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  • What's wrong with Minnesota?

       September 16, 2010

    We've frequently discussed what's wrong with the Minnesota sports fan, but I think it's worth digging into a little bit more. To outsiders, I suspect that the upper Midwest looks like a homogeneous land of interchangeable white people. Of course, they couldn't be more wrong. Minnesota and Wisconsin, although neighbors, are almost complete cultural opposites.

    Why is that? I suspect it has something to do with immigration patterns. I wanted to take a look at where modern day Minnesotans came from compared to the cultural heritage of Wisconsinites. I put together a couple of charts for a visual comparison:

    At first glance, they're not that different. But on closer examination, what jumps out at you is just how much less Scandinavian and more Polish Wisconsin is. In fact, while Poles make up just over 5% of Minnesota's population, they're nearly 10% of Wisconsin. And, Polish pockets like Milwaukee and Central Wisconsin can be over 30% Polish. Could it be that somewhere between 5 and 9% is the Polish "tipping point" - the point where the mass of Poles is enough to greatly influence the rest of the culture towards polka, kielbasa, hard drinking and uncommon loyalty to sports teams?

    Selfishly, I'd like to think so, but in reality I think that's only part of the story. Just like outsiders assume Upper Midwesterners are all alike, we assume that Scandinavians are all alike. Of course, Swedes, Danes & Norwegians disagree:

    As a matter of fact, jokes featuring "the Swede, the Dane and the Norwegian" are ubiquitous among children in the three countries: the Swede is always depicted as a rich and arrogant child of the Enlightenment, the Dane as a slightly decadent hedonist, and the Norwegian as an uneducated, often stupid country bumpkin. These jokes illustrate how mutual stereotypes not only contribute to the definition of the other, but also function recursively in the definition of the self. The following example is in many ways typical:

    A Swede, a Dane and a Norwegian are shipwrecked on the proverbial desert island. A genie appears out of thin air, informing them that they can each have a wish granted. The Swede immediately says, "I want to go home to my large and comfortable bungalow with the Volvo, video and slick IKEA furniture." So he vanishes. The Dane then says, "I want to go back to my cozy little flat in Copenhagen, to sit in my soft sofa, feet on the table, next to my sexy girlfriend and with a sixpack of lagers." Off he flies. The Norwegian, after giving the problem a bit of thought, then tells the genie, "Cor, I suddenly feel so terribly lonely here, so I guess I wish for my two friends to come back."

    Reading that was definitely an "A ha!" moment for me. Maybe it's not that Minnesota was settled by more Scandinavians and fewer Poles, maybe it's more specific than that. Sure enough, a quick look does reveal that Minnesota is the most Swedish of all the States while the Dakotas and Wisconsin are more Norwegian and Wisconsin, in particular, has more Danes (as if you couldn't guess that).

    It all makes sense, doesn't it? Minnesota was settled by people who had, for generations, looked down their Nordic noses at their "dumb" or hard-partying neighbors. These people may have crossed the Atlantic, but they didn't really change their ways. This is exactly the kind of attitude Minnesota has towards Wisconsin. One of the local free papers even has a running item about "weird Wisconsin" that usually has something to do with drunks and/or cows.

    Much like the Poles in Wisconsin, Minnesota's Swedes had the critical mass to make the State their own, for better or worse.

    Posted by kris at September 16, 2010 08:57 AM

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    #  September 16th, 2010 10:12 AM      james
    where are these minnesota germans? i haven't seen any.  
    #  September 16th, 2010 10:39 AM      kris
    I know! But here's the data.  
    #  September 16th, 2010 10:49 AM      james
    hmm. well, that looks like people self-reporting german ancestry, so they're probably all mixed up with crazy swede genes anyway.  
    #  September 16th, 2010 10:52 AM      james
    German immigrants settled in various places throughout Minnesota. The areas of the state where many of these Germans settled include much of southern Minnesota, the homeland of the Dakota people. Sibley County, including the town of Gibbon, Brown County, including the cities of New Ulm and Sleepy Eye, and Nicollet County became areas of high concentration for the German element. Winona was another area in which Germans settled in southern Minnesota. To the north, Germans made their homes in Stearns County, in such cities as St. Cloud and New Munich, Benton, Morrison, and Wright Counties. Also, Germans settled in such towns and cities as Shakopee in Scott County, Le Sueur in Le Sueur County, Stillwater in Washington County, and Chaska in Carver County. Although Germans settled all over Minnesota, these are some areas in which the concentration of Germans was the highest

    i guess i do know a bunch of people from st could with german surnames. most of them look like swedes, though.  
    #  September 16th, 2010 10:55 AM      kris
    I liked learning about the contrasting stereotypes of Swedes and Norweigans because, as a Norweigan, I didn't really understand how that Scandinavian stereotype made sense for me.  
    #  September 16th, 2010 10:56 AM      james
    new ulm featured in the wikipedia article you linked
    #  September 16th, 2010 10:57 AM      james
    (save that image for the spanish-haters)  
    #  September 16th, 2010 11:00 AM      kris
    Well that can't possibly be accurate. You know that all immigrants in the past came to America and immediately learned English without any accomodation at all. Geez.  
    #  September 16th, 2010 10:43 PM      ratbert65
    i'm half Norwegian and my grandparents "came over on the boat" in the 1900's. They settled in the Madison area and I was told that my uncle, who was born here but spoke norwegian growing up, was sent home from his first day of school with a note that he couldn't return until he spoke english.  
    #  September 17th, 2010 8:14 AM      kris
    But is that fair or right? Your grandparents paid taxes that supported the public schools.  
    #  September 17th, 2010 8:43 AM      james
    The note probably included directions to Minnesota.  
    #  September 17th, 2010 9:39 AM      james
    When my grandfather was a child, he drank out of the black drinking fountain once. He was sent home with a note that said that he couldn't come back to school until he starting drinking out of the white water fountain.  
    #  September 17th, 2010 9:55 AM      kris
    Also, aren't schools supposed to teach kids? Would they also send your kid home from school because he couldn't multiply?  
    #  September 17th, 2010 6:21 PM      ratbert65
    to kris....they moved to america for the promise of america and i don't ever recall hearing that they were bitter about it. when i was told that story it was more told in the vein that they weren't in the old country anymore and had to adapt to the new. i think they were very proud that they came from norway and assimlated into the american melting pot. i have travelled abroad as an internal auditor and am am very grateful that i am able to get by because english is so widely sopken and show my appreciation to help break down the ugly american stereotype.  
    #  September 18th, 2010 9:24 AM      kris
    It's just a crappy thing to do. I mean, where was your father supposed to learn English - your grandparents probably weren't fluent either. And I know people learned but I hate this idea that people don't need help sometimes.  
    #  September 20th, 2010 1:38 PM      kris
    So I was at an Oktoberfest beer tent Saturday night and I was thinking that it was indeed proof of the Germanness of Minnesota, but then I was talking to a guy in the polka band and OF COURSE they were imported from Rhinelander, WI. Oh, Minnesota...  
    #  September 21st, 2010 10:04 AM      dadsay
    Unfortunately, for the Swede's reputation anyway, it for the worse to comment on Kris's article about the Scandinavians in Minnesota. Or "Scandihoovians" as they are referred to here. We live in a traditionally Swedish enclave here and they are some of the most unfriendly people we have ever met. Never was ever treated this cold by the Poles, Germans, Italians, Slavs et cetera growing up in Milwaukee.  
    #  September 22nd, 2010 9:59 AM      kris
    it pains me to be so anti-Swede given my lifelong love of Mats Wilander.  



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