CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (U-Wire) — Last week I ran short on, er, feminine hygiene products and had to stop at a convenience store to buy some.
If this is sounding a bit too much like YM magazine’s “Say Anything” column, bear with me. It has a point.
I brought a box to the counter, where my dad was paying for gas. The clerk, a pony-tailed blonde teenager, rang them up.
As we were leaving, she smiled and leaned conspiratorially toward me.
“Me, too,” she said with a sympathetic smile.
I’ve been in Minnesota two weeks now, and it gets better each day. Where else but the Midwest will your cashier admit to you, in front of your father, that she, too, has her “monthly visitor”?
At first, I was a bit shell-shocked, stuck in my crotchety Boston mode. When I went for my daily run, I would keep my head down and eyes on the sidewalk, taking care not to make eye contact with anyone — and especially not those lewd construction workers, for God’s sake!
But slowly, slowly, I began to look up. I began to notice that people were looking at me as I passed them in my haughty navel-gazing funk. They were trying to offer me a friendly greeting, and they looked miffed and a bit hurt by my tunnel vision.
Now, two weeks into my summer, I’ve relaxed a bit. I have a strange yearning to ditch my black suits for bright colors and floral prints. And now I smile and say hello when I pass someone on the street.
Of course, you can’t do this in Boston. There are just too many people. If I said hello to every person I passed, I’d never have any breath left for running, not to mention that I’d never move at all. Instead of shouldering my way irritably through the crowd as usual, I’d have to stop and say, “Excuse me, please.”
My classmates, with their half-joking jabs, have tried to convince me that the Midwest is a backward, simple hickville, and it almost worked. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you. But I think it’s Midwesterners who are behind it.
To explain why, I’m going to have to tell another story. Yesterday, while trucking along on the Interstate in rural Minnesota, I got my first flat tire. Luckily, it was the middle of the afternoon, so I just got out of my car and stood on the shoulder, trying to look helpless. Inside of ten minutes, a nice gentleman named Scott pulled over to help me. He taught me to change a tire while telling me about his three daughters and how he only hoped someone else would do the same for them.
Scott wasn’t from Minnesota. He was from Texas. When he asked me how long I’d been waiting, I said ten minutes. He said, “In Texas, it would have been ten seconds.”
Later, at the service station, while I waited for my new tire, I relayed Scott’s comment to the owner, a charming old chap with a gray mustache. He told me people used to be much friendlier in Minnesota, but with the influx of people crossing our border in recent years, East and West Coast attitudes had spread and now he wasn’t even sure if Minnesota was a place where he wanted to live.
But though things may have changed a bit, it’s still one of the friendliest places around. And maybe to keep it that way, Midwesterners like to perpetuate the hickville image.
Here in Minnesota, we do talk funny. Lots of us are still farmers. Our newspapers feature parades and job fairs on the front page, and a full page of high school honor roll listings on the inside. But the landscape is beautiful. There’s nothing like a prairie sunset. There are gobs of trees, and everywhere the trees aren’t, there’s a lake.
Sure, some days I go outside and the pungent scent of ripe cow manure assaults me. But on the whole, Minnesota smells a good bit cleaner than Boston. And gol durn it, people are friendly.
Even if every retail purchase doesn’t result in divulgence of a personal secret, there is something to be said for announcing the amount due instead of waiting for the customer to notice you’ve finished and look for the total on your register display.
Though I’ll return to Boston come September and love it for its own peculiarities, I’m devoting this summer to re-learning to love Minnesota. I’ve lost my faint Boston accent and I’m droppin’ the g’s off of most ‘-ing’ words these days. I’m walking to the grocery store and writing a check every time, and they never ask me for ID. My alarm clock is tuned to the local country music station, and I sing along in the shower to those twangy melodies I scorned in high school because I just couldn’t wait to get off to the big city.
So if you run into me in Cambridge this fall, I’ll teach you the words to “There’s a Tear in My Beer” and “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under.” Just don’t tell anyone. Not because I’m embarrassed — I just don’t want them to find out what they’re missing
Elizabeth A. Gudrais’s column originally appeared in Friday’s Harvard University paper, the Harvard Crimson.