A Local’s Guide to Minnesota Culture
For most people, Minnesota isn’t a place you immediately fall in love with. Trust me, I’ve lived here for nearly a decade. It’s a quirky place and while there are misconceptions about living here, there are many stereotypes about Minnesota culture that are entirely accurate.
I like to think of “Being Minnesotan” as a state of mind. You can live in Minnesota and not be Minnesotan. A true Minnesotan embraces all the unique aspects of Minnesota culture, for better or for worse.
Honestly, this has been one of the more fun posts I’ve written. It’s uncovered my own Minnesotan-ness and, at times, had me laughing out loud as I discovered new aspects of Minnesota culture I wasn’t previously aware of.
I am positive that some Minnesotans will disagree with items on this list or that I’ve missed some things, but based on the first item below I’m also positive they won’t tell me 🙂
- Minnesota Culture
- Minnesota Sayings
- Minnesota Food
- Minnesota Weather in General
- Minnesota Winter
- Minnesota Summer
- Minnesota Driving Etiquette
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Minnesota is located in the Midwestern United States. It can be difficult to tease out which aspects of the Minnesota culture are specific to living in Minnesota versus the broader culture of the Midwest US. Having lived in several other areas of the Midwest, I’ve done my best to only include items on this list that seem to be unique to Minnesota culture.
This is not just a saying, it’s a deeply entrenched aspect of Minnesotan culture. On the surface, yes, Minnesotans are very “nice” and I know that this niceness is often very genuine. But, the longer you live here, the more you will realize that this “niceness” stems from a deep fear of anything that could slightly resemble conflict.
At its best, Minnesota Nice makes interactions with others quite pleasant, but at its worst it can feel passive aggressive and conflict averse. It’s neither a good or a bad thing about the culture, it just is and it’s presence is pervasive.
Read on for examples of Minnesota Nice.
Or Minnesota Ice?
There’s a saying about Minnesotans, “they’ll give you directions to anywhere but their house.” As a transplant to the area, this is incredibly true.
When I first moved to Minnesota, I thought I was killing it at the “making new friends” game. I was getting invites to lunch and happy hour left and right. You know, “hey, we should totally grab drinks sometime.” But then I realized none of these plans were actually coming to fruition. These offers were not true intentions to meet up. This is Minnesota Ice in action.
At first, I took this personally. But, I realized that Minnesotans aren’t really trying to keep you out, they just tend to maintain a close circle of friends and family. This can make it hard to break into a friend group with Minnesotans.
For this reason, those new to Minnesota will likely find their initial friend circle with other transplants to the area. My advice is to be patient, you will eventually build meaningful connections with Minnesotans!
The Minnesota Goodbye
For the love of all that’s good, this one drives me crazy. Because Minnesotans are so nice and don’t want to offend you, there’s this bizarre dance that happens anytime they are parting ways with a friend or coworker. The average time from when you (or someone) begins to say goodbye at a party or other social event to when you actually leave has got to be at least 30 minutes. You can try and fight it, but my recommendation is to do the dance.
Charitable Gambling at Bars
Casinos are only allowed on tribal grounds in Minnesota, with a few exceptions. One exception is licensed charitable gambling at bars and other establishments. These two examples, in particular, are unique to Minnesota culture.
If you walk into a bar and see a large colorful wheel with three concentric rings of numbers on the wall, you’re in for a treat. This is a Tri-Wheel. You bet on the color and number, the dealer spins the wheel and you are paid out if you pick the winning color and number!
Pro Tip: Tri Wheel becomes exponentially more fun the more you drink!
The first time I heard of a meat raffle, I was sure I had heard incorrectly. But I hadn’t. It’s exactly what you think. You buy a ticket, if your number gets drawn, you win (typically locally sourced) meat. I seriously couldn’t make this up if I tried. It’s genius!
Pro Tip: There are some bars in the Twin Cities that do occasional plant-based options for vegans and vegetarians.
Duck Duck Gray Duck
To non-Minnesotans, this childhood game will only be known as “duck duck goose” but Minnesotans, of course, had to be different. To be honest, I’ve never heard a solid reason on why Minnesotans use “gray duck” instead of “goose” except that it’s possibly tied to a Scandinavian game of the same name.
Note: One reader shared that “duck, duck, goose” is used in the Iron Range area of northern Minnesota.
The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
Did you know that up until his death, Prince maintained a home and recording studio in the southwest Minneapolis suburbs? His recording studio, Paisley Park, now offers tours and other unique experiences about all things related to Prince.
Minnesotans love Prince so much that the weekend he died, several blocks in downtown Minneapolis shutdown and had a nonstop party in the streets to celebrate his life and music!
Even after living here for 9 years, I don’t understand why the folklore character Paul Bunyan is so popular in Minnesota. But, he is. And there’s a lot of statues of him throughout the state.
If you’re not familiar, he was a lumberjack with incredible strength always portrayed wearing a black and red flannel shirt, carrying an ax, with his trusty ginormous blue ox, Babe, walking beside him.
Years before I moved to Minnesota, I watched the movie Fargo. I liked it, but it wasn’t until I lived in Minnesota for a few years that I really appreciated how accurately it represented Minnesotan culture and slang. After reading, this I highly recommend you rewatch Fargo.
Oh yah, you betcha
This quintessential Minnesotan saying has a lot going on. First, it’s got the long “oh”, pronounced “ooooooooh”. Then, you’ve got the “yah” which means “yes”. Finally, the “you betcha” is the Minnesotan way of agreeing with something.
You’ll also hear “ya sure”, which is a variation on this. Again, this is a way of saying “yes” but if there’s a pause (as in “Ya. Sure.”) that means the person is being sarcastic.
Uffda is a nod to Minnesota’s Norwegian roots. The phrase is used to express surprise, exhaustion, relief, or dismay. It roughly translates to “I am overwhelmed” in Scandinavian-American culture and is often used in place of “dang it” or “oh no!”
Pronounced like “nope” without the “n”, “ope” is a word that serves many functions for a true Minnesotan. Generally, though, it’s a form of apology, usually for something that doesn’t require an apology, or a way of saying “excuse me.”
My favorite use of it is “ope, let me sneak right past ya der.” This is used anytime you want to walk past someone and have even the smallest potential of disrupting what they’re doing. Ope can also be used to convey surprise. For more on the use of the word “ope”, checkout this awesome video called “School of Ope.”
Honestly, I didn’t even realize this was a thing until I started doing research for this article. When a friend pointed this out, I started catching myself and others using it all. the. time.
Much like ope, interesting can be used in many different ways. For instance, “oh, that’s interesting” usually means it’s not at all interesting or you disagree with what the person is saying but don’t want to tell them you disagree.
Food in Minnesota
Minnesota has an unexpectedly good food scene, especially the Twin Cities. But in general, there’s some serious Minnesotan food quirks and oddities.
So, wait for it, this is basically a dish that’s hot. Often referred to as a casserole elsewhere in the US, Minnesotans love their hot dish.
One of the most popular, is the tater tot hot dish, which is exactly what it sounds like. I still cannot wrap my mind around how this is a thing and why there are green beans in this dish.
From high end restaurants to your family dinner table, hot dish is the hottest dish in Minnesota.
Pro Tip: While we’re talking about potato related things, I should mention that several Minnesotans mentioned a product called “Top the Tater” as one of their favorite Minnesota foods. I’ve not tried it, but you can find it in most grocery stores. It’s often used as an ingredient in hot dish recipes or to dip potato chips in.
Juicy (or Jucy) Lucy
Burgers are good, but have you ever had one with molten melty cheese stuffed in the center? <mind blown> This is the Minnesota-born delight called the Jucy Lucy. No one can agree on where it originated or who has the best one, but the top contenders are Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club, both in Minneapolis.
Here’s more on other great cheap eats in Minneapolis!
Bloody Mary’s with a Sidecar of Beer
This is so bizarre to me and I still haven’t embraced this aspect of Minnesota culture. If you order a Bloody Mary cocktail, it will always come with a small “sidecar” glass of beer. I have never seen this anywhere else, except Minnesota.
Pro Tip: Most places will swap the standard light beer for another beer of your choosing if you ask!
Last Bite Standoff
Another manifestation of Minnesota Nice is that no one will dare take the last bite of a shared plate of food. For instance, if you are out to dinner with two other friends and order an appetizer with four spring rolls, everyone will eat one and there will be one left on the plate. If you are bold enough to touch it, it’s expected that you cut off just a portion of it leaving the remaining bites for someone else. If you eat the entire fourth spring roll or the final bite in general, be prepared for serious judgement from your friends.
There is not one thing about this that says salad to me. It’s literally flavored gelatin with fruit, marshmallows, nuts, cottage cheese and/ or whatever else someone decides to throw in. If you don’t want to make your own, don’t worry, most grocery stores sell it in the deli section. Seriously, though, give this a hard pass!
Starbuck’s nemesis from the Bold North, is Caribou Coffee. Caribou offers a Minnesota cabin feel and some unique drinks that you just can’t find at Starbucks. My go-to favorite is the unsweetened mango iced tea but a crowd favorite is the mocha which comes with a chocolate covered espresso bean on top! Here’s more on the difference between Starbucks and Caribou Coffee.
Crockpots are the Solution to Everything
If you’re invited to a potluck with a group of Minnesotans, first of all you’ve officially made it. As I mentioned, it’s hard to break into a group of Minnesotans. But second, when in doubt, bring something in a crockpot.
I’ve been to potlucks where there are extensions cords setup so that everyone has a place to park and plug in their crockpot!
Pro Tip: A potluck is a common term for when someone has a party and everyone is asked to bring one dish to share with everyone.
Did you know that Honey Crisp apples were developed at the University of Minnesota? You betcha and you’re welcome! Every fall, Minnesotans flock to the nearest apple orchard to pick their favorite apples. In fact, at most grocery stores there is practically an entire section for all of the apple varieties!
Weather in General
Complaining about the weather
If complaining about the weather was a sport, Minnesotans would be tied with the British for the gold medal (I know, I lived in England for 3 years). On the surface, this can feel really negative to an outsider. However, it’s actually a unique bonding thing between Minnesotans.
Whether it’s -30F in the winter or 90% humid in the summer, it’s like “hey, we’re getting through this together.”
Downtown Minneapolis has more than 11 miles of skyway, which is essentially a series of above ground glass tunnels connecting the buildings. Why, you ask? Because winter. It’s also pretty awesome to avoid stopping at traffic lights when walking in the city!
The Minneapolis skyway is like an alternate universe filled with bars, restaurants and shops that are not visible from the street level in downtown.
Pro Tip: The skyway closes overnight and many of the shops and restaurants on the skyway level are only open during the weekdays.
My first winter living in Minnesota, I almost packed up my dog and essentials and just started driving south. The intensity of the cold was so much more than I was accustomed to. But, I persevered and each year the spring would make me fall back in love with this state. Nine years later, I’ve now come to love winter.
Snow Days Aren’t a Thing
It’s incredibly rare for schools or companies to close their doors due to snow in Minnesota. More likely, is that they close for extreme cold – as in, it’s so cold that it’s not safe for people to travel to work. Unless you have the flexibility of working from home, plan on being at work regardless of the weather.
Making Sure Your Car Starts
In Minnesota, it’s not cold until your car won’t start. This is especially likely to happen when your car sits for extended periods of time in the extreme cold. So, Minnesotans will randomly start their cars throughout the day (or night) to make sure it starts.
Pro Tip: It’s worth it to invest in a remote car starter to warm up your car and covered or heated parking, if possible.
Outside All Year Round
One of the things that made me finally fall in love with winter in Minnesota is getting outside to enjoy the colder months. Minnesotans will be outside hiking frozen waterfalls, fat tire biking, ice fishing, cross country skiing and so much more all winter long. Add these year-round outdoor adventures to your Minnesota bucket list!
Coozies Keep Beer From Freezing
While other parts of the world use coozies to keep their beers cool during the summer, Minnesotans use them to keep beer from freezing in the winter.
Gloves on Stick and Street Signs
Warm gloves are an essential piece of Minnesotan winter gear. It’s not uncommon to be walking down the street or trail in the winter in Minnesota and see a single glove propped up on a branch or signpost. This is the Minnesotan way of helping someone find their lost glove. I’ve not seen statistics on how often someone is actually reunited with their lost glove but it’s the thought that counts, right?
Shoes: Function vs Fashion
Minnesotans tend to throw all fashion to the wind when it comes to winter footwear. If it’s not the snow, it’s the ice. And if it’s not the ice, it’s the salt used to melt the ice. Nice shoes don’t stand a chance against the winter elements in Minnesota.
But, what you may not know is that Minnesotans often carry a spare pair of *cute* shoes to swap out for those functional winter boots when they reach their destination. I, for sure, have worn Ugg boots out on New Year’s Eve, checked them at the coat check, and changed into heels I had carried in my purse.
Knowing the Difference Between Temperature & Wind Chill
Minnesotans care far less about the temperature outside as they do about the windchill. This is also often referred to as the “feels like” temperature. On the news, you will hear “today’s high is 10F, with a windchill of -8F.”
You may be thinking, but that’s so cold! Yes, it is. But Minnesotans know that there are some benefits to extreme cold. For instance, did you know it can get so cold that it doesn’t snow? Yep! While snow can be delightful to play in, shoveling and driving in snow is not so fun!
Hockey is Life
Hockey is an deeply engrained part of Minnesota culture. From the annual hockey hair rankings to the National Pond Hockey Championships hosted in Minnesota, it’s inescapable.
A common misconception about Minnesota is that it’s always cold. This is incredibly not true! We experience all four amazing seasons, from high heat and high humidity, to blizzards and subzero temperatures. Minnesotans spend summers outside, hiking and camping in the Minnesota State Parks, exploring the North Shore of Lake Superior, and reveling in the lake life.
In my time living in Minnesota, I’ve collected an arsenal of mosquito repellant. By last count I have nine brands and none have proven effective against the mosquitoes of Minnesota. There must be 1000 mosquitoes for every last one of the 10,000 lakes in this state. Actually, that’s probably a very low estimate!
Pro Tip: After years of donating my body to science, I’ve put together a list of the best tips to avoid getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and ticks. You can thank me later.
Each spring as the temperatures warm up and the snow melts, Minnesotans celebrate the beginning of “patio season.” You will often hear Minnesotans debating “what restaurant or bar has the best patio.”
Oh, and patio season doesn’t require actual warm temperatures. The moment it’s above like 50F, we’ll be looking for that patio seating.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA)
If you haven’t heard of the Boundary Waters yet, it’s an outdoor lovers dream. Although it’s a popular destination, limited permits are made available to maintain it’s natural state. To enjoy the Boundary Waters, grab a canoe and some camping gear and start paddling through the web of waterways along the Canadian border.
I’ve heard stories of Minnesotans going into the Boundary Waters for months without coming out, just living off of the land (though these could be tall tales).
Pro Tip: Plan a long weekend in the adorable harbor town of Grand Marais Minnesota, which is the gateway into the Boundary Waters!
While Minnesotans do enjoy the 10,000 lakes year round, lake life usually refers to summer activities on or near a lake. These include running, biking, kayaking, boating and fishing. Specifically, boating on Lake Minnetonka and partying on Big Island is a rite of passage for any Minnesotan.
Heading “Up North” to a Cabin
In Minnesota, the word cabin doesn’t just refer to log cabins. A cabin is any house or house-like structure that is in close proximity to a lake, usually located somewhere north of the Twin Cities. Sometimes, cabins aren’t even in proximity to a lake but just out in the woods.
While some Minnesotans live at their cabins year round, it’s more common for them to be used as a second property. Weekends in the summer are often spent enjoying the “lake life” at someone’s cabin.
Pro Tip: If you don’t have access to your own or a friend’s cabin, find a rental cabin in Northern Minnesota!
Minnesota State Fair
True Minnesotans know that this is really called the “Great Minnesota Get-Together.” For roughly two weeks, Minnesotans flock to the State Fair to eat things on a stick, enjoy carnivals rides and games, and celebrate all sorts of livestock and agricultural exhibits.
As someone who strongly dislikes crowds, the State Fair can be overwhelming. But, it’s such an icon of Minnesota culture that you have to experience it at least once!
Minnesota Driving Etiquette
After living in five states and three countries, and traveling to many more, I can honestly say that Minnesota drivers are among the worst I’ve encountered. They aren’t as aggressive as other cities like Los Angeles or Chicago, but they are passive aggressive and often unaware of what’s going on around them. Here are a few common examples.
Four Way Stop Signs[Reference: Minnesota Nice above] It’s not uncommon to pull up to a four way stop sign and have the person who clearly has the right of way, wave at you to go instead. If you don’t go when they wave you to, there will be an awkwardly long standoff.
Not Making Eye Contact When Merging[Reference: Minnesota Nice above] As oncoming traffic merges onto a highway or two lanes merge together, Minnesotans will not make eye contact. If you pay attention, you can often catch them side-eyeing you but God forbid they look at you while merging. That would be too aggressive.
Driving Slowly in the Passing Lane
I have no idea why Minnesotans do this. I’ve lived and traveled all around the US and have never seen anything like it. In the US, the far left lane is known as the passing lane. This is meant for cars driving at a faster speed to pass those driving slower in the lanes to the right. Many Minnesotan drivers seem to think of this as a leisure lane, not worrying at all about the 20 cars lined up behind them waiting for them to move out of the way.
Are These the Most Minnesotan Things Ever?
All in all, I’ve come to love these quirks about Minnesota culture and am so happy to call this place home!
But, put Minnesota Nice aside and tell me, what did I miss on this list of the most Minnesotan things ever?