April Hurley grew up in a small town where the neighbors lived both next door and miles away; where she could get a treat at a store and pay for it the next time; and where an oil change cost lest than $15.
And her parents used the stick to teach her “Minnesota Nice.” A bit of a thrashing now and then, Hurley said, taught her how “I could be be better in the community, nicer to my classmates, and know how to be a good citizen.”
April was such a nice girl, neighbors and strangers told her alike. She thought it was thanks to the demanding, “no bull” discipline her parents instilled in her.
But then she went out to California to live, and when she returned on visits she started to ask herself some questions. The first one was: “We tell ourselves we’re ‘nice’ in Minnesota, but are we really that nice?”
*Small Town, Big Town*
Californians often told Hurley how nice she was, and how kind she was to others. She was the first to give directions and the last to get angry or annoyed by questions.
“The majority of Minnesota is made up of small towns where everyone knows everyone,” Hurley said. “The larger cities are made up of small-town people moving to a bigger area with more work opportunities.”
But that made Hurley wonder: was she being nice because she really was nice, or because in such an environment, being “nice” was a practical necessity of life? “I would never say a bad word about anyone because I knew everyone would find out what I had said,” she said.
In California, she realized, people were not as nice because they simply didn’t have to be. “California was just big town after big town, so people weren’t forced to treat each other nicely. They know they’ll most likely never see them again.”
*Are We Nice?*
Noticing how many immigrants were now living in Minnesotan, Hurley asked herself another question. Do immigrants and others who come to Minnesota do so because we’re known as “nice” folk?
In 2000, three-quarters of the roughly 73,000 refugees admitted into the United States were settled in 15 different states. Minnesota, although it ranks 21st in population among all states, came in sixth in the number of refugees who moved her that year, taking in roughly four percent of the total.
What’s more, the state’s non-white population between 2005 and 2015 in Minnesota, is projected to grow 35 percent, compared to 7 percent for the white population. The Hispanic population is expected to increase 47 percent.
Are people attracted to Minnesota because we’re “nice?”
A person-on-the-street interview suggests there is something to the idea.
“I like how I can always ask for people to repeat what they’ve said, because I can’t hear or understand the language good yet,” said Hero Wantanabe, who moved to Minnesota in 1992 from Japan. “I’ve been able to travel the world and [also this] country, and Minnesotans take on a kindness that you can’t find many places.”
But an essay on Wikipedia.org raises an important question about Minnesota Nice. “Many from out of Minnesota will state that ‘MN Nice’ is actually passive-aggressiveness,” the essay says.
When one stops to think about it, there are lots of paradoxes about Minnesota Nice. For example, Hurley thinks she learned about being “nice” thanks to those parental whacks with a stick.
Or that out on the road, where people in their cars are relatively anonymous to one another, Minnesotans are often known to be aggressive drivers.
Or that in the office, everyone knows the “nice” secretary with a smile always on her face, who can put the office in conniptions by passive-aggressively declining to put on the morning coffee, or answer emails.
Arguments – or should I say polite discussions — will continue for years about Minnesotans and whether they are “nice.” A definitive answer is not to be expected soon, though, as polite discussions don’t usually end in one side or the other declaring victory. After all, that would not be nice.