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Minnesota nice

I live in Iowa. To the north of Iowa is a land of frozen tundra, filled with more than 10,000 ice-covered lakes, lakes for which a once-great basketball team was named [1]. Most people call it Minnesota [3]. It’s a state from which many wonderful people I know come, including a class mentor, a colleague, and an old family friend [4]. We have a number of awesome alums who currently reside there. I believe it is also the one state in the country where people equate geese and grey ducks [5]. In any case, it is a great state.

Nonetheless, I was taken aback when I read the following in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated [6].

Even with their quiet pessimism, Minnesotans are nevertheless renowned for being convivial—Minnesota Nice, it’s called, a friendliness to strangers that is genuine. [7]

I bet you’re confused, too.

I know lots of people who use the term Minnesota Nice, many of whom are Minnesotans. I’ve never heard any of them use the term in that way. So I took a quick survey of Minnesotans.

One said, It means passive aggressive.

Another said, Minnesota nice is when someone waves you on at a stop sign, smiles, and curses you silently.

Driving comes up a lot. I think my favorite was Minnesota nice is when someone cuts you off on the highway and then smiles and waves to thank you for letting them in.

But no one seems to think that it means a friendliness to strangers that is genuine.

I don’t mean to say that the people from Minnesota I know aren’t spectacularly nice. My colleague certainly is [8], as are most of the students I know from Minnesota [9]. But the term Minnesota nice is not coined for them.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Iowa nice, which is similar. One person not from here described it as They will smile and be friendly to your face, but you know that they’d knock you down if given the opportunity. [10]

I understand that I am fortunate enough to encounter Minnesota nice and Iowa nice as a member of a majority group. I’ve heard that neither applies in the same way to people who present otherwise.

Here’s to midwest nice!

Postscript: Michelle notes that she’s from Chicago and I’m from the Boston area. Both are places where you tell people what you think of them. So maybe we don’t get nice. But I consider it nice to be honest.

Postscript: Speaking of honesty, I must admit that one Minnesotan indicated that although Minnesota nice has traditionally been used to describe the form of surface niceness I indicate in this essay, enough people from away [11] have taken it to mean genuine niceness.

[1] That’s the Minneapolis Lakers, in case you were wondering. I’m still not sure how California has a team named after lakes. At some point, I realized that people we just misspelling the name. They are clearly the L.A. Curs [2].

[2] As a fan of Russell-era Celtics, it is difficult for me to think of the LA team as other than mangy mutts.

[3] Some people may refer to it as Mean-a-snow-ta or mini soda.

[4] The old family friend used to keep the old Rebelsky family supplied with wild rice.

[5] The game that many of us play, known as Duck Duck Goose is called Duck Duck Grey Duck in that state.

[6] I’ve not quite figured out why, but I enjoy reading Sports Illustrated even though I don’t watch most professional or amateur sports.

[7] Rushin, Steven. Snow and Nice. Sports Illustrated. January 29, 2018. pp. 48–52. Quotation found on p. 51, column 1.

[8] I’ve never thought that he’s silently cursing me every time he says something nice. I doubt he is.

[9] I can’t think of any students from Minnesota I don’t think of as nice, but I’d prefer to stay with most of.

[10] My wife claims that she has always been told that Iowa nice is intended to mean a real nice; We don’t want to say anything mean about you. I think that still means We think mean things about you; we just don’t say them.

[11] My term, not theirs.

Version 1.0 of 2018-02-07.