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Minnesota nice is the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered. The cultural characteristics of Minnesota nice include a polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-deprecation. It can also refer to traffic behavior, such as slowing down to allow another driver to enter a lane in front of the other person. Critics have pointed out negative qualities, such as passive aggressiveness and resistance to change. Some traits typical of this stereotype are also generally applied to neighboring Wisconsinites and Canadians. Similar attributes are also ascribed to Scandinavians, with whom Minnesotans share much cultural heritage.
Playwright and corporate communications consultant Syl Jones suggested that Minnesota nice is not entirely about being "nice" but is more about keeping up appearances, maintaining the social order, and keeping people in their place. He relates these social norms to the literary work of Danish-Norwegian novelist Aksel Sandemose, Jante Law, and more generally, Scandinavian culture. Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion discusses "Wobegonics", the supposed language of Minnesotans which includes "no confrontational verbs or statements of strong personal preference".
Scandinavian culture is "low context", whereas Minnesota nice is characteristic of a "high context" culture. Presumably, the immigrants from Norway and Sweden adapted their low context Jante Law to the seemingly similar but very different Southern United States high context polite society, forming the unique Midwest culture amongst Western cultures that is called "Minnesota Nice." The integration of Jute Law and Polite Society, epitomized by the rules of a Southern belle, likely occurred when the cultures met and merged during the pre-American Civil War migration of pro-slavery southern farmers north into the Midwest Territory (documented, for example, in the well known Bleeding Kansas conflict).
Sometimes area residents who move away, or otherwise come in contact with others who do not 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. The generosity of state citizens has gained respect; the heavily-reported influenza vaccine shortage of fall 2004 did not strike the state as hard as elsewhere since many people willingly gave up injections for others. The concept has also received some support from the academic community; a national study by Peter Rentfrow, Samuel Gosling, and Jeff Potter done in 2008 found that Minnesota was the second most agreeable and fifth most extraverted state in the nation, traits associated with "nice".
In popular culture
Marshall Eriksen's family in the sitcom How I Met Your Mother display niceness exceeding even natural Minnesota nice, to the amusement or occasional frustration of Marshall's friends.
Minnesota Nice is also the title of a 2003, 28 min documentary by Jeffrey Schwarz about the Coen brothers' movie Fargo, a movie that displays some of the stereotypical behavior. Minnesota hip-hop band Atmosphere also produced a recording called "Minnesota Nice" for Welcome to Minnesota Tour 2011; the recording featured Prof, Mr. Gene Poole, and Felipe Cuauhtli, who are all Minnesotan.
- Atkins, Annette (2008). Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out. Minnesota Historical Society. pp. 242, 243, 248. ISBN 0-87351-633-8.
- Jones, Syl (December 14, 2009). "The unwritten rules that tell Minnesotans how to be nice". Saint Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved December 14, 2009.
- "Wobegonics" on A Prairie Home Companion, Saturday, April 19, 1997 Retrieved December 14, 2009.
- New York Times. "In Minnesota, Flu Vaccines Go Waiting". 12 November 2004
- Simon, Stephanie (September 23, 2008). "The United States of Mind" (interactive graphic map). The Wall Street Journal online (New York City). Retrieved 2012-03-15.
- Minnesota Nice (2003) (V) at the Internet Movie Database