From the Big Apple Back to the Minne-Apple

I’ll admit that it seems like a strange place to accidentally end up, but I never really intended to live in New York City. I know other people—lots of people, in fact—need to live there. To check it off a bucket list. To see if they can make it. To really earn their status as starving artists by emulating the beatniks of bygone generations. But I was just floating along, content to be wherever things worked out—when, a few years ago, the crowded sidewalks and exorbitant rent of New York City suddenly summoned. What a calling.

This fall my husband and I moved back to Minneapolis; from the Big Apple back to the Minne-Apple, if you will. Despite growing up here, I’ve found that the transition from Manhattan to Minnesota has been marked by something of a re-culture shock.

Let me explain.

From the Big Apple Back to the Minne-Apple – Wit & Delight

Minnesota Nice & New York Mean

Minnesotans are intent on niceness—which comes in the form of eye contact with passersby, chit-chat in line at the grocery store, asking the same question several times before believing the original answer (are you sure you don’t need a ride??), and infinitely cutting the last piece of any break-room dessert to avoid taking the last bite.

New Yorkers, on the other hand, have a reputation for harsh interactions, and when I first arrived, I was shocked by the cruelty of the apparent social pact to totally ignore each other. So, during my first week of work in NYC (as an homage to my heritage) I made a plan to greet and acknowledge every single person I passed.

It was totally exhausting. Turns out, spending the kind of emotional and social energy that Minnesotans spend on strangers leaves you drained by 9:00 AM in New York. Adopting this “cold” interpersonal dynamic is really the only way to survive such a densely populated city. But it’s not only a mode of self-preservation; it can be a service to others. That’s right, friends. I think New-York-mean can be more considerate than Minnesota-nice. Sometimes it’s wonnnderful to feel uninterruptedly anonymous in a crowd; to be asked a question once and be believed; to bask in silence while making a mental to-do list in line at Target; or to snag the last bite without feeling self-conscious.

Slow Walkers & Fast Talkers

New Yorkers wear stress like a badge of honor. To be fair, it’s a badge they’ve earned: cramming like sardines into increasingly inconsistent public transportation, only to be “held by the train’s dispatcher” for reasons and lengths of time unknown. But because New York is filled with the kind of crazy people who need to live there for the sake of their ambition or sense of adventure, I wouldn’t be surprised if the population skews toward Type-A’s. It seems like everyone’s got a hustle. Instead of the weather, folks fill their small talk with topics of stress and striving.

In Minnesota, self-imposed anxiety isn’t rewarded, and people just aren’t that impressed with how little sleep you got. It’s not that folks don’t work hard: it’s that Midwesterners don’t seem intent on overwhelming themselves on purpose. This cultural difference first struck me in the form of skepticism: I was actually relaxing in the evenings after work. Was I doing something wrong? Did I forget a major project with a looming deadline? Had I stood up a friend for a date? I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I were relaxed, I must be behind. But nope, nope, nope: there’s just a different (ahem, healthy) pace to life in Minnesota.

Except when it comes to walking in crowds and taking right-hand turns in your vehicles. On these matters, I’m sticking with New Yorkers: you’ve gotta pick up the pace, Minnesota.

From the Big Apple Back to the Minne-Apple – Wit & Delight

Foreign & Familiar

When I moved to New York, everything was new. A new (teeny, overpriced) apartment, a new (scary, underground) form of transportation, a new (intimidating editorial) job—even a new vocabulary (i.e. what is a bodega cat and how do I get on its good side?). The opposite can be said about my move back to Minnesota. I already know what goulash is, and I know how to get to 694 when 35 is closed. But to my delight, the Minnesota I moved to is subtly but significantly different than the Minnesota I was expecting. A lot has happened in the years I’ve been gone—new restaurants, neighborhoods, laws, and leaders—that I didn’t manage to keep up on during short visits for the holidays. So instead of settling into old routines and relying on what’s familiar in my home state, I’ve been trying to adopt the mentality I had when I arrived out east: the contagious up-for-anything-ness that seems to pervade life in the Big Apple.

In fact, there are a lot of ways I plan to try to bring some of the hallmarks of east coast living to bear on my new (old) Midwest life. I’ll smile at strangers, but otherwise, leave them alone (and cross my fingers for the same consideration once in a while). When asked for my opinion, I’ll give it straightforwardly, but with sensitivity about my tone. I’ll bask in the healthy pace of the Midwest life, but plan to slowly and mindfully introduce habits and hobbies that fill me up, rather than drain me. I might even honk in traffic.

Photos by Ellen Koneck


 Ellen Koneck likes reading and writing and thinks homebodiness is a virtue. She has her MA in religion from Yale and works in academic publishing. She has one plant, one tattoo, and an identical twin. Contrary to all conventional wisdom, she regularly brings up both religion and politics at the dinner table.

 

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  • When I went back to visit my mother in my home state of Missouri after several years in the New York area, I barely recognized the place. The highway running through St. Louis looked vacant to me even though it was mid-morning, and it only got worse as I headed north to the rural county where I was raised. Even being prepared for it this year when I visited again it was surprising to me. The place and culture have not changed, but I have, and nothing looks or seems the same there any more.

  • We visit NYC several times a year, and I always brace myself for the impending harshness of the city and its residents. Each time we visit, though, we are always met by kindly people and a general warmth throughout the city. Perhaps the mindset is changing (a little)?

    • I have a theory (like M below also suggests) that New Yorkers are deeply kind, but not necessarily nice in a traditional sense. Instead, it seems like they’re tuned into what interactions are *needed* – no more and no less. It’s part of what makes me miss the city!

  • When I went back to visit my mother in my home state of Missouri after several years in the New York area, I barely recognized the place. The highway running through St. Louis looked vacant to me even though it was mid-morning, and it only got worse as I headed north to the rural county where I was raised. Even being prepared for it this year when I visited again it was surprising to me. The place and culture have not changed, but I have, and nothing looks or seems the same there any more.

    • Isn’t it wild to have something so familiar also feel foreign all at once? That’s been one of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make – you describe it really well!

  • I never expected to stay in New York as long as I have, but in my years there I’ve found New Yorkers to be kind in an efficient manner. If you really need something (directions, help up stairs, they will oblige. But like you said, communal transportation requires some semblance of “privacy” by way of “ignoring” each other. I always remind first-timers that New Yorkers don’t have cars, we have feet. So be considerate of the sidewalk “system” (walk on the right) and keep pace or step aside. And likewise when I visit the suburbs, I’m struck by the inefficiency and wastefulness of the lifestyle: everyone drives everywhere, no one walks. Neighborhoods built without sidewalks or bike lanes, vast expanses of parking lots, highways and driveways—entire communities built and designed in service/worship of cars, not people. And I wonder, who is actually crazy?

  • Ahh, this is all SO TRUE Sara! I completely agree with your thought that New Yorkers are ” kind in an efficient manner” – that is a perfect description. I also found that, whenever I needed something, someone was ready and available. (And I found myself noticing when there were aberrations to the flow of sidewalk traffic: a clue that someone else might need something from me; it’s almost like developing a sixth sense.) You nailed the heart of my re-culture shock: now that I’ve adjusted to the norms of the NYC, it’s hard to adjust to the cars, the parking lots, the apparent devotion to personal and private space – which often comes at a cost to community, I think.

    I’m grateful for all your insights! xo

  • I love this so much! I haven’t lived in New York (yet?), but have always wanted to, and everything you describe is exactly what I would expect (and enjoy). I completely agree about the straightforwardness and uninterrupted anonymity being considerate (and far less exhausting). Also lol on the last piece of break-room dessert. Hahaha. Totally an issue here. Welcome back to MN, enjoy all that’s good and new, and thanks for sharing your story. Made my day.