Thursday, August 23, 2012

minnesota nice or things i like about the states

i had no idea that my promise to share a list of good things about the US would cause such a fit of writer's block.  i've found myself sitting at the computer, blogger compose window open, daily for a week and nothing comes out.  in some sense, it's not fair, because there are good things about the US and it's not really for a lack of those. maybe it's just easier (and more amusing) to write about the negatives or the puzzling things (tho' frankly the positives can at times be equally puzzling). but here goes...

things that are great about the states:

~ target. i've had serious withdrawals from the bountiful variety at fair prices and which also gives back to their communities and isn't evil and contains a starbucks as you come in wonder that is a target store. tho' i wasn't that keen on what was apparently their $200 rule - as in, you can't leave without spending at least $200. the trick was to avoid spending the lot of it on nail polish alone. we didn't always succeed.

~ minnesota nice. i learned this term from my friend lisa. it describes those pleasant little conversations that you have with clerks in stores...whether it's about the odd-looking handful of coins you're pawing through to find some quarters or about how you're turning down their store credit card because they don't have any stores near where you live or about what exactly you're going to do with that quinoa or where you got those fabulous sequined uggs. it's a positive interchange and gives such a boost of energy in your day. of course, it's maybe not fair to credit it entirely to minnesota (tho' it IS a marked phenomenon there, even in the big city of minneapolis), as my sister and i had one of those uplifting experiences in our local grocery store right in our hometown in south dakota.

it was the day molly got her shots and her rather brutal ear mite treatment. her vet appointment was at 1:30 and i thought it would take like 15 minutes tops, so everyone was waiting for me to return with her so we could go swimming at the river (sans cat, of course). the appointment took much longer thanks to the ear mites, so by the time i got home, the three children were melting (literally, as it was 107°F/42°C) and whining like crazy. we stopped by the grocery store for snacks (and crisp, refreshing american light beer) and the sweet young girl at the cash register said, "how are you guys doing?" in her best local accent (think the coen brothers film fargo). we responded that no one was whining, no one was complaining, no one has asked 56 times whether we were going to the river and no one had begged for any junk food or candy. and in the process, those things started to be true...and we started to laugh and our stress melted away. all because the girl at the cash register acknowledged us with a greeting.

let me tell you, the danes could learn something from this.

i was talking to a canadian friend (who also lives in denmark) about this the other day. she's a sociologist, so she's thought about it a bit more than i had (hard to believe, i know). i said that i missed those light-hearted, surface conversations with clerks or others in line at the store and told her how much i'd appreciated them while we were in the US. she said she thought they were actually deeper than they appear at first. that when the young very pierced and tattooed clerk in the gas station's eyes light up when he sees your funny coin with the hole in the center and hearts around the edge and begins to tell you about foreign coins in his collection, he's revealing something more about himself...dreams of travel to far-away places perhaps, or a hint at the desire that despite having had ALL of his front teeth sharpened into vampire-like points, he wants something more from life.

which brings me to the next good thing...

~ believing something more is possible. i know that the american dream has come to be a bit ridiculed around the world in the face of financial crisis and political buffoonery. but that pie-in-the-sky belief that if you just try hard enough, you'll succeed and get what you want remains strong in americans. but isn't there something charming about it as well? and something optimistic and hopeful? i think (especially in the upper midwest) there are still a lot of people who believe that if they work hard enough, they can change their lives for the better. not everyone thinks they can take the reality t.v. shortcut to success (tho' it may seem like that sometimes).

however, the american dream is a double-edged sword and has resulted in the bewildering acceptance by the poorest for the concentration of wealth being in the hands of the few, some of whom apparently would like to be president (just not the ones one wishes would (say that three times fast)). it's because everyone has a core of belief inside them that they could make it too and once they're also there, they surely don't want to have to pay a bunch of taxes.

but i've digressed.

~ diversity. the states is BIG. there's a lot of space. and it means that everyone, no matter how wacky their idea, probably can have a little plot of land or a building or a place where they can have a chance to try it out. the mormons have utah. homosexuals and hippies have san francisco. wackos have LA. hutterites have their colonies in south dakota. amish in iowa (and moving into south dakota). there are organic farmers and big-scale farmers. there are snotty, organic grocery stores and there are everyday normal ones. there really is something for everyone. and people come in all colors, shapes and sizes. and it seems there's room for that.

whenever i come back home to denmark after being in the states, i'm struck by how much the same everyone is. the clothing choices, the food choices, the cars, the haircuts, the shoes. it's like there's a danish uniform (and sub-uniforms within categories - nurses, schoolteachers, business people, etc.). of course, it's a bit similar to that in south dakota, where i grew up, but it feels like there's more space (and there literally is) to unfold yourself and be a little different.

so there you have it. and i even went a little deeper than i did with the more negative list. and got past that spot of writer's block.

and i do so love those american clouds.


celkalee said...

I wondered when this promised post would appear. I was afraid that your cynical side (which by the way is immensely entertaining) had overwhelmed your transatlantic senses. Sometimes, even those of us who are privileged to live here, loose sight of the good, the hope and the promise. Of course, any time politics infects the discourse perspective darkens.

Thankfully, your block lifted and perhaps distance and returning home clarified your thoughts. I am sure that your family enjoyed your visit and a little Kitty was the beneficiary of your kindness.

Spilling Ink said...

I can relate to the comment about everyone being so much more the "same" in Denmark; it's the same in Sweden where I grew up. We call it "Svensson" (a very common Swedish surname). Unfortunately Sydney, Australia, where I live now is much the same. I suspect though that once you venture out of Sydney and get out in the vast space that is Australia you get many, many variations.

Veronica Roth said...

Nice Julie. I’ve found a lot of similarities in your post between States/Canada and Denmark/UK, especially in the ubiquitous uniform department. Aren’t we lucky? We can experience both cultures like this. said...

Minnesota nice is a definite plus side to the American equation.

~C said...

Thanks for this. It's great to get a dose of positivity as we near the peak of the election cycle (which always gets me down).