Friday, August 13, 2010

Just an observation about Minnesota

I just spent the last few days in Minneapolis, with a little time in St. Paul. I had a meeting to attend so I made a short vacation out of it, bringing Brad along to continue our exploration of the great cities of the American Midwest. First there was Pittsburgh, for a family Thanksgiving and later a funeral, then Cleveland for a wedding. A couple of trips to Cincinnati to visit my sister and niece and nephew gave us the southern Midwest experience, and now we have Minneapolis to point to. And when I asked Brad if he had to live in any of the cities we’ve visited so far, Minneapolis is the winner. Flat and expansive with terrible winter weather and an overcooked summer climate, Minneapolis has a great arts museum, nice cafes and restaurants, a beautiful river setting, pretty architecture, and a nice crop of doughy all-American white people who came from Norway, as well as a mindboggling concentration of Somalis who fled that county’s anarchy for a better life – in the upper Midwest.

I felt okay for the Somalis in the summer because it was hot – maybe a little more humid than it is in Somalia. And they were everywhere, quickly integrated into Minnesota Culture, but also still speaking the language of their homeland and wearing clothes designed for the desert. When one is accustomed to seeing big-boned white people everywhere with Scandinavian baldness patterns (the men, that is) peeking though their stiff dirty-blonde and reddish hair, it’s quite a sight to come across groups of women and girls wearing dark veils with skin dark in the northern plains.. According to Minnesota Public Radio, Minnesota is the American home for the former prime minister of Somalia, Ali Khalif Galaydh. He was ousted from office in October, 2001. Galaydh, his wife Mariam Mohamad and three children live in Owatonna. Most Somali refugees moved to Minnesota because a small group of Somalis had settled there.

From my experience, each time I’ve visited Minnesota, the people there are very friendly in restaurants and on the street, and waiting in lines. We had the biggest fan (and long-time theatergoer) of the Fringe Festival serving as our ambassador, passing out coupons, making recommendations about which shows we would want to see. The other women in line were laughing and chatting away. We stopped in a small antique mall and the people were following us around making beautiful small talk. A waitress in a diner had all of us eating out of her hands. And two women in a gift store welcomed us to town with rave recommendations for a St. Paul ice cream spot that gives its patrons a gimmicky Izzy ball of ice cream on top. I have been told the Minnesotans are great people, and indeed are masters of small talk. Friends who have moved to Minneapolis had a hard time “breaking in” because, according to them, everyone there went to kindergarten together and although they’ll gleefully chat with you in any public space in the upper Midwest, trying to form a close relationship is like trying to find an outfit you could wear all four seasons.

Perhaps what makes the Minnesotans seem so friendly is their goofy accent. It’s hard not to smile when people are pronouncing everyday words the way they are actually pronouncing them there. Whether it’s eating hoagies or grinders, or being told by my waiter the fish special on the Thai restaurant menu is a basil spiced walleye, it’s amusing to those of us who grew up in other states. Minnesotans have a wide-eyed joy about life unlike the hurried Michiganders or the wily Pennsylvanians. Just ask me, a dopey drawling Georgian or a sly and fake Californian. Obviously these are all fun stereotypes to rattle around, but I do appreciate something about the Minnesotan that I don’t necessarily appreciate about others.

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