It’s hard getting used to a new city. Wherever I go, I keep hearing Seattle outside the window – the rain, the coffee culture, the waft of microbooze, the casual dude-speak, snowboard babble which penetrates the city with cursing youth in baggy pants. Yeah, I berate it, but I miss it. Like the old guy waiting for the bus that never comes, I keep looking for it.

I’ve been in Minneapolis for six weeks, and I’m still not getting used to it. I’ll spare you the archetypal banter about the Fargo accent, the provincial mentality, the Arctic climes, the bad-ass bugs – that’s all good. But I will say this: I’m not sure if Seattle is just ultra Starbucks casual, but this city is downright tough.

Let’s start with the basics: cash. In Seattle, a customer can get “cash back” at any given place that carries the stuff. Here, the words “cash back” inspire confusion and hostility. Example: Last week I waited in line at Rainbow to purchase a pack of gum and get some money to do my laundry. When I asked for cash back, the clerk looked at me as though I had asked for her Bingo Dobber (what’s with the checkers at Rainbow anyway?). “And,” she growled, pointing toward the info desk, “don’t bother asking them either.” I didn’t.

At home in Seattle, they practically push the stuff on you that you hate to decline. The position of clerk, for the most part, is nearing extinction because the customer dialogues with the machine: “How are you? Debit? Cash back? Have a nice day.” Essentially, the clerk’s role is to back up the machine by handing you the twenty you requested. Cash machines are largely ornamental, the eight-track of fast-food banking.

The differences between Minneapolis and Seattle are in the little things, really. In the Twin Cities, a bus driver made me pay full price at one minute to nine. At the drug store, being a penny short rendered me med-less in Minneapolis. At the local fast-food place, a sign virtually threatened me with decapitation if I dared go into the restroom without buying stock in the company.

In Seattle, however, the deer-in-the-headlight thing usually helps the clerk reach into his charitable heart when I offer to run home and get a penny, wait for the next bus or pee outside beside the McSnowman.

My point is, I’ve noticed a marked difference in social norms: In Seattle, they let things slide; here, they don’t. While my tendency – both out of loyalty and a touchy-feely upbringing – is to pick a fight with middle America, I can see advantages to this more conservative approach.

Minnesotan rigidity might solve some serious social and mental health issues. For one, there might be less apathy in the world. If people in Seattle were more like those in Minneapolis, instead of complaining we can’t wear flannel to the opera, we might instead celebrate that big folks are willing to get on stage and sing for us.

Instead of bitching about the Seahawks losing, we should be happy to have a socially accepted arena to drink Schlitz and act like idiots. Of course, Seattle has gotten pretty lenient. For example, do we really need apricot-flavored beer? Do we really have to take a mental health day when we had a hard night of Ally McBeal? What would happen if we just tried to walk to work in the snow instead of shutting down the city? Do we really need to sue when someone spills his double tall Seattle’s Best coffee all over our Birkenstocks? Maybe.

Sure, I usually hop on the peace train about connection to others and the mentality that asks why we couldn’t all just be nicer and get along. If the world were so, we might eliminate hate and dishonesty. I mean really, what’s the big fricking deal? But to play my own devil’s advocate, I suppose if we were all a little more uptight, we might be a bit better off – at least we wouldn’t throw such a hissy-fit when we didn’t get what we want.

In any case, the bigger picture begs for understanding. When is too much too much and not enough not enough? I don’t know any more than anyone else, but what I do know is I always feel like being a bit more charitable when an individual offers to go that extra inch, whether it be on the bus, in a foreign country or in Target.

Last night I was hanging out with my grandparents at Byerly’s. Even though the waitress said she had to charge extra for something, at least I learned a thing or two about old Minneapolis. Although many of the stories began with “When I was your age …” it became clear many of the tougher standards are what had kept folks alive and kicking.

Perhaps my grandfather has found a happy medium between casual and cranky; he tells the story about his childhood in St. Louis Park, where he was picked on by several of his peers for being Jewish, short and a “mama’s boy.” I asked him who he talked to about this stuff, who comforted him and told him it was all going to be OK – I was imagining the dozens of therapists I have whined to about my own feelings of alienation.

“Well,” he said, flashing the wisdom of a man who has lived eighty-seven years, “there were other things to worry about. I had my health and I had my family. It was worth it to come home at the end of the day and just be with them. That was enough.” On the one hand, he didn’t have a shoulder to cry on, on the other hand, he had a set of them to sit atop at the downtown parade.

Of course, he’ll still complain if he gets an overdone burger, but I guess one can always be picky.


Roxanne Sadovsky’s column appears alternate weeks. She welcomes
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