30 a.m. for outings. He would cut off our outings at 10:45 a.m. for lunch, saying, "Might as well eat and get it over with." We'd beat traffic to whatever event we were attending.
On Sundays we'd go to church 45 minutes early to get the parking spot closest to the exit. We sat in the back pew, which allowed us to leave the church first, so we could get back to that parking spot, so we could beat the traffic out and get home.
Why was Grandpa always in such a hurry for home? I believe it represented freedom from other people. At home he could do what he wanted instead of getting stuck in awkward conversations about politics, weather and sports.
At home Grandpa produced. He fixed lawn mowers, built sheds resembling country churches, dug into the earth to make goldfish ponds. The man didn't have time to chat.
Now, it's true, he probably wouldn't invite you over for beers. But he'd plow your walk. He'd mow your lawn. He'd dig you out of the ditch. He'd give you a jump. And he'd gladly dump money into the offering plate at church.
I always think of him when I see the amazing, diverse immigrant groups we have here in our state. A portion of all that money he gave to the Lutherans certainly went to fund our open arms. I like to think he'd be proud, too. Minnesota was his refuge from a war-torn Europe. Minnesota was his land of possibility.
Just like Gramps
As I get older and more settled into the Minnesota lifestyle, I've started to exhibit certain traits that remind me of Grandpa: In addition to my obsession with good parking spots is the fact that what I look forward to most before any event is leaving. I'm not saying I don't enjoy events. I just like it best when they end.
I'm sorry, but you won't find me entertaining a load of newcomers to Minnesota in my home. If you guys need companionship, join a choir or a nonprofit board. Build something weird. How about an ice shanty?
We Minnesotans come out of our shells eventually — as long as you're doing something interesting, something productive.
And maybe some Minnesotans are passive-aggressive, like the online commenters say. But most of us aren't. When I smile at you, it means I'm genuinely glad you're here. I'm not faking it. I'm glad you showed.
I'm a little awkward, that's all. I just want to get home to get the dishes done, or some reading, or some writing, or some laundry. I really just want to go home.
Geoff Herbach, who teaches creative writing at Minnesota State University, Mankato, is the author of several novels for young adults. 10,000 Takes features first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives on love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota. Have a story to tell? Send your drafts to email@example.com.