Sunday, May 9, 2010

Midwestern Hospitality

Spent the weekend in St Paul, MN for a Peace Corps friend’s wedding, mostly marveling at how nice all the people working in the service industry were. I expected everyone to be rude and abusive to me, and no one was, except this one lady at the open bar who growled, “NEXT ORDER!” without looking at me.

“Can I get another glass of the zin?” I said, pushing through the nasty the way I always do in New York.

She looked at me, startled, and said, “Oh, I’m sorry, honey. I was talking to my assistant back there. But here, let me go ahead and get that wine for you.”

Brad was standing next to me and said, “Well, in New York she would have been talking to you.”

I was also amazed at how many trees and other green things were growing all over the place, and how all the empty spaces in front of houses were real parking spots that no one needed because they had already found a parking spot.

And, I was amazed at how many fake blonde women there were, mainly middle-aged, using the same honey blonde shade of hair dye.

“I even noticed it on my flight into St. Paul,” I said. “All the flight attendants had the same color hair.”

“The fake blonde is not a Minnesota thing,” Tim said. “It’s a most of the rest of the country thing, except for New York and certain parts of California.”

“Really? Where have I been all this time?” I said.

“In New York and certain parts of California,” he said.

“I do remember bleached blonde hair being all the rage in Chicago back in the 90s,” I said. “But now it seems like the thing to do is be a dyed brunette with long straight hair.”

“Well, you’ll probably start seeing the brunette thing in the rest of the country in another 15 years, because that’s how long it takes for everyone else to catch on,” he said.

Fashion predictions from a water and sanitation engineer from Phoenix, ladies and gentlemen.

Having every single service industry person be totally nice, helpful and competent towards me, and every other person I met be friendly, made me realize that many New Yorkers are just not nice people. I mean, there’s really no excuse for that level of nasty, hateful abuse towards everyone around you when you don’t even know them. In fact, there’s no excuse for it when you do know someone. It doesn’t take any more brain cells or calories to be courteous, although most people who are distasteful are also able to spare a few thousand calories and not need a snack afterwards.

It is true, according to my Minnesotan friends, that Minnesotans and Midwesterners in general tend to be non-confrontational and polite, which I’m told leads to passive aggressiveness since it’s not natural to be that nice all the time.

It was my first trip to Minnesota and I definitely arrived with certain expectations of back-woodsiness. I’m not even sure why I came toting such strong biases. It might be because I’ve befriended quite a few Minnesotans and adopted-Minnesotans in the last five years or so. I felt a bit impatient with the lack of fresh vegetables and non-fried options on the menus, and assumed that the only beer on tap anywhere would be American mass-distributed brands like Bud and Coors. And well, those were on tap, but there were a few local microbrews as well.

I also noticed that so far Minneapolis has been spared the scourge of the skinny jeans fashion craze that is tragically sweeping New York City and traumatizing me and my disturbingly flat ass these days. And I’m referring to the women’s fashion. I doubt skinny jeans for men will ever make it to the Twin Cities, since the entire weekend I didn’t see a single gay man, which is only to say that I didn’t get out that much while I was there. But if I had traveled the same social trajectory in New York, more than half of them would have been gay and/or wearing skinny jeans.

So, thank you, Minnesota, for a wholesome Midwestern weekend full of reminders that the entire world is not New York, for good (mostly) and for bad (a teeny tiny bit).

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