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.
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.
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, one baby, and an identical twin. Contrary to all conventional wisdom, she regularly brings up both religion and politics at the dinner table.
BY Ellen Koneck - December 23, 2017
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.
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