I’m moving with my wife from exurban Boston to St. Paul, Minnesota. She is from the Twin Cities; I’m from East. Except for 6 years in California I have lived only in the East. (That is, if you count Pittsburgh as East — from St. Paul it looks pretty indistinguishable).
Why “kinda different?” It’s a Minnesota idiom that has seeped out into the wider culture in a watered-down sort of way. An air of at least faint disapproval permeates the expression. When you use “kinda different” to describe someone or something, imagine it accompanied by a small sniff: “Well I wouldn’t do it that way, but she seems to like it.” Some examples: “Have you seen that shade of bubble-gum pink he painted his house? That’s kinda different.” “Her daughter got new piercings to go along with her tattoos. It’s kinda different.”
The expression arises from the ground of Minnesota Nice. This cultural pattern mitigates against saying anything too negative about a person or situation. Minnesotans understate, and they do so on the downside as well as the upside. You want to keep an even keel. You don’t want to brag or get above yourself. By the same token you don’t want to put anybody else down too hard, either.
To one from out East, the St. Paul culture looks… well, let’s just say it. Kinda different.
Folks are friendlier, faster. You won’t wait 10 years to meet your next-door neighbors, as we have done in our small New England town. (We are still waiting.) In St. Paul, we met the neighbors on both sides of our new house two days before we closed on it. We met four neighbors from across the street over the next few days.
Home and family are where it’s at. In every place I’ve seen in and around the Twin Cities, even the somewhat rougher neighborhoods, houses and yards are kept up pretty nicely. You don’t see hard ghettos like those in New York or Philadelphia. Family ties seem to matter more. It’s not universal, but more people I’ve met from Minnesota are more closely bound to their families than those of my acquaintence from Massachusetts, Maryland, or Pennsylvania.
Neither of the Twin Cities will ever be called a capital of fashion or style. The topic just isn’t that important. And of course for 8 or 9 months of the year climate dictates fashion; layers, flannel, and down make more sense than anything whose principal purpose is embellishment or display.
There’s more civic feeling in evidence. You can see it in the parks, the trails, and the walking paths around the many lakes. It’s evident in the statewide goal to eliminate poverty within the borders by the year 2020. Free wi-fi is available throughout Minneapolis. Environmental and ecological consciousness runs high. Bike lanes abound. It just doesn’t feel like as much of an uphill slog to get a project done whose primary purpose is enhancing the common good.
In this blog I’ll be sharing an Easterner’s impressions of the Midwest experience while they are still fresh.