St. Olaf Sentiments: September 19, 2014

“Minnesotans are nice.” If we exclude the universally accepted cultural stereotypes about Minnesotans – don’t you know, we all eat tapioca pudding and hot dish; we’d never miss a Vikings game; and we all just love that Prince, you know – our “niceness” is our defining characteristic.

We can’t quantify this quality, but you know it when you see it. Making room for you to merge into traffic; holding the door or elevator for you; saying please and thank you; if you’ve experienced any of these – and, if you live here, you have – then you have been Minnesota-niced.

They say that here in Minnesota we are kind, courteous and well mannered – and they’re right. A Prairie Home Companion the universally accepted expert on Minnesotans observes that we speak a different language here: “it’s basically just your ordinary English except that there are no confrontational verbs or statements of strong personal preference, you know.”

No one really knows how we ended up being this nice. Perhaps it’s a delusion we pull over our thoughts and minds – something to do with the same mentality Minnesotans get in mid-February, after going without the sun for six weeks, our eyelashes frozen by the time we get to class. It’s the mentality that insists: “I think it was colder last year.” Or, “I’m so worried about that drought in California, you know.”

We say these things in order to persuade ourselves that it’s really not that bad here; but sometimes it seems almost as if we worry we’d offend Father Winter by not getting frostbite. Here, in Minnesota, we genuinely live and die by our niceness. It’s who we are.

So it was a shock then, having grown up all my life here in the nicest place on earth, to be confronted by something even more nice than the rest of Minnesota: Our St. Olaf student body. We are our own subset of Minnesota Nice – like a highly advanced breed, sequestered away to achieve even greater levels of niceness. And we are succeeding; I think we’re verging on Canadian niceness.

I’ve been on campus for little more than a week, and I have to say: it’s kind of weird. We leave our backpacks unattended, piled in heaps around the cafeteria, and we never worry that our bag might be taken. Even if it were, we’re sure it would be returned cleaned and polished without delay.

But there’s more weirdness: if you forget something in another person’s dorm room, no problem! Just go inside and get it; the door will surely be unlocked. There’s a distinct lack of cameras on campus. With any other student body that would mean everything is ripe for the taking. All of those tasty bottled drinks outside of the Pause could be yours for free without consequence. But we’re not supposed to take those, you know. So, here, we don’t.

I can’t really say why we’re so nice here. Perhaps it has something to do with our ingrained Minnesota niceness. Perhaps it’s much more than that. But whatever the reason, I hope it never changes. Because our niceness is something that not only differentiates us, but also elevates us. It makes us different than Carleton. It makes us special and unique.

We don’t follow the beat of the rest of society’s drum, but the beat of our own hearts. And you know, I think the rest of the world has a lot to learn from us. Because, Oles, we’re nice.

fulco@stolaf.edu

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