Some Of Us Actually Like It Here

This week, as I was shamelessly tracking hits on a temporary blog I wrote last winter, I came across the personal web site of one Matt Peiken. Matt is the arts editor for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and as such, one of the most visible individuals in the Cities writing about Minnesota culture. His personal site is mainly filled with photos of his travels, and a catalog of his press clippings, but tucked away in a corner is something called “Matt Peiken’s Evolving Guide to Minnesota“, and the contents of this page got my hackles up immediately.

I should state right up front that I know Matt, though not terribly well, and I’ve always thought that he’s a fairly decent guy. I don’t think he knows a lot about classical music, which is somewhat odd for a man who writes about such things for a living, but in my professional interactions with him, he has always been engaging, enthusiastic, and willing to do a fair amount of leg work in pursuit of a good story.

That having been said, nothing ticks me off more than reading yet another tired diatribe about how “Minnesota Nice” is nothing but barely disguised passive aggression, and how Minnesotans are unfriendly to outsiders, and how our restaurants suck, and how we’re unbelievably provincial, and how terrible our drivers are, etc. (Actually, I might be willing to concede that last one.) And for such a rant to be coming from the pen of a man whose job it is to critique our local arts and culture makes me profoundly nervous.

My primary gripe here is that Matt’s take on the Twin Cities is flatly wrong, and nothing but a lazy writer’s way out of actually putting in the effort to learn why residents of one area might like to live differently than the denizens of another. I’ve heard the line about unfriendly Minnesotans time and time again, and it baffles me. I mean, I’m an outsider, albeit one with some family connections to Minnesota, and I’ve only been here for five years, and I’ve never had any trouble making friends or connecting with lifelong Minnesotans. Frankly, I suspect that the only people who actually have this problem getting Minnesotans to open up are the sort of folks who like to begin every conversation with an observation on how great life is in New York or California, and how they never should have left. People around here tend to live here because we like it here, and starting off an introductory exchange with the assumption that we’re all somehow stuck in Minneapolis because our beat-up old hatchback broke down in the middle of our pilgrimage to the Big Apple is a terrific way to tap into some serious Midwestern hostility. And yes, Midwesterners tend to express hostility through silence or general cold-shouldering. If you ask me, this is a far more civilized method of being pissed off than New York’s preferred technique of loud public chastisement, but that’s just me.

As for the food issue, I’m getting awfully sick of this. We are a nice, mid-sized American metropolitan area with all the dining options enjoyed by most of the country’s biggest cities, and yet somehow, this notion persists that you can’t get decent food here. Gimme a break. Do we have as many five-star restaurants as New York? No, we don’t, but on the other hand, we don’t have nearly as many vastly overrated prima donna chefs, either. (We also have about 80% fewer people than New York, in case anyone’s counting. Does a metro of 3 million people really need 8,423 identical pizza parlors and 954 pretentious Italian bistros in order to be considered a good food town? God, I hope not.) Is our shellfish as fresh as the stuff you can get in Boston? No, sorry, we stupidly forgot to locate our city next to an ocean. But come on – anyone who can’t find top-flight meals in this town simply prefers griping to looking.

I won’t bother going through the rest of Matt’s ridiculous bitch list, since most of it is so laughable and out of context that it isn’t worth the column inches necessary to rebut. But I figure I can’t be the only blogger on this page who’s tired of listening to homesick East and West Coasters complain that we’re not a “real” city. Anyone else got some good stories to share?

5 Comments so far

  1. Nate (unregistered) on November 15th, 2004 @ 1:27 am

    YES!! Thank you for saying this. I am in complete agreement with you. I like this city very much and have to say I am mostly happy with everything about it. I will agree we suck as drivers, but most states do in some way. Preach on brother man…

  2. DAVID (unregistered) on January 27th, 2006 @ 2:34 am

    I have been to Minnesota several times, since 1970. Both urban and rural Minnesotans are the unfriendliest North Americans (some downright nasty) I have ever met. In fact, the only friendly Minnesotan I ever met was a mechanic in Fergus Falls, in 1971. I think his name was Bert.

    I am not talking about “reserved”, but utterly snotty.

    I have been in at least half of the American states, and there is nowhere less friendly than yours, although the city of Boston is unquestionably as unfriendly as Minneapolis.

  3. Lex (unregistered) on January 27th, 2006 @ 11:02 am

    I have travelled around the country and the world, and I found people just as friendly in Munich as they were in Duluth as they were in Boston. (I love Boston and don’t think people are unfriendly, just more direct.)

    If you approach people in a friendly way, they tend to be friendly back.

    But yeah Minnesota drivers really do suck.

  4. Erica (unregistered) on January 27th, 2006 @ 4:05 pm

    I think Minnesotans can be friendly, but most don’t go out of their way to do so. Plus, different people seem to have very different definitions of “friendly.”

  5. diana (unregistered) on January 28th, 2006 @ 10:53 pm

    you know, that’s a horrible guide. if it’s so hard to meet people, why doesn’t he suggest some ways to tap into the MN mentality? not to mention all the other baseless accusations. what a load of shit. i’m toying with putting up my own evolving guide to the twinies (as a native). i’ve got theories, man…good ones.

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