Bernie Nordman: A Duluth girl and the harsh reality of Montana Not-So-NiceThey don’t use the phrase "Minnesota Nice" in Montana. Maybe it’s because they are of rough stock from settling the West. Maybe they are just clueless. In any case, it’s best to forget you ever knew what it is once you get to Montana.
By: Bernie Nordman, Budgeteer News
I am originally from Gary-New Duluth. About six years ago,
I decided to avoid the rush and have a midlife crisis a bit early. What better place to go than balmy Billings, Mont.? In hindsight, there were better places to go — however, Billings is where I landed.
This is my little story of culture shock upon arrival to the Big Sky State.
For a girl used to “Minnesota Nice,” I was in for a rude awakening. They don’t use the phrase in Montana. Maybe it’s because they are of rough stock from settling the West. Maybe they are just clueless. In any case, it’s best to forget you ever knew what Minnesota Nice is once you get to Montana.
When you go visiting in Minnesota, you’re offered something to drink or eat before you even have your coat off: “What can I get you? I just put on a fresh pot of coffee. Try one of my new bars.” Hosts try to ply you with something to drink your entire visit. If your coffee cup is half empty, someone is filling it up for ya.
In Montana? Not so much. When I first visited someone in Montana, I was in for an eye opener. I wasn’t offered even a sip of water the whole visit. I understand now that in Montana people feel that if you want something to drink or eat, you will ask for it. Minnesotans would rather die of dehydration than trouble someone for something to drink. I tried mental telepathy by looking at them and thinking, Water … please, just a sip of water.
It didn’t work. Maybe I didn’t appear quite parched enough for anyone to notice.
Another stark contrast is the way that Montanans say goodbye. In Minnesota, it takes 45 minutes or more to execute a proper goodbye. More drink and food must be offered. “Do you want some more coffee? A 10-course meal? Some Jell-O, maybe?”
Then there is a dance to the door. The guests try to leave and the hosts keep talking and offering another bite to eat. They finally make it to the car with the hosts following them out. More offers of drink and food. Finally, a honk of the horn as they leave the driveway and the goodbye is complete.
It’s a process, I tell you — one that I’m used to and enjoy.
You may have guessed that a goodbye in Montana is not the same. When my fiancé Roy and I had his brother out for dinner, I learned about a Montana goodbye. When he arrived, I pounced on him, offering coffee and bars. He took a step back from me. I think he was afraid, but too polite to say no. Of course, I kept offering him drink and food all night. About a half hour after dinner, he stood up and said, “Thank you for dinner. Goodbye.” — and then he just left!
I sat there in shock. I peppered Roy with questions: “Didn’t he like me? What did I do wrong?” Roy looked at me as if I had three heads and replied, “What? He was done eating and he said goodbye and left.”
At that point, Roy had his first lesson in Minnesota Goodbyes 101. Once I explained what a proper goodbye consisted of, he understood why I was so upset. He tried to reassure me that everything went fine. I didn’t feel much better, though.
A month or so later, Roy got a book about the nuances of being Minnesotan and read the whole thing, twice. He said that he wanted to be ready when he went to visit my folks.
He thought that the book exaggerated a lot. I warned him that it wasn’t too far off. He got to see how it worked when we went back home to meet my parents.
But that’s a whole different story.
Duluth “expat” Bernie Nordman will be returning home this fall to get married. She can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.