Friday, January 04, 2008

A Retard's Progress: Minnesota Nice

Frank Guzzetta, the CEO of Macy's North (one of the department store giant's four or five regional divisions) was recently interviewed by Minneapolis' Downtown Journal. The East Coast native talked about the Twin Cities, downtown, and Macy's, but his reponse to Terry Thompson's question about the infamous "Minnesota Nice" phenomenon stood out:
[Thompson:] Can you say anything nice about Minnesota Nice?

[Guzzetta:] Not off hand. It’s tough to deal with it. It’s inefficient and retards progress.
So what is "Minnesota Nice" anyway?

"Minnesota nice is the stereotypical behavior of Minnesota residents to provide hospitality and courtesy to others. The term is also sometimes used in a derogatory way, to connote a sort of smiling stubbornness, forced politeness, false humility or passive hostility."
Minnesotans are stereotypically passive aggressive. They brood about things and assume others detect their discomfort, anger, and need for either solitude or company. They expect you to read their minds because they are trying to read yours, looking for the tiny clues to your true feelings. Road rage in Minnesota will occur with much less provocation than in New York or Los Angeles. Manners and folksiness stand in for honesty and candor.

Wikipedia again:
"Sometimes area residents who move away, or otherwise come in contact with others who don't subscribe to the ideal, say that they have to shed their "Minnesota nice" in order to interact properly with others or get out of troublesome situations."
One post in the online Urban Dictionary defines "Minnesota Nice" as a synonym of "Backstabbing":
"Being from the area, I know it REALLY means that a Minnesotan won't slam you to your face - they do it behind your back so as to APPEAR nice."
On a web forum thread about the subject, a woman who moved to Minnesota from Pittsburgh said:
"Nice to your face and then talk about you as soon as you walk away. Nice on the surface but no true interest in you or getting to really be friends."
I've heard that a lot. She continues:
"People here think that MN is the greatest place on Earth. Best schools, land etc. It's really ashame [sic] that people can't see themselves for what they are. They have such a bad opinion of East Coast folks and most have no first hand experience knowing any."
The Twin Cities are very provincial. Sure, there's a lot to be proud of -- corporate headquarters for Target, 3M, Best Buy, Aveda, and General Mills; three Tony award-winning local theater companies in the Guthrie, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and the Children's Theater; major professional sports teams in hockey, baseball, football, and basketball; the biggest mall in the country; etc. -- but watch the looks on Minnesotans' faces when a loud New Yorker or Angelino walks into a room. I've made that face myself: it means Who the hell do you think you are?

Part of it, many say, is that Minnesotans are insular. They have little time for new friends. They aren't distrustful, just uninterested.

It could be the cold. Or the Scandinavian and German ancestry. I like to think that here in New York, I'm getting beyond it, but who knows?

[Thanks for the tip, Mr. Christopher.]


Blogger k said...

Culture is pervasive; a tar that binds people together. It also holds a person's notion of how to socialize. It usually works and allows a person to live their life and have some standards.
You are so Minnesotan!
Even if New York allows you to temper your upbringing, it will always be with you and you will always appreciate the sense of place it gives you - Especially in contrast to the place you have chosen to live.
Maybe you can't go home again, but home won't let you go.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Screaming Annie said...

Fuck that shit. MN nice is a product of MN nice middle class. Not a lot of MN nice iron range, or MN nice Rice Street, or MN nice Chi-Lake. I think that MN nice is insular, cold, and disinterested. But it is god's country. And I do call it home.

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Holy s***, Our Hero saying something negative about Minnesota? Say it ain't so!

New York has its own problems, generally housed under the heading New York Attitude, a.k.a. What are you lookin' at? And outsiders adapt to that in the same way new Minnesotans deal with the niceness. When I moved here 2 1/2 years ago, fresh from the Midwest, I found myself standing outside stores for a good five minutes, holding the door for complete strangers who didn't make eye contact or say thank you. When I started working at a corporation, I had to train myself not to call the executives Mr. and Ms. I've gotten better at blending in, although I still think I'm more polite than a lot of people around here. I was at MoMA this weekend, though, waiting in line in the gift store (sorry, Design and Book Store), and I found myself brushing past a family who were inside the velvet ropes but were looking at a display of knicknacks designed to tempt impulse buyers. When they turned toward the front again, one of the little girls pointed me out to her mother, who replied "Yes...that seems to happen a lot here." I felt a twinge, but justified my behavior to myself as part of New York culture. Thinking back on it, though, I think I was taking revenge on the guy who'd tried to cut in front of me in the ticket line.

8:12 PM  

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