For many Twin Cities newcomers, the social climate is as uninviting as the weather

Courtesy of Break the Bubble
“Break the Bubble” is a series of events aimed at encouraging young Twin Cities folks to get past their “bubble” of social isolation and get to know each other.

If you meet enough new people in the Twin Cities, eventually the conversation always comes up: Minnesotans are not welcoming to newcomers. Thus the famous saying, “Minnesotans will give you directions to everywhere but their house.” Or (more amusing), “You want to make friends in Minnesota? Go to kindergarten.”

The deep rootedness and stoicism celebrated by our marketable cultural myths (like “Prairie Home Companion” or “Fargo”) has a flip side that can leave newcomers, transplants and migrants out in the cold. But perhaps through conscious effort, and a few new social projects in the Twin Cities, long-tenured Twin Cities dwellers might be embracing the responsibility of welcoming.

The data on Minnesotan reluctance

There are a few key factors that drive whether a city is welcoming to newcomers. The most obvious rule is that big cities are more welcoming than small towns.

Back in 1870s Germany, pioneering sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies called this the collective sense of “community” vs. individualistic urban “society” (in German, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft). In the Midwest the more likely touchstone is Sinclair Lewis’ famous depiction of the social suffocation of small-town Minnesota in “Main Street.” Meanwhile, in great cities, density and diversity can combine like gunpowder to release an explosion of social creativity and jazz hybridity.

But some cities remain better than others, and the first big differentiating factor seems to be the number of newcomers and migrants, both from other cities and states, and from around the world. By that measure, the Midwest in general, and the relatively isolated Twin Cities in particular, struggle compared to cities on the coasts or in the Southwest. If you look at the maps, the “flyover” Midwest is an island of stasis amidst a sea of movement and migration.

But despite the narrative, the Twin Cities has more newcomers than stories suggest. In St. Paul, for example, 15 percent of the population is foreign-born, while only half the population was born within the state. (There’s a great New York Times interactive map on the subject.) It’s that combination of an increasing influx of newcomers and a reactively large population of “native Minnesotans” that makes the conversation on welcoming so difficult in the Twin Cities.

Source: Minnesota State Demographer
Despite the narrative, the Twin Cities has more migration than the stories suggest.

Social capital, for better and for worse

The second big factor is more cultural and less tangible. According to many people, there’s something unique about the Minnesota social patterns that makes it almost impossible to make new friends.

In his famous 2000 book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” Robert Putnam identified Minnesota and North Dakota as “the capitol of social capital,” places with high patterns of social activities, ranging from voting and volunteering to picnics and softball leagues. Perhaps all those close ties come with a downside for newcomers.

On the other hand, for those willing to dive in, the social thicket can be rewarding.

“I found that the best part about being a newcomer here is all of the extra curricular activities, events, and volunteer opportunities that the Twin Cities provides,” Emma Pachuta told me. (Pachuta moved to Minneapolis from Oregon.) “It’s easy to get involved in whatever you’re passionate about — I’ve been able to make lifelong friendships through these venues Admittedly, most are from out of state, too. This is the fourth town I’ve lived in, and I haven’t found any other place offers the amount of free adventures that we do.”

But for others, the Twin Cities has long remained problematic. As Joe Mahon, a transplanted Michigander who has lived here for over a decade, puts it, “the cultural amenities are great for a city this size, and the bus system is useful. You can stay active and interested for a long time before you realize you have no real friends.”

Breaking the bubble

Even if you admit the Twin Cities has a social problem, the question remains about what can be done.

Some groups have formed over the years to change the dynamic. For example, the official “Transplant Meetup” group has met since the 1990s, introducing newcomers to new people. And a few years ago, a group of University of Minnesota graduates started “Break the Bubble,” aimed at encouraging young Twin Cities folks to get past their “bubble” of social isolation and get to know each other.

According to Mariano Garcia, who organizes the Break the Bubble events, overcoming the social awkwardness isn’t that difficult.

“The premise is simple,” Garcia told me. “We ask people to leave their stump speeches or expectations behind, and just show up with an open mind, expecting to meet new people. And everybody is there for the same reason. If somebody asks you to coffee or to grab a beer, it’s not going to be weird, not necessarily a request for a job or a dating thing.”

At Break the Bubble events, held at bars around town, people fill out nametags with “icebreaker questions.” For example, this week’s event asked people to identify their “unique talent.” (Mine is being able to sing a song listing the U.S. presidents in order.)

Of course events like these fall victim to the same kinds of social segregation — age, race, ethnicity, income — that pervade so much of the Twin Cities culture. But for the hundred or so folks attending the monthly gatherings, those in the “bubble breaking bubble,” it seems to work.

(The next event will be at The Third Bird in July.)

The magic welcome hat

Over in St. Paul, Jun-li Wang, an artist and consultant, is crafting schemes about how to bring newcomers together. Wang was recently awarded two grants from the Knight foundation for her projects – Rolling out the warm welcome hat and Minnesota Nicebreakers — aimed helping St. Paul become more welcoming. For Wang, it all started with a magic hat.

“During the polar vortex winter two years ago, I happened to buy a fake fur-lined hat on sale,” Wang told me this week. “I put it on, and it made a huge difference. I’d already been in Minnesota for over 10 years and I wondered, how come nobody had told me!”

Wang’s idea was to not let her mistake happen again, and is going to be giving away hats to newcomers at a series of “welcoming events.” The first one is set for October, just in time for winter, part of a larger project called “Saint Paul Hello” aimed at opening up the famously stubborn city.

Courtesy of Jun-li Wang
Jun-li Wang (along with the St. Paul mayor’s office) is going to be giving away hats to newcomers at a series of “welcoming events.”

“I really see this as applicable to the whole state, or anyone who moves here newly or returning,” Wang explained. “When you live in a certain culture, even if you recognize it’s different, it’s also really easy to fall into that track of being complacent. Through these projects, we can make that better, and share the responsibility to be welcoming.”

Shifting from reserved to outgoing

In Minnesota, for many people the social climate is as cold as the meteorological one. If you dwell on the Twin Cities’ relative homogeneity, geographic isolation and intimidating winters, the social scene can seem bleak indeed, particularly if you throw in a dash or two of unsmiling stoicism. At the same time, the Twin Cities summers can be overflowing with outdoor activity, and the amount of diversity in the Twin Cities is easily overlooked.

If Wang and Garcia are right, and keep up their challenging work of bringing people together, maybe they can push the Twin Cities just a bit further into embracing welcoming. I’m sure some people will never want to chat in the grocery line or strike up conversations with strangers. But by drawing attention to the Twin Cities’ sometimes alienating social fabric, maybe we can begin to open up and make new friends.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (59)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/18/2015 - 10:55 am.


    I’ve been hearing this for decades but I think the truth is that some “transplants” are more socially successful than others and that’s all there is to it. My wife works in an environment where new people arrive from all over the country to do a two year stint. We always make a point of inviting these people along and trying to include them in outings and such. Some of them become good friends who stay with us when they come back to town, and others ignore us, remain aloof, and never get connected to anyone. I don’t know why a native Minnesotan can join a softball team or a bike club and make friends but a transplant can’t?

    I also wonder how different people define a “friend” and what their expectations are? These are interpersonal issues that are notoriously difficult to access with sociology. Some people experience big cities as warm and welcoming others as cold and hostile… the same city. It’s not like everyone who’s lived here all their lives has “real” friends. Natives just don’t associate their social isolation to having moved here from somewhere else.

    Still, it’s not a bad thing that people are creating ways to welcome new comers I’m just not convinced there’s a special need in the Twin Cities.

    • Submitted by Beth Daniels on 06/21/2015 - 02:58 pm.

      That’s because you invited them along!

      In my experience, the key is “We always make a point of inviting these people along and trying to include them.” Thank you for that. And maybe you don’t realize how unique you are to be making that little extra effort. In my experience, people who grew up here do not generally invite newcomers along or try to include them. We newcomers end up with superficial relationships, “work friends” whom you never see outside of work, people who are happy to volunteer with you but reluctant to do anything else with you, etc. And the less we happen to look like a stereotypical Minnesotan (white, tall, preferably Lutheran, etc.) the worse it gets. So, people who are still hanging with your crew from high school (or younger), please take a chance and invite that person you chat with at work to do something outside of work with you and your buddies. And if someone who didn’t grow up here invites you to do something, do it and then reciprocate. That’s how real friendship works. Otherwise, you’re just Minnesota Nice. Which isn’t all that nice at all.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/18/2015 - 11:05 am.

    Here’s my theory

    It’s true that my circle of close friends and that of my wife’s are people we’ve known since grade school. The grandmothers my wife regularly goes to lunch with are girls she met in Kindergarten at the Cathedral school.

    The guys I have dinner with on a regular basis and who are on my email list are guys I hung around with since 4th grade (public school), who now include bleeding heart liberals, staunch conservatives, business owners, government bureaucrats, and even immigrants who still speak with broken English (heh). Needless to say we don’t talk much politics except during election years.

    But here’s my theory: I grew up in the 1950s and 60s, and believe it or not, St. Paul was much more integrated racially, ethnically, socially and economically than it is today. I grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood and went to racially mixed churches and schools. Many of the adults who influenced me, whether they were teachers, scout masters, ministers, or neighbors, were strong men and women of all races and ethnicities.

    Except for the teachers and clergy, none of the adults I knew had a college degree. Everyone’s dad had a job at one of the many local factories or worked for the local government. In short, everyone was a working class American who lived, worked, and worshiped together regardless of race or ethnicity. If you looked up melting pot in the dictionary you’d see a picture of St. Paul. Anyone who grew up in St. Paul during those times would tell you it’s true.

    Sometime in the 1970s, I don’t know when exactly because I wasn’t here, people began to congregate into groups. I’m guessing it began when the waves of various immigrant groups moved here and they self-segregated based on their common language and culture. But soon there were no more mixed-race churches.

    When the factories shut down, there were no more places where large numbers of people of all races and backgrounds worked side-by-side and learned each other’s values and culture by osmosis. And as the people had less and less in common, they began self-segregating into neighborhoods by race, the one obvious commonality, and then the schools became more segregated as a result.

    Now as new people move into the city, they seek out and move into neighborhoods that share their language, race or background. There is seemingly nothing they have in common with the other people of St. Paul since there are fewer workplaces, churches and schools that used to fill that role.

    I said all that to say this: the people who were born and raised here 40-60 years ago have looked around at all this “group identity” stuff and have reacted by self-segregating into groups themselves … but not according to race, class or ethnicity but with the people they grew up with, who they knew shared their values and culture because they had a common upbringing.

    It’s sad, but I would like to reassure the “newcomers” that it has nothing to do with you personally. You should have been here in the 60s. It was great.

    • Submitted by Carrie Anderson on 06/20/2015 - 03:40 pm.

      Ch-ch-ch-changes …

      I think your theory is interesting, and that your story rings true for many who grew up where I live, the east side of Saint Paul (moved here in 2000 — talk about being a newbie!). I agree that the loss of mass factory jobs removed a potent way to learn that folks who were considered “different” (not Anglo, another religion, etc.) were regular people too.

      The loss of those jobs may have contributed to the self-segregation that you’ve observed, but I think it’s practiced (perhaps not consciously) by the old-timers as well as the newly immigrated. I have Anglo neighbors who bemoan it when a non-Anglo moves into an empty house on their street. Empty houses in an urban area need to be filled! If you have a good neighbor, who gives a flying football about where they came from, geographically or genealogically?

      My two cents: It takes time and finesse to create a decent relationship. Expecting too much of someone before you have a clue about them can leave you disappointed. And being on the receiving end of negative judgment or being stereotyped into a little box is pretty disheartening too.

  3. Submitted by Kurt Anderson on 06/18/2015 - 11:14 am.

    Miscellaneous / random comments

    1) The article alludes to both Lake Wobegon and Gopher Prairie. Has anyone taken serious notice of the fact that these two mythical locations are less than 40 miles apart in Stearns County? Term paper material, at minimum.

    2) In MN we have had the good fortune (in my opinion) of never having been on the critical path of U.S. history. The Oregon and Santa Fe trails began about 450-500 miles south of us; the Mormon Trail passed about 300 miles south of us. This has allowed us to develop unobstructed in the way we liked, occasionally impaired by some national attention and the resulting blush and navel-gazing. However, as the article notes, it does make us a bit insular.

  4. Submitted by Jim Million on 06/18/2015 - 11:35 am.

    Creating Convenient Cutural Controversy

    It is summer soon, so we should expect such false fluff as this attempt to prompt us root bound rubes to again (and again, and again) examine our social failings. So, let’s just put this article down as silly nonsense.

    Since when is it the local responsibility of any community to open the doors to the deck and invite all recently transferred Michiganders, Oregonians, even Iowans over for a welcoming neighborhood potluck? Must we treat all newcomers as displaced youngsters entering corporate daycare? Should we give them all crayon-colored badges of inclusiveness?

    Or should they make positive approaches to know us, that is, to assimilate? Perhaps we cannot expect that bold step of self-determination by several generations of rope line refugees who have been tied together so as not to become lost in the big bad world of independence. Come into our foreign land, learn the ways of the natives, or forever be a visitor.

    Lord knows, those who grew up here as German Lutherans certainly remember how it was in grade school or junior high to finally be forced to relate to the Swedish and Norwegian Lutheran kids. Well, for that matter, many Swedes and Norwegians had a rather tough time, until their inter-marriages broke the diphthong divide, so to speak. Trust me, as an adventurous Presbyterian youngster, it was not easy to move into the mainstream of a town with six Lutheran churches. And we had a much easier time than our few Catholic fiends, who had to join us after 8th grade, after all our cliques were formed. Ask anyone from St. Joe’s who faced those barriers to friendship. Well, these were the old sub-cultural challenges. We survived, even flourished with our new found friends, now going out to dinner with them…sometimes.

    Guess what….it all worked out pretty well. Even Catholic girls eventually married Protestant boys, sometimes even without the ultimate assimilation: conversion to the faith. Some river town guys even married girls from Wisconsin, even from North Dakota! We all survived—well, at least in our second marriages.

    So, why should we go out of our rather boring but workable ways to make transitions better for New Yorkers or So Cal refugees? You see, what Minnesotans do is typically practical. We allow a certain social quarantine regime for these newcomers to lose some megalopolis stress before approaching them with Minnesota Nice, or with Minneapolis whatever it is. [Allow more time in getting to know the Saint Paul Saints.]

    Look buddy, we’re nice people, but you gotta earn your way onto our back decks, OK? We all have done that, even with our next door neighbors after five or ten years. Bring the right beer and you’re on your way to inclusion. Just don’t bring your coastal predilections. And, do please remember our prime directive: Call First. If you simply drop in, you will be left out.

    Let’s all just let Bill Lindeke worry about creating hash from leftover convenient cultural controversy. Chalk it up to summer reading.

    • Submitted by Erik Ostrom on 06/18/2015 - 12:01 pm.


      See, Bill? It’s not that we’re not “welcoming,” it’s just that we view outsiders with suspicion and consider social interaction with them a burden.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 06/18/2015 - 01:11 pm.


        You just made my day with that one, Erik. Thanks 🙂

        • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 06/18/2015 - 06:47 pm.


          like this and the self deprecating self loathing arrogance of some locals are one of the reasons why transplants do not develop a sense of belonging to the community here. I used to have a difficult time when asked where I am from identifying with this area. However now it doesn’t bother me in the least.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/18/2015 - 11:48 am.

    The outlook of Dennis and Jim explain the basis of the article.

    It’s really hard to connect with people whose dance cards were filled in elementary school and then on forward.

    Good for those in the circle, not so good for those outside, whether transplants or people who just didn’t fit in their elementary school for some reason or another.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 06/18/2015 - 01:13 pm.

      The Irony Range

      Those who seek literal meaning shall be lost. It’s all about nuance. And, that is Minnesota: North, South, East and West. So, send all newcomers not to the suburbs but to Nordeast Minneapolis, where good and happy literal folk have good times. Want to study successful assimilation? Walk this little district with more Catholic churches than anywhere else in the Upper Midwest…one for each Eastern European language, more or less, to buffer the path to 20th Century inclusion. Nuance no longer needed in Nordeast.

    • Submitted by Ted Hathaway on 06/18/2015 - 08:37 pm.

      School days

      Yes, indeed. When my father moved here in 1960, he had lived in Michigan, New York and England, but noticed that one of the first questions Minnesotans would ask him as a conversation starters was,’Where did you go to High School?’ Expecting, presumably, “Harding” “South” “St. Paul Central” “Edison”, etc. My dad grew up in Monroe, Michigan, and usually got blank stares when he said as much. Outsider.

  6. Submitted by Terry Trippler on 06/18/2015 - 11:51 am.

    Newcomers to Minnesota

    We moved to the Twin Cities in 1977 and still feel like newcomers.

    Minnesotans have a serious inferiority complex. The news media will find one ranking in which Minnesota of Minneapolis or St. Paul are listed rather high and it like “see how good we are – see how nice we are?”

    The biggest problem we find is the climate. The only time you feel colder than in January is when you mention to one of the millions of liberals that you are a conservative. In other states we hae lived, you could discuss politics in a civilized manner – not here.

    You let people know you are not a screaming liberal and they make a break. Works great when you really want to END a conversation or evening. It’s always been our little secret.

    • Submitted by elliot rothenberg on 06/18/2015 - 12:19 pm.

      a proposed addition

      You hit the nail on the head, Terry. My only proposed amendment to your superb analysis would be to add the words “politically-correct” between “screaming” and “liberal” in your last paragraph. The cardinal sin in these parts is for some self-important speech censor to brand you politically incorrect.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 06/18/2015 - 01:18 pm.

        Yea, verily

        Too true. We do tend to shun those with flashing lights on their egos, and bumper stickers on their tongues.

  7. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 06/18/2015 - 02:17 pm.

    Even worse,

    I moved here form a southern state and was immediately looked at with suspicion. I found the locals had a very misinformed view of life elsewhere. I was told of the better education, quality of living, public services, none of which I have found to be true. Add the fact that I didn’t buy into the local DFL politics and it made for interesting times.

  8. Submitted by Nick Magrino on 06/18/2015 - 02:33 pm.

    I only have my own anecdote of moving here from out-of-state (technically twice) and finding people to be very friendly, but I have also collected a lot of secondhand anecdotes from people complaining about “Minnesota Ice” and then…not being that pleasant to be around.

    • Submitted by Nick Magrino on 06/19/2015 - 12:22 pm.

      For example, when seeing a number of people in this thread complain of “political correctness” and similar things when trying to make friends, that seems like a, uh, red flag.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/22/2015 - 10:58 am.

        A big red flag

        I can’t help but think that the complaints about locals and the level of their political discourse can be tied to an expectation that people will agree with them. There is also the general acceptance of a coarser form of discourse by conservatives in this country (or is this going to lead to another mass denial of ever listening to Rush Limbaugh?). Yes, if you lead off with that kind of talk, you’re going to find it harder to fit in. Cope.

        “Political correctness” is just one of those catch-phrases that diminish the credibility of the person using it. To me, it means nothing more than resentment that any opinion other than that of the speaker is being considered.

        • Submitted by jody rooney on 06/22/2015 - 11:42 pm.

          Thank you RB Holbrook

          That phrase drives me crazy. Of course when I first heard it was uttered by a man who felt women were not GS 12 material (in the federal government) as in “It is probably not politically correct to say that women will never be GS 12 material.”

          I’ve always associate any phrase that starts with “This is probably not politically correct but…” to be immediately followed by something racist, bigoted or sexist or just incredibly stupid.

  9. Submitted by James Hamilton on 06/18/2015 - 02:46 pm.


    Most of my friends are Minnesota-born. No surprise there. I am, too. I attended grade school here and still see some of the people I met there. My closest friends are a group from a high school here. Another group of friends come from my years in college in Western Minnesota.

    On the other hand, I have close friends who came here from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado, and New England, by way of Oakland, among others. Most of these I met while working. And yes, I have been to their homes and they to mine.

    Get over it, folks. If there’s someone you’d like to know better, invite them to your home.

    As for those who feel politically shunned: we’re more conservative now than ever. Look up Floyd B. Olson.

  10. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 06/18/2015 - 02:51 pm.

    Volunteer ethos and taking initiative

    In national studies,Minnesota comes out very high for its rate of volunteering. Do that and you will meet people on neutral ground. Once you have met someone you like, don’t wait for them to take the initiative. Invite them out for drinks or a meal – or even to your house. If they say no, they are as likely to be from somewhere else as from “here” and probably makes statements like “I have all the friends I need already.” Move on to others, because most of us don’t feel that way.

    However, if you are a workaholic or just love time with your big screen TV or other electronic devices, you probably aren’t even aware of people who might become friends – they are just background noise. Making friends anywhere today is more difficult in the past, given that we are so overbooked in our daily lives and have so many choices. If making friends is a priority, it doesn’t just happen – it takes forethought and effort, like anything else that is worth having.

  11. Submitted by Andy Dunn on 06/18/2015 - 02:55 pm.

    I’ve tried. Honestly. Really.

    For almost 25 years.

    Since I moved up here in 1991, I’ve gone to public events with like-minded individuals with similar interests. I’ve tried introducing myself. I’ve tried connecting. I have nothing to show for it. I no longer hang out with any of the groups or any of the people I’ve tried connecting with. (One of the last events I went to at a bar night, there were so many groups standing around or seated at tables with their backs to the rest of the room, I felt shunned. How the #@$^ was I supposed to meet people and talk to them if there was no way they were going to let me?) Now my time is spent at home with my cat and my partner, and frittering away my time online.

    So, yeah. Thanks for the welcome. I’ll see myself out.

  12. Submitted by Kayla Hemmerle on 06/18/2015 - 03:04 pm.

    It could be worse

    I grew up in Wisconsin, and now live in Rochester. In the middle of these two, my husband and I lived in the UP of Michigan for about 2 years. That is a place where everyone will hate you, and make sure you know it. And then they’ll tell you that you need to talk “dumber” because they don’t understand big words you use. So Minnesota could be FAR worse.

    I know from my experience, sometimes I see no real point in socializing extensively. My husband and I move every few years for his job. It’s hard for me to get interested in things knowing I won’t be apart of it for a long time. If you can just jump in and go for it, you can socialize in any environment. But a lot of people would be unsure of that (myself included). I would assume if you move frequently, and aren’t someone to jump in, many places would seem unfriendly.

    On a last note, I think social media plays into people not feeling a need to be as friendly. I am not saying social media is all bad, but if I just meet you, and you add me on social media, you can figure out most of what I’d tell you and my opinions on topics. Since many people overshare on fb and other platforms, you can pretty quickly find things you don’t like about someone. I have a friend who has very liberal political beliefs. He shares many articles and things on this. He’s a great person, but as a conservative, I get annoyed by it and ignore it. But if you were just meeting him, you might be put off on seeing that all the time (or vice versa), and get a different view of him as opposed to the great person he is. Or when someone shares a lot of personal drama, you may want to stay aware because you don’t want that in your life.

  13. Submitted by William Lindeke on 06/18/2015 - 03:10 pm.


    thanks for illustrating my point. it’s a valid perspective, certainly, but also one that others should think first before adopting. there’s a lot of potential in this town that is sacrificed on the alter of stubborn clinging to a certain image of Minnesotan stoicism.

  14. Submitted by EARL LINGERFELT on 06/18/2015 - 04:22 pm.

    embrace the suck

    I have lived in 8 states and a few other countries in the last 25 years with the military. I keep wondering why articles like this (which attempt to explain or excuse Minnesota behavior) keep appearing when they never appeared anywhere else I ever lived. My theory is that it’s a lot of different things that make assimilation difficult. Not many people move here relative to the population. Not many people who leave ever come back. Those that are native don’t particularly care to meet or welcome new people or culture. There is an inferiority complex compared to the rest of the US (except for education- Minnesota is the smartest! Just ask Garrison Keillor). Scandinavian Jante Law, which emphasizes the collective good and punishes individual achievement or acknowledgement. Throw in a little passive aggressive, confrontation averse behavior and long cold winters… voila. Not a terrible place to live, but absolutely unwelcoming and definitely unlike anywhere this side of Reykjavik.

    I have found that I am way too “type A” to fit in well with most Minnesotans, so the people that I have gotten close to (a very small number) fit into the cop/firefighter/military/EMS mold. Funny thing- even they recognize the pain that is Minnesota society. But… It’s still better than Nassau County, Long Island.

  15. Submitted by Stephen Gross on 06/18/2015 - 09:09 pm.

    A common experience, it would seem

    My wife & I lived in Minneapolis from 2006 – 2011. In many ways, we really loved it: the city planning is excellent, cultural opportunities abound, the food & beer scene is excellent, and the job market is robust.

    On the other hand, when we left after 5 years, we had remarkably few social connections. It wasn’t for lack of trying: we were very outgoing, asked lots of people (including colleagues) to join us for lots of activities, and tried to be involved in the social / political scene. Ultimately, our efforts failed: people were perfectly polite, but ultimately did not welcome us into their social circles.

    Is this a problem? Maybe not: if Minnesota can scare away outsiders and yet still thrive socially and economically, then this isn’t really a problem. Metropolitan economics like to remind us that economies thrive and grow when external inputs (ie: immigrants) are high and economic opportunity is frothy (ie: easy access to loans / capital). But that’s a general lesson; maybe Minnesota is different? Its laborshed encompasses MN, WI, IA, ND, SD, WI. Its core businesses (medtech, retail hqs, etc.) are *mostly* healthy.

    On the other hand, MN ended up losing me. FWIW, I really liked it a lot and wish I had more connections there. Maybe we’ll come back and help run these transplant-welcoming organizations 🙂

    PS: I remember being advised to no longer use the phrase “quite frankly” in work meetings. Apparently that was interpreted as hostile by the natives! 🙂

  16. Submitted by Janice Bitters on 06/18/2015 - 11:17 pm.

    From Iowa

    I’m a transplant, but I’ve lived here for the past eight years and graduated from the University of Minnesota, so I even have a bit of Minnesota pride. I like the Twin Cities, and today I have a lot of really wonderful friends who are both from Minnesota and who are transplants, like me. However, the first year or so of my life here was by far the loneliest.
    I knew it would be hard to move to a new place and start a new life when I came here. I figured there would be times that I’d be lonely and that I’d need to grow as a person to make new friends. What I didn’t expect, however, was all the ridicule I’d receive simply because I was born in Iowa. Six months into living here, I started trying to avoid telling people I was from Iowa. When it would come up, I’d say, “I grew up in Iowa, but I’ve already heard your Iowa joke, so it’s okay.” I’d be sure to say it with a smile, so I wouldn’t alienate new people, but really, I was incredibly exhausted of hearing jokes about how everyone I knew and loved from my childhood were really just “Idiots Out Walking Around.”
    At a party once, a guy who had been trying to hit on me asked me where I went to school, assuming I was from the area. I told him that I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa and he nearly jumped out of his skin because he was so excited to tell me his joke about people from Iowa. Needless to say, he didn’t get my phone number when he asked.
    I know it sounds like I’m being sensitive, but I was in shock over the number of people here who had never visited Iowa, (maybe they’d driven through before) but were convinced that the people who lived there were definitely not as awesome as Minnesotans. I wasn’t pouting over it; I was really exhausted by it – there is no better word for how I felt.
    Yes, it was hard to break into existing circles here. Yes, it was lonely initially, I’ll admit. But I worked through that and found friends by taking classes in things that interested me and volunteering at cool events, and showing up when I was asked to do things like helping a new friend move and, of course, being a little persistent. I have no other state to compare being a transplant to, so I can’t say whether it was harder or easier than moving to a different place.
    What I can say, however is that I will never understand why Minnesotans have such a uniform and yet senseless disdain for Iowans. For me, that was a major barrier in feeling like I belonged here: finding people who didn’t mind that I had been born in the wrong zip code.

    • Submitted by Anthony Walsh on 06/19/2015 - 09:23 am.

      Try This

      When it comes up, I have found that stating it as “I’m a refugee from south of the border” seems to disarm some of the jokes.

  17. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 06/19/2015 - 05:17 am.


    Thanks for a good read. I’ve lived here 18 years and sometimes still don’t feel like I fit in. But maybe that’s not a bad thing after all. Something tells me I’d be worse off trying to fit in.

    A few things I have noticed. First, I think the generalized inferiority complex mentioned here just hides the monumental liberal condescending arrogance.

    Second, Mr. Trippler’s comments hit home. Politics are not discussed in a civilized manner. I don’t need to hear a room full of echoes and I do respect differences in opinion, civilized discourses are few.

    Lastly, “tolerance” and “diversity.” To me they just mean that the locals do not tolerate diversity of opinion. A lot of people would benefit from living away from their idyllic little paradise for a while.

  18. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/19/2015 - 08:00 am.

    There are many parts of this country (and world) where a casual greeting in passing on the sidewalk is not regarded as a potentially dangerous unwanted intrusion or imposition.

  19. Submitted by James Rickton on 06/19/2015 - 08:01 am.

    I find this all fascinating

    Being a native, it’s interesting to hear the different perspectives. I guess my anecdotes are just different. I just got back from Iowa, hanging out with one of my friends who was born and raised in Iowa farm country. (By the way, for all of the liberal bashing, he’s Missouri Senate Lutheran and about as conservative as you can get while I don’t fit any particular political mold. We don’t agree on everything, it’s amazing how many common sense things we do agree upon, but of course one has to let down their ego first.)

    My friends include people from Arizona, Wisconsin, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Iowa and Washington among others. When I think about it, my ratio of native to non-native friends is about 1:1. Excluding my family, I’ve had more non-natives over at my house than natives.

    I’ve never seemed to have problems making friends anywhere I’ve travelled either, from the South to NYC to EMEA.

    What’s funny too is that my wife is from a foreign country and before she moved here to marry me, had only spent a few weeks in the US, yet she has more friends than I do despite being very shy by nature.

    Anecdotes, for sure, but it’s interesting to here others’ perspectives since it differs so much from my own.

    One last note – about inviting people to your home – My wife doesn’t like to have people over unless it’s scheduled well ahead of time – that’s just the way she is, and she’s not even from here. Myself, if I have you over, I want to make sure I have your favorite beer or pop, food for you to eat and that my house is spotless (even though it’s generally clean to begin with.) Maybe that’s inferiority complex, or some sort of obsessiveness, but I want to make sure if you come over, that everything is perfect, so that may lead to me not inviting people over as often.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 06/19/2015 - 09:56 am.

      Yes, No…Come, Go

      Now, this I really like: Not cleaning one’s home may be a symptom of social avoidance. There may be something to this. I’m not sure that keeping one’s house spotless is a sign of social openness, that is, of welcome.

      Does anyone remember attending some social gathering in a spotless home where the living room sofa and chairs were covered with clear plastic protectors, like some auto seats of the era? Was that just a Minnesota phenomenon? Were we truly welcome, or welcome as long as we didn’t get the house dirty with our presence? Was this some overt display of our inherent Minnesota personality disorder?

      A psychiatrist friend once told me of a disturbing syndrome known as “yes, no…come, go.” Is this perhaps the root of the Minnesota malady discussed here?

  20. Submitted by Helen Pearce on 06/19/2015 - 08:39 am.

    Too well adjusted?

    The Twin Cities are a treatment mecca. Many people stay for years after and join 12 step programs of every variety. Pick your character flaw (from overeating or overspending to codependency, addiction and more) and you’ll have no shortage of friends and fellowship activities. Unless you’re perfect (and maybe that’s why nobody’s asking you over)

  21. Submitted by jody rooney on 06/19/2015 - 09:11 am.

    The comments are more interesting than

    the article.

    What I am surprised at is that people mistake quiet for inferiority. As for the new folks, all I ask is that you stop being so noisy. You talk too much and too loud, take it down a notch.

    If you are loud after age 30 we think you have arrested development.

    • Submitted by William Lindeke on 06/19/2015 - 11:55 am.

      no offense taken

      I agree. This is a fascinating conversation.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 06/19/2015 - 03:53 pm.

        I find it fascinating as well.

        However, when I read comments that complain about having a hard time breaking the ice with locals, while using terms like “self loathing” and “arrogant,” I have to wonder if the problem isn’t not being able to find people to connect with, but rather amazement that the locals aren’t genuflecting enough to a political ideology. Not everyone sees life through a political lens every minute of the day.
        I moved here 33 years ago, have lived in 8 states and overseas. Sure, Minnesotans have their share of self absorption, but nowhere near as much as people that reside in Texas. A place where I was born, lived for five years as an adult and still have relatives residing there. I also share the opinion of the person regarding the UP of Michigan. I lived there for a couple of years when my dad was stationed there in the Air Force. The locals hated anyone with a functioning frontal lobe. But in their defense, most had no hope to escape that area. Couple that with a summer about a month and half long and 200+ inches of snow a year, and I was really happy to put that place in the rear view mirror.
        Anyway, my wife and I love it here…it’s a great place to raise kids, lots to do, plenty of culture, lakes, outdoor activities. To each his own…

        • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 06/19/2015 - 08:06 pm.

          No, Jason.

          It’s the fact that I refuse to genuflect to the prevailing local political ideology, and that those of my political persuasion are branded as “enemies of the common good” just as was done in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.

          • Submitted by jason myron on 06/20/2015 - 07:55 pm.

            Let me point out to you

            that the only people that politicized this issue in these comments are conservatives. No one else did. And the fact that you apparently can compare Minnesota with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, should really give you pause to consider some serious introspection.

            • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 06/20/2015 - 09:15 pm.

              Have you….

              ever lived in eastern Europe?

              • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/22/2015 - 10:53 am.

                I think I see the problem

                When you rush to compare the level of discourse in Minnesota with that of authoritarian states, the issue may not be a “lack of tolerance” from the locals.

          • Submitted by jody rooney on 06/20/2015 - 11:54 pm.

            Actually we don’t really talk politics up here

            it is considered boorish sort of in the realm of busybody gossip. Although the media wouldn’t have you think so it is just not that important really.

            So I am not sure what crowd you have been hanging out with but it isn’t native Minnesotans.

  22. Submitted by Max Millon on 06/19/2015 - 09:25 am.

    Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

    Bill, I think it might be a slight misrepresentation of the concept of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft to tie it to ‘Main Street’ and suggest that cities are friendlier and more welcoming than small towns. If anything, the concept was discussing how urban, highly specialized industrialized environments can cause individuals to feel a sense of ‘normlessness’ or alienation when they leave the collective, homogenized environment of rural agricultural communities due to the differences in social roles and interactions between the two.

    • Submitted by William Lindeke on 06/19/2015 - 11:56 am.

      Well, OK

      Fair critique. Another interesting discussion is Richard Sennett’s “The Fall of Public Man.”

  23. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 06/19/2015 - 12:14 pm.

    How does anyone know?

    When I hear one area is less welcoming than another, one consistency is there’s never any sort of measure. Just someone’s impression. One person’s anecdote versus another. Is there some measure of what “welcoming” means? Some way to compare one place to another? Could there even just be individual personality differences that allow some people to integrate themselves more readily than someone else?

    • Submitted by Amanda Pederson on 06/19/2015 - 09:01 pm.


      Eric I totally agree with you it is all anecdotal in articles like this. I grew up in mpls and many of my friends are transplants. When I lived in Denver CO it was hard to make friends and I didn’t meet or befriend any natives in 2 years (my only friends were also transplants). The same “unfriendliness” has been apparent to my friends, one from Ohio one from MN, who recently moved to LA. When I lived in France the French were notorious for not wanting to befriend newcomers. So anecdotally no city is friendly based on my impressions. Does this make my impressions truth? Probably not.

    • Submitted by Tom Karas on 06/21/2015 - 06:57 am.

      measurement is good for the conversation

      When I first moved to MN a few years ago MPR ran a series on this topic. The one demographic point that still resides with me is- MN is ranks second in the country in the percentage of the adult population in the state that was born in the state. I think Louisiana was first. In my experience that helped explain a lot of things.
      And it was made very clear by the nice lady at the curling club that I was trying to get a peek at when she said “Oh, you are not from Duluth, what part of Minnesota are you from?”
      I have accepted my place as an outsider but still appreciate the many fine qualities of the state. Maybe I just need to be patient till “you have two in the ground” to be considered a local like they say on the North Shore.

  24. Submitted by Jim Million on 06/20/2015 - 09:11 am.

    Exhausted from Cyber-Friending?

    Is it just possible all cities, more so the larger, seem neutral about newcomers? When so many people already have so very many “friends,” they probably just don’t have the emotional grit to make more. Besides, it can be quite daunting to deal with strangers physically present, who just can’t be ignored when convenient. Probably better to leave people with no volume controls or off buttons to their own devices, so to speak.

    Just how does one make new friends while holding out a selfie stick? Has the selfie stick become the newest weapon to keep strangers at bay?


  25. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/20/2015 - 04:49 pm.

    The year before I graduated from Augsburg

    the dean of students held a meeting for students who were thinking about applying to graduate school. She urged us to go out of state, if at all possible. I recall her saying, “It’s possible to go from kindergarten to Ph. D. without ever leaving the Twin Cities, which is convenient, but not good for your intellectual development.”

    So what have I learned from living in Ithaca, New York; New Haven, Connecticut; Robbinsdale; two small towns and Portland in Oregon, and now Minneapolis again, as well as traveling all over the country for professional conferences in Chicago, Honolulu, Boston, Washington, Seattle, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, and Denver?

    Newcomers think that people in the city are unfriendly. Natives think that other cities send the homeless to their city for the generous benefits and that all the newcomers, of whatever socioeconomic status, are ruining whatever they see as making their city special. Everyone, newcomer or native, thinks that local drivers are crazy.

  26. Submitted by jody rooney on 06/21/2015 - 12:02 am.

    Speaking of drving

    The easiest way to tell a non Minnesotan is that they honk their horn if they think you have paused too long.

    Folks it is only used for emergency notification or a friendly short toot at a friend here. When you honk we stop to ask who it is probably defeating your purpose of telling us to get the heck out of your way.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/22/2015 - 10:07 am.

      Not quite

      I was born in Minnesota, and have lived here much of my life. I use my horn to tell other drivers to get out of the way.

      I have never assumed that a horn honking at me is a “friendly short toot at a friend,” and I do not know anyone else who would think that way.

      • Submitted by jody rooney on 06/22/2015 - 11:54 pm.

        Really? I’ve never heard anyone consider

        it as any thing other than rude. I guess maybe it is an urban/ rural split. Charles Kauralt even noted it in his book “On the Road” when he talked about Ely.

        • Submitted by jason myron on 06/23/2015 - 11:55 am.

          Well, Jody…

          Ely isn’t 694 and University. I can assure you that if use my horn in the cities, it isn’t because I have a warm desire to meet up for coffee with the occupant of that vehicle. It’s usually towards someone who is crawling in the left lane, cuts across three lanes of traffic to exit or stops at the bottom of the ramp instead of merging into traffic.

          • Submitted by jody rooney on 06/25/2015 - 10:11 pm.

            And if you are doing it you are

            considered to be rude and probably pretty irrational.

            I mean realistically how much time are your really going to gain over the course of a trip. Mellow out dude you can’t drive someone’s car for them no matter how much you would like to. So stop being a control freak when you drive.

  27. Submitted by bea sinna on 06/21/2015 - 08:14 am.

    on being a native outsider

    One can live 20 minutes north of “the cities” for 66 years and still feel like an outsider. Remember 7th grade cliques? Yup, much of St. Paul is just like that. My son’s theory is that it’s just too scarey to be out of the box for very long.

  28. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/22/2015 - 02:02 pm.

    It’s the winter and awkwardness

    Minnesotans aren’t unfriendly. They’re cold and then they’re awkward. While there is some truth to friendships starting in kindergarten, I’ve never understood why people necessarily want friendships like that. Friendships come in all shapes and sizes. Your neighbor across the street that you start off communicating to by briefly waving while snow blowing will never become the same type of friend you would have starting in preschool.

    However, I believe that outsiders expect the natives to welcome them with open arms. While some cultures are predisposed to such, those of us in the Northern Plains aren’t. If you open your arms in January, you’re going to get rewarded with frost bite. And, because we have a tendency to want to hole up for the winter, our social skills need to thaw in the spring as much as the ground does. Like deciduous trees, we don’t have the opportunity to be the best we can (socially) be for more than a few months of the year.

    The nice thing about friendships made in such a climate is that they can be built on a deeper level than simply entertaining yourself with the kids you’re stuck with in school. It takes a bit more work, but your friends are hard won and you really truly like them, rather than just being used to them for much of your life.

    Of course, part of the problem is that we’re embarrassed to invite people to our homes because they’re not spotless–it’s exhausting to prepare a home for company when your a Northern Plainer. By the time you’re done, you’re not interested in having company because you’re tired. Finally, when you’ve lived here your entire life, you’re not sure how to approach people that are different.

    With the exception of when we’re driving, people in the Northern Plains are truly nice (at least as average nice as anywhere else). They just don’t want to offend anyone. Even our food is terribly unoffensive. Except lutefisk and jello salad. Instead of offending people, we just go about our business. Which can appear rude and offensive to people expecting greetings. If you want a warm welcome, you’re going to have to thaw us out and assure us that we’re not going to offend you by being so…Minnesotan (or South Dakotan or North Dakotan, etc.) Your best bet for success is May through October, or at least when the ground is free of snow.

  29. Submitted by Susan Maricle on 06/23/2015 - 09:20 am.

    Community education

    I’ve frequently heard that community education classes are a good resource for getting to know people. What I’ve noticed, though, in recent years, is people who attend community ed classes often attend with someone they know. And when it’s time to “break into groups of two,” if you come alone, you have to be folded into someone’s group.

    I think these meetup groups are good because they exist for the primary purpose of meeting other people.

  30. Submitted by Joseph Schermann on 06/25/2015 - 01:43 pm.

    @James Rickton and other remarks

    Mr. Rickton I think you mean “Missouri Synod” not “Missouri Senate” Lutheran. 😉

    I think this article is much-ado about nothing and is completely subjective and anecdotal. If you move anywhere at a certain age, especially at the 30+ age range, adult social circles will be largely set, and it’ll be challenging to break into those social circles. Being social isn’t a one-way street: both parties (the new arrival and those already established) need to be receptive and interested in becoming social with one another. I have traveled the world far & wide and maintain that the Midwest in general is much more sociable and friendly than many other places. If anyone is dying to make friends, get out & about and stop lamenting the perceived lack of sociability.

Leave a Reply