50 States in 50 Days: “Minnesota Nice”

Posted by: Eric Schultz, Deputy Chief of Mission and Elizabeth Horst, Deputy Economic Counselor

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Picture of the St. Louis River rapids in w:Jay Cooke State Park.
Picture of the St. Louis River rapids in w:Jay Cooke State Park.

The unofficial state motto, “Minnesota Nice,” has been satirized in movies such as Fargo and made fun of during the recent Republican primary campaigns when former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (T-Paw) dropped out of the race prematurely – because he was too nice.

But we really are nice!  My Polish wife was shocked the first time she visited Minnesota that everyone we saw said hello to us.  She asked if I knew all these people.  Nope – they’re just friendly Minnesotans.

70 percent of Minnesotans are of German or Scandinavian ancestry so we come by this politeness honestly.

Minnesota entered the Union in 1858.  Just after archrival Wisconsin (home state of Ambassador Tefft) but before other neighbors whom we look down on as country bumpkins: Iowa and the Dakotas.  After all, Minneapolis-St. Paul is the 15th largest media market in the United States – we’re major league!   Really!  We even call Minneapolis (our largest city, with about 500,000 people) – the mini-apple (after New York – the big apple – with better than 10 million residents.)

Minneapolis skyline as seen from the roof of 711 West Lake Street.
Minneapolis skyline as seen from the roof of 711 West Lake Street.

The names of our sports teams give a few clues to the state:

Our baseball team, the Twins, winners of two World Series (1989 and 1991), are named after the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Our football team (American football), the Vikings, losers of four Super Bowls (thank you Buffalo Bills for losing just as many, and for losing four in a row, so no one remembers the Vikings losses – except Green Bay Packers’ fans) are named for the state’s Scandinavian heritage (and it sounds better than, say, the Minnesota Teutons).

The Minnesota Wild, the hockey team, is named after the wide stretches of wilderness in the north of the state.  Hockey, by the way, is the state sport.  Twelve out of the twenty members of the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team that beat the Russians for gold in the “Miracle on Ice” hailed from Minnesota – as did the coach.  The professional team has never won anything, though the previous team, the North Stars, named for the fact that we are the northern most state (save for Alaska) moved out of the state twenty years ago to Texas for some unknown reason, where they promptly won the Stanley Cup.  Hockey is the state sport, of course, because it’s really really cold in Minnesota during the winter.

Xcel Energy Center arena in Saint Paul, Minnesota during a 2007-08 NHL season game between the Minnesota Wild and the New York Rangers
Xcel Energy Center arena in Saint Paul, Minnesota during a 2007-08 NHL season game between the Minnesota Wild and the New York Rangers

Famously cold.  Every car commercial ever done where someone successfully starts their car in frigid weather thanks to their anti-freeze (or battery, or whatever) seems to have been filmed in Minnesota.

Of course, we are also famous for having lots of lakes.  The real state motto is the “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes,” which sounds better than the “Land of 11,842 Lakes” (how many we really have).  A lot of hockey gets played on those frozen lakes in the winter.  And the lakes gave us our all-time best sports nickname – the basketball Lakers.  Wait, I know what you are thinking, it’s the Los Angeles Lakers, but before they moved to L.A. they were the Minneapolis Lakers and won a bunch of NBA titles.  But there aren’t any lakes in L.A.  They should be the L.A. Starlets or Freeways or something.  Not the Lakers.  Our new team is called the Timberwolves. We have more of them than any other state besides Alaska, but the team’s not too good. Our basketball team should be the Lakers!

A couple of other things to know about Minnesota:  the Mississippi River starts in the northern part of the state.  There’s a place where you can actually step over it!  Our state bird is the loon, which has a lovely call, but most of us think it should be the mosquito because they are ubiquitous in the summer time.  Thelargest shopping mall in the U. S.  – the Mall of America — is located in Minnesota.  (The only one bigger is in Edmonton, Canada.) And we have a lot of large corporations headquartered in Minnesota:  3M, General Mills, Cargill, Best Buy, and Target to name a few.  The state’s GDP at $282 billion in roughly twice that of Ukraine.

The source of the Mississippi River on the edge of Lake Itasca in Itasca State Park, Minnesota.
The source of the Mississippi River on the edge of Lake Itasca in Itasca State Park, Minnesota.

Finally, we’ve a few famous natives sons and daughters – more than Wisconsin anyway – including Prince, Bob Dylan, Jessica Lange, Josh Hartnett, Tom Friedman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, and Lindsey Vonn to name just a few. Oh and two Minnesotans ran for President: Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale.  They both finished second.

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.
Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Entertainment: closeup view of vocalists Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.], 08/28/1963
Minnesota is a “nice” place to live, a “nice” place to visit, and a “nice” place to be from.  Just not in the winter.  Except for the last part.  In the winter it’s a nice place to be from.

A wintry, February day in St. Paul
A wintry, February day in St. Paul

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