How Do You Define a Minnesotan?

Today’s guest post comes from Steve Grooms.

I’ve been a Minnesotan for over half a century. During much of that time if I told a person from elsewhere where I lived, that person would struggle to remember something–anything–about my home state. After an awkward silence, the nearly invariable response was: “Minnesota? Gets cold there, doesn’t it?”

So no wonder I feel grateful for Garrison Keillor. In 38 years of Prairie Home Companion broadcasts, Keillor has rescued Minnesota from anonymity and gone a long way toward defining the Minnesota culture. Although Howard Mohr wrote How to Speak Minnesotan, I think of Garrison as the godfather of that book, having created the awareness of Minnesota culture that permeates Mohr’s book.

The issue of Minnesota culture comes to mind now that the State Fair is over and we begin to feel its absence. Any list of the qualities that define a Minnesotan should start with our fascination—our obsession, really—with this fair. Other states have fairs. The mighty state of Texas has one that runs 24 days, and yet the Minnesota fair beats it in total attendance. No state is quite as proud of its fair as Minnesotans are of ours.

If you didn’t get to The Fair this year, I suspect you are feeling a sense of loss. Possibly even something closer to failure. Nothing defines Minnesotans quite like the obligations we assume.

A less appealing side to the Minnesota personality is our smugness. Minnesotans are too modest to brag, and yet if you scratch them you don’t go very deep before finding the conviction that the Midwest is the most wholesome part of the nation and Minnesota is the best state in the Midwest. By quite a bit!

The most complicated topic in Minnesota is our relationship to weather. We pay more attention to weather and talk about it more than folks anywhere, and yet our attitudes are so complex they almost defy explication. We have, for example, a love-hate relationship with winter that is uniquely Minnesotan.

This blog post itself, in fact, is very Minnesotan.

We are fascinated by our own culture and all the ways we differ from other areas. But the more we Minnesotans talk, the less interesting we seem. I liked this topic a lot when I started with it, then I grew increasingly unhappy, and now I’m wondering why anyone would read all the way to the end, which you almost have.

Maybe you’re still going because you’d feel a little guilty about quitting early? Don’t want to hurt my feelings, even though I would never know the difference?

How very Minnesotan of you.

How do you define a Minnesotan?

93 thoughts on “How Do You Define a Minnesotan?”

  1. someone east of north dakota and south of manitoba who know the best thing out of iowa is interstate 35 and that cheeseheads are to be tolerated not acknowledged

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  2. Morning all. Wonderful post, Steve – and a great segue from BiR’s great post yesterday. Sorry I missed it. Teenager and I always spend Labor Day at the Renaissance Festival (because everybody else is at the fair so it’s not overcrowded at RF). 11 hours yesterday – seriously dirty and glittery by the time we got home!

    I’ll have to think about the Minnesotan issue. I’m one of those that has lived here for much much longer than I lived in my home state, but never thought about the definition before.

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  3. Thanks tim and VS. I thought I’d offer a story here to exemplify what I had in mind with the story part of the question.

    A friend in south Minneapolis woke up several years ago to find four inches of snow. Beth was up early, so she got out her shovel and cleared her walk. She felt sorry for the old couple living next door on the north side, for they are arthritic, so Beth shoveled their walk too. The next house north was occupied by a large number of Hispanics who are controversial for their loud parties. Beth didn’t want those folks to think she held a grudge, so Beth did their walk next.

    Then Beth shoveled the first walk south of hers, a place owned by friendly neighbors. She didn’t want them to wonder why she had done all the other walks but not theirs. The next house south of that one is a troublesome spot, for the young man there living with his parents is selling drugs in the neighborhood. Beth didn’t want the boy’s parents to feel she was being judgmental, so she shoveled that one next.

    I wouldn’t argue that Beth’s morning of shoveling “couldn’t have happened anywhere else,” but I would say that it was VERY Minnesotan.

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    1. Steve, it strikes me that Beth’s motivations in this story seem to be split between empathy and hyper-sensitivity. And it’s not an even split. She wants to do the right thing by the elderly neighbors, but the rest of the shoveling rises out of not wanting to be harshly judged. Does that mean that Minnesota is a harshness rich environment, judgement-wise?

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  4. Good morning. I’m only partly from Minnesota. I was born in Wisconsin as were almost all of my close relatives except my grandparents, on my father’s side, who were born in Holland. I grew up in Michigan and I spent much of my young adult years in Indiana. I have been here for about 30 years and by now mostly identify myself as being from Minnesota. However, I’m not totally from here and sort of identify myself as being midwestern, not exclusively from Minnesota.

    So, from my prospective, how do I define a Minnesotan? Before I moved here I thought of it as the state with the great north woods. When we moved to where we live in Southern Minnesota, I realized that much it is part of the corn belt. I will be moving to Minneapolis in a year or so and I think that is a good place due to the culture found there – music, food, theatre, and other stuff. However, much of Minnesota is dominated by small towns. Even the big towns have lots of people who are from small towns and, of course, Lake Wobegon is a small town. I guess I would primarily identify this state as a state dominated by modest people from a small town background.

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    1. I’m going to leap in here and take off with a point Jim raises. Minnesota gets a large part of its identity from the northern woods, but half the state is prairie. I think that is important. There is a balance between the two that helps give the state culture some complexity. Much of the state is rural, with people living in small towns, and yet the large cities here do much to set the tone for our culture. Balance. One reason we love our state fair is that Minnesotans can take delight in llamas and artistic accomplishments. Our fair is excellent and loved partly because it continues to appeal strongly to our rural roots and our more complicated present.

      It is easy to meet a Minnesotan who is a success in business or the arts or politics who also has a cabin up north and strong ties to some lake. They love both a social world and the natural world. I know that isn’t totally unique, but such balance would be rare in many states.

      Or do you disagree?

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      1. I love it that at the SF a huge attraction is the highly competitive Fine Arts Show. At the State Fair! And the Artists feel it is a huge win just to have a pie e displayed there.

        By the way, Hans. Congrats for getting in!

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        1. Thanks, Jacque. His malaise of yesterday turns out not to have been SF related, or at least not SF food related; he has caught the crud. Staying away from him today.

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      2. I guess that being balanced is in the mix and then there are those who that are at least a little unbalance that will tell you that you are off balance. One of them said I was leaning so to the left that I was in danger of falling on my face.

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  5. I am also not a native so have thought of this a lot and have a list. Still, I am a little uncomfortable with the discussion because it usually excludes the experience of many Minnesotans (people of color, new immigrants), but I have faith that the trail denizens will be sensitive.
    When I first moved here I was struck by the sameness of shared experience and saw it as limiting. I remember saying, “Everyone is named Johnson, sings in the church choir, and has dinner with their mother-in-law every week.” I rolled my eyes when in response to my list a co-worker said,”Not true. My name is Nelson, I dropped out of choir after Christmas, and haven’t been to my in-laws for dinner in 2 weeks.” Over time I have come to appreciate the value of the shared experience.

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    1. Good point, B-A. Of course, Minnesota remains one of the whitest states in the union. But I treasure the memory of a steamy hot afternoon several years ago. I took my dog for a long walk in the area sometimes called the “Minnehaha Gorge,” which is the land along Minnehaha Creek below the big falls. I encountered a strange and wonderful mix of people sporting about in the creek to escape the heat, and it took a moment to realize what I was seeing. There were Hispanics, African-Americans, Southeast Asians and whites in almost equal numbers. Everyone was grinning and thrilling to the escape from summer’s oppressive heat. I suddenly wished the whole world could see this picture of a multi-ethnic gathering. It was (if you can imagine this) a sort of perfect Norman Rockwell portrait of modern America. I wouldn’t argue that that scene was “typical” of Minnesota culture, but I’m inclined to think it was more possible here than in many places.

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    2. Yes, BA, I think there should be more acceptance of people of color and recent immigants. I thought the small town where I live was so unfriendly to people of color that they wouldn’t even want to live here. I was surprised when a few black families moved here and apparently didn’t find the town too unfriendly.

      Many years ago a catholic family was discouraged from buying a house here. Several years ago a family from Czechoslovakia tried to open a restaurant here that served very good food, but got no support from people in the town. Many of the town’s people had relatives that were immigrants from Denmark, but they couldn’t identify with those recent immigrants from Czechoslovakia.

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      1. a friend who moved to atlanta said in georgia they hate all the minorities and find exceptions who they can respect in minnesota we love all the minorities and find exceptions we have a problem with. i kinda like that.

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  6. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    And then there’s the accent, you betcha. A rarely encountered relative from Oklahoma looked around at the Iowa RELLIES and stated that she thought their speech patterns sounded pretty “normal” to her ear.

    “But you,” she stated pointing at me, ” you talk really funny now.”

    I felt so proud.

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    1. After I had been in Minnesota a few years, I got a phone call from Earl Armstrong, the old watchmaker I had worked for in Cheyenne when I first arrived in the U.S. “You sound like a Minnesotan now,” he told me; apparently I no longer spoke like people in Cheyenne. Have no idea what regional influences had infiltrated my Danish accent.

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    2. I remember the first time someone from outside Minnesota knew where I was from. We were in Colorado and I ordered toast for breakfast at the little restaurant where we had stopped. The waitress said “you must be from Minnesota”. I remember being very happy at that point that I had absorbed enough of the state accent to be mistaken as a native!

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    3. Some of the people in Indiana have a very distinctive accent. I lived there long enough to be able to identify it, but I can’t speak with that accent and I wish I could. It’s not at all like the one here in Minnesota. Andy Griffith is close. The old TV personality, Herb Shriner, used this accent.

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  7. i was born in north dakota but it was fargo just across the bridge from minnesota and moved to minnesota when i was one. brainerd til 3 then blomington population 13,000 complete with cornfield across the street. the people i met in bloomington were the people of erma bombecks suburban wasteland. lots of folks who came into a house and the american dream in the big city of minneapolis. minnesota is the land of minnesota nice and it is also the land of minnesota but the new guy syndrome is firmly in place too. i moved ito my house 8 years ago and i am still the new neighbor, the house i moved into in 1975 and lived in until 2000 had me living in the dentists house. i traveled around a bit and found that other places do it a little differently than here. it is nice to have a neighbor ike steves with the shovel but it is also difficult to believe that in this land of mn nice 52% vote yes to the marrage amendnment and only 37% think no is the correct response. we have a bunch of people who get it and stnad up to be heard and we have a silent majority who hide behind closed doors and use christian values as a weapon rather than a link. we know the bible thumpers in georgia do it and we in minnesota do it in a minnesota nice way, very quietly. i almost lived in minneapolis a few years ago but ended up moving out to the burbs again and i am amazed at the reasonable people who drink the conservative kool aid and then dont want to talk about it.

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    1. We certainly have some of those conservative kool aid drinkers in Southern Minnesota, and also some heavy drinking conservatives as well as a surprising number of liberals and a few people now referred to as left wing. It seems that anyone slightly to the left of the middle, or even right in the middle, is considered by many people to be left wing these days.

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      1. My aunt, who lives in the northern half of the state, sometimes jokes about being one of only a handful liberals in her part of out-state MN. She’s married to one of the others and has ferreted out a few more. The Vote No folks have gotten a few more out of the woodwork.

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        1. When we recently visited some friends in their cabin on Ely Lake, we saw our first Vote Yes signs as we approached Sparta.

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    2. Very well said, tim. I think small rural towns can be especially conservative. They’re friendly to a newcomer’s face but can be downright venomous about racial differences, and they turn their backs on people who don’t quite fit the typical rural Minnesota mold. People here are voting “Yes” to the marriage amendment and voter ID. They’re strong Mike Parry supporters.

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  8. As we all know, you can’t find Lake Wobegon on a state map, and we all know why. I think true Minnesotans are like that, hard to find and perhaps even harder to get to know. Most Minnesotans that I know aren’t from here, and the few that are, I’m not so sure are typical of the place. I have lived in Minnesota since 1972, longer than I have lived any other place, and yet I don’t think of myself as a typical Minnesotan. Whenever we’ve had visitors from Denmark, I have always warned them to be careful when generalizing about America. Your impression of America would be vastly different if you visited, say L.A. or N.Y., or Atlanta or Seattle.

    Perhaps Beth-Ann is on to something when she observes a “sameness of shared experience.” I’d add to that, similar values. I’ve read that a lot of people who have been transferred here by the corporations they work for, often stay and don’t want be transferred again. Of course, a lot of us tend to think of the Twin Cities as Minnesota, but I think Jim is right, that people from other areas of the state can be quite different. People on the Iron Range, though friendly and welcoming on the surface, tend to view people from the Cities as interlopers that they’re glad to be rid of at the end of cabin season.

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    1. I knew a guy who was a recent immigrant from Denmark. He told me, in a sarcastic tone, that Danes are known to be happy people, but the happy ones stayed in Denmark and the sour ones, like him, were the ones that left to come to this country. I always enjoyed visiting with that guy even if he was a little on the sour side.

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    2. I spent my first summer after college working for a theater in Grand Marais – and although I was accepted as “not a weekender” by mid-July, I never got past the “one step up from a tourist” with most of the folks I interacted with that summer. Lovely place, nice folk, but definitely have that Minnesotan, “you’re not from around here” thing going…never mind that large numbers of the town are transplants (or were then – though my view may have been skewed by the number of artists and former hippies I met working for the theater).

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      1. i find that true in all tourist spots. real life as it should be is so far removed form the tourist season that they are a little resentful tht the good time of the year is infringed on by the fudgies or t shrit shop groupees.i get that. the iron rangers live in a bleak slow world where yuppies come in cadalac suvs to buy expensive beer and laugh at the locals. it is a weird existance. the canadian rockise were a great spot in the off season. slow beautiful neighborly, in the summer it was whacked out plain and simple. people in san fransisco or nyc get used to people visiting 24/7. in the outskirts they think their world is real until we get there then they become vignettes they may be right to be resentful but it is todays reality.

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        1. I confess to bearing a strong resemblance to that remark, tim. I can’t wait for the mighty bullhead hunters to go home and quit clogging up Waterville’s streets with their Sherpa-sized trucks and boat trailers.

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  9. I have lived in ND now for 25 years, but still consider myself a Minnesotan by virtue of birth and culture. I identify strongly with small town, rural, southwest Minnesota, not the Cities or the lake district. It has been really hard to get back over the years due to work and family commitments, and I’m lucky if I have time to cross the Red River into Moorhead even when I visit Fargo. For some reason and without any conscious influence or encouragement from me, my daughter is returning to her roots and will wants to go to college in Minnesota. When people ask her what criteria she is using to choose a college, she says, with true adolescent logic, that the weather is playing a large part in her decision. She wants to go somewhere where there is lots of snow. She doesn’t ski or participate in any winter sports. She just wants to be able to hunker down in a warm dorm room with six foot drifts outside. At this point, the University of MN in Duluth is looking pretty good to her. The next several months should be pretty interesting around here as she applies to colleges we see how it all shakes out.

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      1. Daughter has made some rather startling pronouncements regarding college lately. She doesn’t want to go to college in a town much larger than Fargo. so all the colleges in the Twin Cities are ruled out. She doesn’t want to go to college in Fargo since too many people from here go to college there. She doesn’t want to go to Concordia since it is too close to Fargo, and besides, her brother and I went there. She will go to St Olaf just to spite me and her brother. She doesn’t want to go too far away from home. She wants to be within a half day’s drive of best friend, but doesn’t want to go to college where best friend goes (she goes to college in Fargo). Since she is 6’1″, she wants to go somewhere where the boys are taller than they are in western North Dakota. She wants to go somewhere with good music and history departments as well as a good cafeteria. I have to keep my mouth shut about what I think, since she will automatically rule out any thing I suggest.

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        1. If it makes you feel any better, all of the Teenager’s pronouncements about college have now gone out the window since we started visiting schools over the summer. From “I want to go to school in a big city” she’s now in a place in which her first choice is the smallest town we visited (Fort Collins – 144,000)!

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        2. I tried to look up the states with the tallest men. Surprisingly, that information doesn’t seem to have been collected. In my experience, the tallest men live in rural areas, not cities. In my travels, I’ve seen more tall men in Montana than anywhere else. My Montana friend Larry is 6’1″, and he calls himself “the runt of the litter” in most groups he is in.

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        3. This does seem to be a lock for St. Olaf. So why don’t you surprise her and strongly suggest she become an Ole, or just get her an Um Ya Ya t-shirt? A little enthusiasm from you may be the only thing that can turn her away from it now!

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        4. I know it’s not in Minnesota, but has she thought about Luther in Iowa??? The music department is wonderful and other departments are good too. Although, I suppose it’s not half a day from Fargo. Decorah is a lovely small town with remarkable bluffs, and you get to drive through Amish country on the way down. I miss the drive down 52 and the campus at Luther since my daughters graduated (but I really haven’t got any other reason to go there). It’s a lot like St. Olaf but also different, if when you visit she doesn’t think St. Olaf is quite right.

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        5. Oh, I would also love for her to go to Luther. I have to find a way to suggest it so that she won’t suspect it is something I want, because then she feels that she isn’t making up her own mind.

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        6. If all of you were talking to her, I think she would listen. I just have to be neutral around her, and give vital information with a vague demeanor. Icily regular, splendidly null

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        7. Renee – is it just that all teenager daughers are cut from the same cloth or what? This is exactly how I’ve been all summer. It’s been hard hard work to keep that neutral voice going and trying not to push one way or the other!

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        8. Sherrilee, I think it is just part of the struggle for independence. I will be glad when she figures out she’s won that struggle.

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        9. It doesn’t help that I remember this part of my life quiet clearly – so having lived through it, I’m trying to not do what my parents did, which was to continually lecture me about what they thought I should do. The end result of this was that I only applied to one college, stuffed the other application forms in my drawer and didn’t tell me folks at all until it was way too late.

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        10. My first daughter went to Luther and loved it, so my second daughter was NOT going to go there. But we visited enough other places (to show that we were impartial!) that she decided Luther was okay. I think maybe Morris would have been her second choice, but with the way scholarships and stuff work, Morris was about equally expensive, and Luther was farther from home. So Luther it was.

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      2. We have a preponderance of people of Czech and German Russian heritage, and most are pretty short compared to the people of German/Norwegian/Dutch heritage I grew up with in Minnesota and the men she sees in our family. Daughter is taller than most of the boys in her class. She might fit in with Montanans for more reasons than height. The other day she also made the startling pronouncements that someday she wanted to get a really big pickup to drive, and she was starting to appreciate country western music. She’s starting to worry me.

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        1. i was thinking texas before you mentioned pick ups. then trucks locked. great arts schools lots of oil money for the arts rice may be worth looking at but she has to be good. shes not 1/2 day away from fargo but that may be a good thing (im from fargo so i can say that) morris is great olafs is great (as is northfield) tall fiddle players are big hits in texas for what thats worth. everythings bigger in texas (incuding suvs) bozeman and missoula are great schools dont know about music but if she wants to go into rodeo montana is the only school in the country that offers a degree in that.

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  10. Morning–
    I worked with a theater manager that was originally from NY and had lived in several different states before MN. He once placed an add for auditions and said something to the effect of “Don’t audition if you’re not serious; don’t waste our time”. I heard from a couple people that were offended by that– as was I.
    And I told him, ‘you just can’t say that’. He didn’t understand why. It all came down to, ‘This is Minnesota; you can’t say that. Yes, you can think it and wish it, but you don’t SAY it!’ Oh, for gosh sakes, You have to come at it in a more round about way, don’t ya know? It would be something to come right out like that. Oooh, yeah then. That’s different.

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    1. Heh – I ran into a similar problem with Husband and an email we received from school…sure, the PTA could ask for what they were asking, but shouldn’t have asked as baldly as they did as it was sure to ruffle some feathers (including Husband’s). Got Husband to admit that it wasn’t the request but how it was asked that bothered him, that helped calm him down a bit…sort of.

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  11. I think Minnesota is deeply democratic (small d) in ways that we might not immediately perceive. In a great many states, people with great wealth are geographically separated from the rest of society. That isn’t common here, although I worry about trends. MN has an incredible tradition of public ownership of prize land. In a great many states, the city lakes that are the jewels in the crown for Minneapolis would all be privately owned and fenced off from the public. Instead Minneapolis city lakes have lovely homes that sit right beside modest homes, and the public has full rights to job or rollerblade around the whole thing. There is an exclusive area in Wayzata along Lake Minnetonka called Highcroft, and it is exclusive. But it is interesting partly because it is so rare here. The wealthy in Minnesota mostly live where (or near) average Minnesotans live. Our lakes are almost all public. The state has vast public land holdings.

    And if that is true, I think it has an effect on our attitudes toward many things. The rich and powerful in America tend to get things their way . . . but less so here than in many places. I think that is a critical element in that precious sense that “we are all in this together,” which is a stronger ethic in Minnesota than anywhere I know. The effect can be subtle, but I’d argue that Minnesotans are inclined to expect more of government than folks in other states.

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    1. I think you’re right about that sense of “the common good” – it comes out of a couple of sources, I think: a very small d democratic history played out in Theodore Wirth’s layout for our parks and the notion that these are resources for all, not just a few (thank you Mr. Wirth!); a Scandinavian Lutheran sensibility that says you shouldn’t boast, brag or put on airs as that is prideful, and pride is the largest of the sins, perhaps The Cardinal Sin in large parts of Minnesota steeped in the old Lutheran culture; and frankly, it’s cold – deadly cold – you tick off your neighbors, you might not live to see April (at least in the old days before central heating and snow blowers), so getting along with everyone was simply a smart survival skill.

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    2. If today’s lake shore property owners had their way, Steve, our lakes would be permanently closed to public access. DNR just won a lawsuit brought by a lake association in southwest Metro saying that the DNR failed to keep invasive species out of “their” lake. Our lakes belong to ALL of us, not just those wealthy enough to afford to live on one. This is a fundamental value we Minnesotans hold regarding our natural heritage. It looks we’ll have to continue to fight the battle now, as the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us grows.

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      1. That, Krista, is part of what I meant about worrying about “trends.” I think we can lose a lot of what we have. There is today more willingness to do what’s right for one’s self and less concern about how it impacts others (I’m thinking of docks that now extend WAY into the lake and have all kinds of extensions).

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  12. i think the rich figured out they need to suck in the rich wannabes to stay strong in numbers so they provide a smoke and mirrors program. hubert humphries minnesota was all for what is right, and right was about people not wallets and not tea party christians. i miss the days when people were ignorant and soulful now we are smart and cold and hard

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  13. I’m a transplant too, been here for 35 years now! It didn’t take long for me to feel like a Minnesotan, but largely because I grew up in Iowa, which I consider to be Minnesota without Lakes. (Well, bless them for at least having Spirit Lake, Donna, but it’s barely into Iowa.) I think it’s largely true what Steve says about Minnesota lakes – at least in the Twin Cities – being mainly public property.

    Will think more about this as we travel north for a couple of days to help our wonderful neighbor move to his new place (sniff). Be back Thursday, baboons.

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  14. I’m a native Minnesotan – born in Minneapolis while my dad was finishing dental school. We moved to Owatonna when I was three, then to Cannon Lake. I’ve lived in out-state Minnesota all my life. I have doubt about ‘Minnesota Nice’ out here. I really think we love to describe ourselves that way, but it may not be sincere in a lot of ways. I think people are nice to those who are just like them – people who make them feel comfortable about themselves – people with identical values. If you look at someone and it’s just like looking into a mirror, you’re nice to them. If they’re not the same, though, the iciness can be alarming.

    There are few single female homeowners around here. People assume I’m gay or insane. Politically, almost everybody is Republican. I have a union lawn sign and an Obama-Biden sign in a window. People have asked me why! My neighborhood is not a friendly place, although I think I’ve tried. People will say hi to me now, but it wasn’t the case for many years. I wasn’t from here. I was from 15 miles away. People actually said, “You’re not from here, are you?” When I said I was from Faribault, they just said, “Oh,” but didn’t want to talk to me anymore. It has gotten easier because I’ve been here for13 years now, but I still live with some stigmatization and labels: single woman, DNR employee, not from Waterville, etc.

    So, I sit here in Minnesota’s navel, and I wonder if we tell ourselves the truth about our Minnesota culture.

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    1. I think most of us want to fit in, feel like we belong, so I can imagine, Krista, how uncomfortable your situation must be.

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      1. It’s not so bad anymore. I enjoy my solitude anyway. When I first came here, I found people to be very unfriendly and it upset me. I still think they’re unfriendly at times, but it’s gotten better. I think they really need to pigeon-hole a person before they feel safe talking to them. They use the word “different” to describe people like me who don’t quite fit the mold. “Oh, he (or she) is different…” I’d be happier in a town like Northfield where differences are embraced and open civic conversations are the norm.

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    2. I grew up in Owatonna and never felt like I belonged. I had friends, but I never felt all that close to them. Most of them had parents whose parents were born and raised there, and so on. I left for college in MI and only go back to see my parents. Minnesota nice does not exist in Owatonna. We always joke that we know we’re not in Owatonna when the checkout people talk to you ;)

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      1. Hey, thanks Alanna. It’s always good to hear from you.

        I went to grade school in Owatonna. I went to Roosevelt Elementary through 6th grade. By then we were actually living at our Cannon Lake home and driving back to Owatonna daily for school and dad’s work. My parents were Owatonna Country Club socialites. The pressure to perform socially was visible in the clenching of my mom’s jaw and the constant reminder that children were to be seen and not heard. I think I barely survived grade school there – it was hell, I was miserable and, being a child, I assumed I was truly a misfit and would never be popular. I had only two friends and only one of them was in my grade. I remember playing apart from the daughters of my parents’ friends because they would kick me if I tried to tag along. I was so anxious about going to school every day that my mom took me to the doctor and had me started on some little blue tablets to relax me. Wish I knew what they were, but it was the time of “mother’s little helper,” so I can only assume that they were Valium. I started 7th grade in Faribault Jr. High and I was terrified, but it went well and I adjusted. The move was good for me, less so for my parents’ uptight social life.

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  15. Had a boyfriend when living in Bay Area California who said he liked my solid mid-western-ness. (He was from Washington state.) Part of that was an independence – I could sew, and fix things by myself – and part was the “work ethic”: I could hold down a job! This was 1971, so he’d apparently had some hippie types for girlfriends previously who didn’t. But hey – you’ve gotta survive…

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  16. I am also a Minnesota native, but have lived in the Mpls/St. Paul pretty much the whole time (except 3 months in Grand Marais). I do have Norwegian Bachelor Farmers in the family history, and there are plenty of jell-o and hot dish wielding Lutheran Church Basement Women in that same family history. Having grown up in “the cities,” I’m sure my Minnesota is/was different than it would have been had I grown up out-state. It was pretty homogeneous in my neighborhood – mostly white folk who tended to vote DFL, but a mix of folks working in trades, professional, stay-at-home moms and working moms. The neighborhood hasn’t changed too much in that respect. It becomes easy to forget, sometimes, that the rest of the state is not blanketed in Vote No signs like my neighborhood, and the luxury of having 2 orchestras, an opera company, several museums (including a cool, hands-on science/engineering one Daughter likes to go to), and more theater than you can shake a stick at doesn’t happen everywhere. (I get equal culture shock from heading to NYC and not seeing trees or green space outside of parks as I do on the drive north to Brainerd when I start seeing the increasingly frequent MCCL billboards along the highway long about Little Falls/St Cloud.)

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  17. My erstwife and I had an interesting lesson in regional culture when we met Donna, a very bright Italian-American woman from the Boston area. She had a PhD from Harvard. We would get into messy conversations with Donna until I figured out what was wrong. Donna was always complaining about things. She had conflicts with students, with co-workers, with gays in the Music Department, with Straights in the Music Department . . . and on and on. Every time we saw her she was throwing herself around, wailing about some new problem. Where things got sticky was when my wife and I would propose solutions to Donna’s problems. That was the LAST thing she wanted to hear. We had a simple-minded, optimistic Middlewestern approach to life’s problems. You figure out what is wrong and you fix it. Donna had no interest in fixing anything, and she wasn’t really so very unhappy in the first place. It was just part of her culture to squawk and vent and whine all the time. At bottom, she was more pessimistic than we were. She expected people and institutions to be unreasonable, and that was actually okay with her. We kept thinking that if you have a problem, you fix it, and that spelled the end of the friendship. I can’t imagine how she complained about us to her friends back in Boston!

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  18. Nobody has picked up on that observation (just above) about Midwestern optimism and a sort of culture of complaint in our Northeastern friend. I have a friend in New Jersey who sometimes thinks my stories about Minnesota are fairytales, especially stories about Minnesota politics and government. When I told her I was late renewing my license tabs, she wondered what the fine would be for that. She had trouble believing me that there would be no fine. In New Jersey, she would pay a stiff fine for being late and might have to fight with some unpleasant bureaucrat. Her expectation–based on a lifetime living there–is that contacts with government will be nasty, hostile and expensive. I’m no Pollyanna, but I routinely find that when I deal with government workers like the folks at the auto license place, they make a big effort to be courteous and helpful.

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    1. I suppose I complain too much to be considered to be a typical optimistic Minnesotan. I think I am optimistic because I believe things can change for the better. People may be a little more optimistic and nice in minnesota, but there are plenty of problems here and the people and situations here are really not much different from other places.

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  19. What a wonderful blog, Steve!
    I agree government is almost always courteous and helpful in Minnesota, and I know that isn’t always true everywhere else.
    I have almost always lived in Minnesota, starting in a rural area near Lake Elmo (well, it was rural then) with a fantastic bookmobile community. The radical moms at my bookmobile stop encouraged my mom to run for schoolboard when there were no women on the board, and another of the moms became the first woman associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. That was a pretty cool rural area!
    Then I went east to college. That was a shock in a lot of ways – the size of the towns, the obvious blighted slum areas, the patterns of speech and accents. Perhaps because of a “Minnesota nice” attitude, all that never bothered me as much as it maybe should have, even when I was tutoring in a pretty horrible area. Is that a side effect of a Minnesota upbringing, that sometimes we just don’t realize how bad some things really are?
    When I came back to Minnesota after graduation and later got married, my husband and I ended up living near a small town that was originally about half Czech and half Polish. Our children were both told at some point that they weren’t really “from around here” because they didn’t have any relatives in the area. (And really, you can’t talk about anyone in the area behind their back, because it will turn out you are talking to their second cousin or something!) On the other hand, for a long time now we have been almost like family to one neighbor couple who didn’t let any of that bother them.

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    1. This is so weird, Vicky…I used to live next door (in rural Lake Elmo) to that woman who later became the first associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

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        1. ha, ha, very funny, tim. I lived next door to her when I was quite young – just a kid. Long before I got put in the “big house” and long before she was an associate justice on the MN supreme court.

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      1. Wow, Edith! We actually were about mile away over on Lake Elmo Road. The bookmobile stopped at or pretty close to her house. Did you go to the bookmobile, too?

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        1. Yes, I did. The bookmobile stopped in our driveway. I don’t have a lot of memory about it, but I emailed my mom about this. She said the bookmobile came maybe every couple weeks, not every week. In the summertime, she said, the kids not only got some books, but ran and played, the librarians got fresh cookies, and the moms visited before and after.

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        2. Hmmm…. How old were you? I don’t remember everybody, but some people. I was the oldest Lundquist kid and I graduated from HS in 1966.

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        3. Vicky – should we continue this conversation by email? I think I remember the Lundquists – did you have horses? If so, then you probably had a younger sister that was my age. You can email me at edith210[at]gmail[dot]com (My mom told me in a later email that you were the oldest Lundquist kid and that she had seen you in downtown Minneapolis about 20 years ago!)

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      1. Me, too! It’s a good thing. What other job do you totally quit doing for several months and then start over again without some sort of warm-up period?

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  20. one interesting difference is my friend from fleet farm said their stores in minnesota are different from wisconsin stores in that wisconsin farmers go to the store and get stuff they need to buy during the day and go home to do the work. in minnesota they buy it early or late or more likely on weekends and do not interrupt their work day with shopping. thought it was quirky at first then just accepted that the difference is real. what the heck is that all about?

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    1. Don’t a lot of people who aren’t farmers also shop at fleet farm? So they would need to go before or after work…

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