There’s a scene in the television series Fargo — season two — where Minnesota State Trooper Lou Solverson tells Kansas City mob associate Mike Milligan that residents in the land of 10,000 lakes are typically nice people. Milligan is quick to poke holes in the officer’s theory.
“No! That’s not it. Pretty unfriendly, actually. But it’s the way you’re unfriendly. How you’re so polite about it.
“Like you’re doin’ me a favor.”
It’s not the exactly right take — Milligan is, after all, a threatening criminal whose experiences in the Upper Midwest may not reflect the rest of ours — but it’s not exactly wrong, either. That unflinching politeness has a name: Minnesota Nice.
The Midwest’s answer to Southern hospitality is a default to friendliness and the ability to avoid confrontation with disarming smiles. Even if you’re not from the Midwest, you’ve seen it permeate popular culture — most notably as a result of the Coen Brothers’ 1996 film Fargo which, despite its title, takes place mostly in Minnesota. That movie, and the three seasons of the FX series that have followed, helped introduce the world to the overstretched O’s and A’s of the Minnesota accent and the staid small talk that defines interactions across the region.
But there’s more than just an accent behind what’s defined an entire culture. Here’s how the Star Tribune, based out of Minneapolis, describes it.
To the locals, Minnesota Nice is truly nice. We wave our fellow drivers through four-way stops; we help dig our neighbors out of the snow even when the wind chill is minus 40, and we tend to be exceedingly polite. It’s all good, right?
Of course it’s not just gritting through the winter with a smile. It’s an affectation that borders on distant, one that can keep strangers and even friends at an arm’s length through friendliness — the northern equivalent of “bless your heart.” As the state welcomes more and more transplants thanks to the growth of companies like 3M and Target, that veneer can be a difficult shell to crack. Politeness blends with passive-aggressiveness, and that can leave many new residents feeling like they’ve been left out in the cold.
While that surface may be tough to penetrate, the kindness isn’t only skin deep. Minnesotans have proven their giving spirit time and time again. Like when fans donated more than $200,000 to Saints’ punter Thomas Morstead’s foundation after the Minnesota Miracle pushed the Vikings into the NFC title game.
Or when they started a fundraiser to give $38,000 — one thousand dollars for each point the Eagles hung on their team — to the Eagles Charitable Foundation after suffering a blowout loss in the NFC Championship. (Their civility, however, only goes so far with Eagles fans, whom Minneapolis has to host this week in the Super Bowl.)
That’s Minnesota Nice, a commitment to friendliness that occasionally borders on passive aggressive. It’s not as simple as a smile and a nod — but Minnesotans have proven time and time again helping people runs in their blood.