Friday, September 18, 2009

Out Of The Old, Into The New

Maybe that title is a bit misleading.

The "old" I'm talking about is only the previous 12 months here in my new home city of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The "new" is the apartment, and neighborhood I've just moved into.

One year ago, I left my lifelong home of Buffalo, NY to come to the Upper Midwest on the promise of new work, and a different life. A chance to "settle down" as it were. The idea of living and working in the Upper Midwest, maybe even starting a family here appealed to me. I'd had the opportunity to travel here quite a few times over the previous three or four years, and as it happened, I LIKED it here. It was new, different, and safe. The opportunities available here at the time seemed numerous, and lucrative.

I had a PLAN.

Well, as we all come to realize, the best-laid plans often go awry.

I knew from my first trip out here in September, 2006 that I was going to be somewhat of a fish out of water. I had intended to spend my first year or so living and working in the beautiful Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, and then making the jump to a small town called Granite Falls, located in rural Yellow Medicine County, approximately two and one-half hours to the Southwest. Being from densely populated Western New York, the social and cultural differences of the even MORE densely populated Twin Cities were a constant source of surprise, multiplied by a factor of ten in Granite Falls (pop. 3070).

The first (and most obvious) difference I noticed was behind the wheel. In New York (and everyplace else I've had the pleasure of living, on ramps and exit ramps for major highways are conveniently located on the right side, with your passing lanes on the left. One can only imagine my surprise and dismay when I first noticed that in some instances, exit ramps can be found on the LEFT side of the highway in your direction of travel. It made for some interesting moments at 70mph when my GPS told me I was approaching my exit, only to realize that it was three or four traffic-packed lanes to my left.

These instances were made more challenging when I learned that:

1. The driving skills of most Minnesotans are on par with a 12 year-old using the bumper cars in an amusement park.

2. Merging into traffic is a skill NOT taught in any professional driving school or high school Driver's Education course statewide.

3. When the average Minnesota driver decides to merge, they do so without looking to see if there is room for them to merge.

4. The average Minnesota driver is either unable to hear, or immune to the sounds of car horns, screeching tires, and the string of curses coming from a car occupied by someone from New York.

5. The average Minnesota driver is also unable to see the car they just nearly ran off the road, as is evidenced by their refusal to make eye contact with the crazy New Yorker they just cut off, who has pulled into the lane next to them and is now turning the air between the two cars blue with a combination of profanity, questions as to the level of their sanity, and suggestions that their closest ancestors were still at a level of evolution less advanced than Neanderthal Man.

It didn't take long for me to realize that differences between drivers were not handled the same way in Minnesota as we do in New York. Here, there is no exchange of:

Driver 1: "You cut me off asshole!"

Driver 2: "You're not paying attention shithead!"

Driver 1: "Douchebag!!"

Driver 2: "Cocksucker!!"

Driver 1: "Fuck you!!!"

Driver 2: "No, fuck YOU!!!"

Followed by an exchange of one-fingered salutes of course, at which point we continue on to our respective destinations.

Of course, being New Yorkers, especially from the Buffalo area, at some point, we'll cross paths with each other in one of that cities thousands of watering holes, recognize one another from the road incident, and spend the evening buying each other drinks while we bitch about "all those fucking idiots on the road", eventually blaming our confrontation on either "the numbnuts in front of me who slammed on his brakes for no reason", or "that hippie jerkoff in the Smartcar who cut across three lanes of traffic to get to their exit."

That first social difference leads right into the second:

The concept of "Minnesota Nice".

By definition, "Minnesota Nice" is the stereotypical behavior of long-time Minnesota residents as being "hospitable", "courteous", and "mild mannered". Stereotypes of Minnesotans often overlap with qualities of other people from the Upper Midwest, including the perception that many are quiet and do not wish to offend others or cause a disruption, even if it's for their own benefit.

What a truckload of bullshit.

Being a New Yorker, I have to call this out for exactly what it is.

"Minnesota Nice" is nothing more than a sort of smiling stubbornness, forced politeness, false humility, and passive aggressive hostility of people in the Upper Midwest region.

Writer Garrison Keillor played with this image in a piece written for the radio program A Prairie Home Companion called "Woebegonics", the supposed language of Minnesotans which includes "no confrontational verbs or statements of strong personal preference, you know." 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.

With the exception of the third-world driving skills, and the passive-aggressive forced politeness, (both of which I have learned to live with) Minnesota is truly a beautiful, wonderful place to call home, and I'm glad that I made the choice to stay here.

NEXT: My Old Neighborhood vs. My New One

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