The state of the state

Minnesota is taking heat, both nationally and internally. But while we wait out the gvt shutdown, how ’bout some lighter aspects, eh?

I was rummaging through a box of old books at my aunt’s house, and decided to borrow this one.

*Note the hotdish

How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor’s Guide by Howard Mohr. It’s a quick read, thanks to the facetiously backcountry writing style.

Mohr is a former writer for A Prairie Home Companion and calls himself “creator of Minnesota languages systems.” The book was written in 1987, however many of its topics have not changed much. Everything from basic conversations, eating out, vacationing, romance, gifting, body language, road rules, gambling, music, and class reunions is covered in the guide.

Here’s one — There is an angle rule, diagram included, for how close two Minnesotans may stand while conversing. “90 degrees is the average, 135 degrees is common, and 180 degrees is within reason. Heated arguments in public places would be in the 45-degree range. Voices are not raised.” The MMDBB is “Minnesota mean distance between bodies.” Also, there are at least 5 types of hand waves outlined. Waving is a big deal, apparently. It’s very high pressure and situation-dependent. Some waves require no return wave, others require head nods with variations on eye contact. Very complex.

So we’ve heard the stereotypes “oh ya” and “you betcha,” but here are a few that I’m actually guilty of saying: “whatever” and “for sure.” 100% Minnesotan phrases. And my favorite find: “It could be worse.” In a mutual effort to not complain, we use this one when something serious happens, often accessorized with a shoulder shrug.

Since reading the book, I’m hyper-tuned into people’s accents and mannerisms. Like how local news anchors emphasize “o’s” or just how much small talk revolves around weather and construction, or how often people are passive (or passive-agressive).  It’s written as caricature, but there are bits within How to Talk Minnesotan that hold truth.

(How to Talk Minnesotan the musical)


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