Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Oh shoot, I thought this picture would print larger.
It says, "I am a nice person. Come closer."

Am I nice person, or not? Am I good, am I kind? I always thought I was, but I have been questioning it lately, especially after I lost my job. I think I'm a nice person who didn't deserve what I got. In my view, I'm an example of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People."
I know I am nice to the underdog. There have been a couple of people at work who were mistreated and/or shunned by the other staff members. One was a teenage helper whose personality and dress came in for ridicule, and another a temp who looked just like she was: a woman worn down and beaten by her life. I went out of my way to be nice to those people, and when the teen left (both were unceremoniously dumped), she slipped me a note that said, "Julie, thanks for helping me. You are a good person."
I was once eating in a hospital cafeteria when I saw an old man struggling to put on his jacket. The way he was weaving around, some might have thought him drunk. I helped him with his jacket, and he was so thankful he almost cried. He told me he had a medical condition that affected the way he walked and moved. So at least there are some people who think I am good, or nice, or kind.
I found two "Nice Person" tests on the Internet. I scored a 3 on the site, which means I am a "Very Nice Person." However, it was a very short test. On the 100-question test on site, I scored 86.0% "in the niceness domain" and am "probably a really nice person or, a liar." Well, I like to think I was telling the truth. But I don't think this was a very reliable test, as many of the questions were along this line - Had I:

Stolen from or beat up a small child?
Put someone in a dumpster?
Purposely ruined someone's clothes?
Killed an animal or person?
Poisoned someone or set them on fire?
Set a house on fire?
I think you see the trend here. I think this quiz was written by the "nicest" prisoner in the cell block. I also think it was quite tongue in cheek, as one of the questions asks if I had ever "tortured someone in a dungeon."
I always thought I was a practitioner of the "Minnesota Nice" rule, which also extends to North Dakota. (Minnesotans just coined the phrase first, the show offs.)
People who practice "Minnesota Nice" are friendly (even clerks), they ask "How are you?" and mean it, they don't get impatient if you hold up a line when you can't find the right change, they allow you to budge into traffic, etc. etc. They carry things for you, they open doors for you. Minnesotans are world renowned for their generosity, their charitable activities and donations, their hospitality and courtesy to others. Minnesotans file fewer civil lawsuits than people in other states.
There are a few particular categories of "Minnesota Nice" that I and my book club friends instantly recognize, as a lot of us are of Scandinavian descent. Scandinavians, it is well known, offer you food and drink multiple times. My Grandma was happiest when she could fill your tummy and put slippers on your feet. She thought if your feet were warm, your whole body was warm. I was warm alright, enveloped in the warmth of her love. It's the first thing my husband noticed about her when he met her.
Scandinavians are notorious for prolonging good-byes. One couple will say, "Well, we'd better be going," and the host will bring up something new to keep them there awhile. Then, when you finally get out to the car, they lean in the window and talk some more. After you pull away, they stand in the street, waving (I'm talking about grownups here.) My friend Jude actually did this (in the driveway, not the street) after a particularly rousing book club.
And Scandinavians are nothing if not tactful. If they see something - say a painting - they won't say what's really on their mind ("Uffda, it looks like the bottom of a chicken coop."), they'll say, "That's interesting. (Don't like it.)", or "That's different. (Can't stand it.)" It's like damnation with faint praise.
Ryan, on the blog "Rambling Rhodes," explains M.N. very well: "There's a rule here in Minnesota, unspoken and unwritten though it may be. It is: no matter how angry, how frustrated, irritated or bent out of shape you may be regarding the actions of others, you must stoically remain silent and steadfastly refuse to show any displeasure whatsoever. 'Oh, you ran over my foot? Twice? With a train? No problem. Off you go, you little scamp. Godspeed and good health to you (cheery wave).' You can always tell when you're dealing with a non-native Minnesotan, because they end up speaking their mind, which is just a horrifying concept to a Minnesotan. 'You said what you think? How RUDE!'"
I personally think most people have who have experienced Minnesota Nice would rather experience it than "California Cruelty" or "Mississippi Mean" or "Rhode Island Rude." Others, however, wish for more to-the-point behavior. If everyone - not wishing to offend - refuses to argue, some ask, how can you have intellectual discussions? Are people who practice Minnesota Nice acting like doormats? Aren't they justified to get angry if someone is truly mistreating them?
Some say Minnesota Nice is just a facade. On the website's forum, one writer posited that while you may find a lot of nice people there you won't find a lot of friendly ones. "Minnesotans," she says, "by and large have their circle of friends and family and aren't always interested in adding to it." Wow! Change that to Bismarck, ND, and that's what I've experienced in some circles.
Another participant in the forum thinks that nice versus friendly is a good thing. "Minnesota Nice means we are friendly to a point: We will wave and say hi, give directions, etc., but will keep our noses out of your business unless you ask for advice."
The most damning argument against Minnesota Nice is this, from "Minnesota Nice is a pattern of non-conformist, passive aggressive behavior. It is a manifestly dysfunctional foundation for relationships."
In fact, in my research I found many, many correlations between the phrases Minnesota Nice and Passive Aggressive. And that has opened a whole can of worms for me. But that's fodder for another post.

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