I am currently living in Charlotte, NC. My wife has a new job here, and I’m using a Spring 2013 release from teaching to work on research projects here before moving to Wisconsin in July to start my new position as a dean. I have been travelling to Minnesota at least once a month to meet with research collaborators and attend meetings for service obligations. On the April 10-12, 2013 trip a neighbor who knew about my Minneapolis-Charlotte dual household arrangement told me about a letter to the editor in the Minneapolis StarTribune, “Minnesota Not So Nice,” in which a recent transplant from Atlanta, GA (my home town!) concludes:
“Minnesota Polite?” Sure.
“Minnesota Reserved?” Definitely.
“Minnesota Standoffish?” Absolutely.
“Minnesota Nice?” Yeah, not so much.
Earlier in the piece the author notes, “I moved up here a year ago from Atlanta, where having a 20-minute conversation with strangers in line at the grocery store, waving at cars driving down your street and making newcomers feel welcome is an everyday occurrence.” He goes on to provide examples of “Minnesota Nice,” where Minnesotans are courteous but reserved, and slow to open up to newcomers.
My family moved to Atlanta from Raleigh, NC when I was two years old, and I lived there until I graduated from college (Georgia Tech) in 1990. From 1990 until 2012 I lived in the Midwest, in Indiana and Minnesota. Since my return to the South in December, 2012 I have discovered just how much of a Minnesotan I have become in 13 years (I moved there in August, 1999). I don’t like it when strangers come up to me in Charlotte stores to chat (for example, an older African American woman once stopped me in a Target: “Where are you from? You look like my godson! What’s your name?”), and when I go to the dry cleaners I pray that I get the surly but efficient cashier, and not the chatty guy who forgets to give me my receipt. The surly one must be from the Midwest.
Of course, “Minnesota Nice” can be used as a stereotype when it goes beyond existing evidence, but there are indeed regional cultural differences that one quickly discovers, as has the writer of the letter to the editor. Learning the nuances of these differences can ease a transition to a new environment. I’m looking forward to going back to the Midwest, and discovering unique aspects of life in Wisconsin. Maybe there is a “Wisconsin Nice”?