Tuesday, March 13, 2012

There is truth to some stereotypes....

Stereotypes exist about every group of people out there. I am a believer that fairly often, there is some truth behind them all. Minnesotans are no different. There is the idea that we all love hotdish (You know you're from the Midwest when you don't need to Google what hotdish is. Side Note: I recently discovered that people outside of the Midwest don't know what puppy chow is. A crime? I think so.). While some people don't love hotdish, many do (it's near impossible to find a potluck without a hotdish, especially if its at a Lutheran church. There it sits between the red jello, potato salad, and buttered ham sandwiches and before the coffee and bars).

Of course there is the "Minnesota Nice" stereotype. For those of you not from Minnesota, everyone's favourite, Wikipedia, has a pretty good definition of Minnesota Nice: "the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered. The cultural characteristics of Minnesota nice include a polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-depreciation". I laughed while investigating further into Wikipedia's page on Minnesota nice because it featured a quote from a New York Times article saying, "The generosity of state . Side note: The generosity of state citizens has gained respect; the heavily-reported influenza vaccine shortage of fall 2004 did not strike the state as hard as elsewhere since many people willingly gave up injections for others." And apparently there was a 2008 study called The United States of Mind that "found that Minnesota was the second most agreeable (makes me wonder which state was first) and fifth most extraverted state in the nation, traits associated with nice" (again from Wikipedia).

And I can't neglect to mention my favourite stereotype from Garrison Keillor (link provided for you non-Minnesotans) The News from Lake Wobegon, "Lutheran Guilt", or basically feeling guilty all the time and for everything, even when it's not your fault or you have nothing to do with the situation.

I used to laugh at these stereotypes and they were just that- stereotypes. I didn't think much more about it. However, being in Macedonia and with PCVs from all over the US of A and watching a vast amount of How I Met Your Mother I have realized I am one of those people the stereotypes are based off of. I do nothing to offset these ideas about Minnesotans.

Example A:
I was at my local pazar (think farmer's market meets flea market) this past Friday. Since the pazar is a weekly outing, I have developed several vendors that I frequent each week for certain items. I have two orange ladies, an apple couple, and an onion/potato man. My onion/potato man sought me out. One day back in January maybe I was strolling the stalls and I hear "Ој, Американка", the equivalent of "Hey female American". I turn to see a nice older man with onions, potatoes, and garlic. I figured, hey I could use more onions and potatoes so I ask him for a kilo of each. Most vendors hand you a bag and you choose your produce, however, I am still kinda new at this so I prefer the ones who pick it out for me because, like this man, they usually pick out the best for me because, well I am an American (silly reason in my mind, but whatever gets me good produce I guess). The next week he saw me from across the stalls and yelled the same greeting and I have gone back to him ever since.

This week, however, I didn't see him. I didn't hear the familiar yelling, so I wandered around and found a nice lady who sold me some potatoes. I turned around to search for onions and more fruit and there he was, my onion/potato man. Right there, not even 5 feet away, just looking at me. I don't know how I missed him, but I felt terrible. For over a month this man has so graciously picked out the best potatoes and onions from his stash for me and now I had gone and betrayed him, buying potatoes from someone else. I quickly scuttled away with my head down (if I was a dog my tail would have been between my legs in shame), not wanting to look at him. I decided in the moment that this next week I need to buy two kilos of each from him in hopes that I can make up for my error. I still needed onions, but I just couldn't face my normal guy after buying from the enemy.

When I told this story to another PCV (not from Minnesota) they laughed at me and said, "or you could just buy your normal amount. I don't think the guy really cared that much". But being the Minnesotan I am, I was suffering from a severe case of Lutheran Guilt. Did I really need to feel that guilty? No, but I did and I can guarantee when I go to the pazar this week, I will feel ashamed when I buy my onions and potatoes from him.

Exhibit B:
After not being able to buy onions from my usual guy (Exhibit A), I wandered around looking. I saw lots of only so-so onions (I think my onion/potato guy spoiled me because most of them looked sub-par to his) and finally came across one place that had some decent looking onions. I waited my turn (an interesting cultural difference: the concept of lines do NOT exist in this country what-so-ever) patiently and then asked, "Јас сакам еден кило кромид" ("I would like 1 kilo of onions"). The man grabs a pineapple and puts it in a bag for me with a huge smile on his face. I didn't really want a 150 denari pineapple, but the man looked so happy to be selling one and I think he thought it was going to make me really happy. I didn't want to hurt his feelings because he really did look happy, so now, I have this non-ripe pineapple in my fridge.

 The funny thing is the words for pineapple and onion don't sound anything alike. Onion is кромид (crow-meed) and pineapple is ананас (ahn-ahn-ahs). I know my Macedonian is pronounced with quite the accent, but not THAT much. So that leads me to believe that this man took me as a foreign sucker who he could make buy a pineapple even though they don't want one. Well, he picked the right person. I didn't want to make him sad so I kept my mouth shut and walked away with a pineapple.

In talking with the PCV from before they again, laughed and made fun of my Minnesota Niceness, especially when they found out I spent 150 denari on the stupid pineapple (don't get me wrong I enjoy pineapple but 1) I'm not sure how to ripen it in my cold house, 2) now is not pineapple season, and 3) that's a lot to spend on one piece of fruit). I was asked, "Why didn't you just say no you wanted onions?". My only response was, "because the man looked so happy and I didn't want to disappoint him".

I do nothing to fight the stereotypes of Minnesotans and while I know there are a lot of people out there who try to break free from the stereotypes set upon their group, I am ok with confirming the ones most people have about Minnesotans. I know I need to be careful with the Minnesota Nice one as that can lead to being taken advantage of, but is usually a good thing in my mind. In regards to Lutheran Guilt, I probably cause myself some unnecessary stress feeling guilty when I don't need to, but not too much. And as far as hotdishes, what I wouldn't do for some of my mom's wild rice and buffalo hotdish right now.

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