Culture Shocked by Minnesota Nice ~ What a Treat


I shuffle into the Minneapolis DMV building with my hackles raised, ready to argue with anyone who stands in the way of me and my new driver’s license.

In the past 60 days, I’d dealt with enough DC government officials to know you have to be firm and prepared to fight bureaucracy. If you’re not aggressive, you’re trampled and forgotten. And you’re forced to leave without whatever paperwork you came for.

I’m determined not to let that happen to me, and I’m a bit nervous because I need to pass a “knowledge test” about Minnesota driving laws in order to get a new license. Being from Texas, I fear questions about snow and ice, like how to safely pass a snow plow.

I take a deep breath, pause to gather myself, put my stern face on, and enter the Minnesota DMV.

Why is the woman behind the counter smiling? Is she excited because a new victim is approaching? I timidly approach her desk, explain what I’d come for, and wait with my guard up for the curve ball she’ll inevitably throw my way. But she cheerfully tells me what I need to do, wishes me luck, and sends me to another desk where a jovial middle-aged man awaits me.

He chats with me about the weather as he signs my paperwork. Dazed by the nice, I sit down and listen for my number to be called. A woman — a stranger — in the row in front of me turns to me and jokes about the lack of magazines in the waiting area. I smile back, uncertain.

Okay, this is really starting to freak me out. Why are these people so nice? This DMV looks just like others I’ve been to — stark, a bit crowded, lines of people everywhere. But it’s missing something. Where are the somber, angry, and depressed looking folks?

Minnesota nice
at DMV

photo credit: chadmagiera

Then I realize what’s going on here. I haven’t even left the United States, and I’m already experiencing culture shock.

What is Minnesota nice?

“Minnesota Nice” is the polar opposite of “DC Passive Malice.” Even though I grew up in Texas, after living in DC for so long, I’d forgotten people could be this friendly, especially people in government offices. The DC government is a whole new world, where employees quickly become jaded. And so had I.

I welcome the change and embrace the Minnesota nice. I take my knowledge test and pass with flying colors. I even correctly answer the question about how to pass a snow plow (hint: you don’t flash your brights and honk to let the snow plow know you’re coming, nor do you floor it and speed blindly through the snow cloud).

I stroll out of the DMV, new license paperwork in hand, still a bit dazed (but very happily so) by the whole experience. I feel like I’ve undergone a culture shock dry run for next week when we leave for Argentina. I am hoping I don’t sound too jaded having lived in Washington D.C. for all of those years.

So this is Minnesota nice, eh? I could definitely get used to this.

3 thoughts on “Culture Shocked by Minnesota Nice ~ What a Treat”

  1. I had a similar experience when I moved from a suburb of Los Angeles to Eugene, OR (long story). The funny thing was that people still complained about the DMV even though they hadn’t actually had a real DMV experience as far as I’m concerned.

  2. I love this blog, because I could totally see the “stern,” “hackles raised” expression on your face and the “timidly approaching” the desk face.

    Who is this Eugene person? When you come visit me, maybe y’all can meet up and talk about green travel.

  3. Off Airport Parking

    Great post. I have lived in NY and Florida and sadly your stance is what I find is often true here (not just at DMV but lots of places)! I remember being shocked when I went to my nephew’s school in a small town in vermont and asked a secretary where the guidance counselor’s office was located. I was expecting her to just say something vague and continue to bury her head in her paperwork. But she explained it and then even got up and walked me to the other building so I didn’t get lost.

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