A recent installment in the Curious Minnesota series discussed the difficulty newcomers have "fitting in" in Minnesota ("Minnesota Nice ends at the front door?" Sept. 17). This has to be at least the third article I have run across on this topic in the Star Tribune. Each one gives me pause.
The implication seems to be that "Minnesota Nice" is disingenuous, but I don't believe it is. Our state consistently ranks among the top five states for volunteerism. This can't happen by being "cold" toward others, or insensitive to others' needs. We are caring people, engaged in our communities.
It's true that some of us are blessed in having long-term relationships with friends from high school or college, perhaps even grade school. Such relationships are a gift for which I am grateful. And yes, many of us have family nearby, and these relationships, like our friendships, require nurturance.
Additionally, we are active in our communities by our engagement in faith communities, civic organizations, hobby or other interest groups, political parties, etc. These endeavors likewise call for our time and attention.
But Minnesotans also frequently find themselves fostering new relationships. We change jobs, move to a new neighborhood, begin a volunteer opportunity, join an organization or switch churches. In these instances, we, too, face the challenge of starting fresh and meeting new people, and can readily empathize with newcomers to our state.
And even with all the relationships and activities in our lives, Minnesotans have felt the pang of loneliness. Relationships evolve, often strengthening, but sometimes unfortunately becoming strained or frayed over time, despite our best efforts to maintain them. Perhaps a few of the special people in our lives feel somewhat neglected by us (and vice versa). We have grieved losses.
In all the articles I've read about newcomers' dilemmas making friends, it's clear that people hold differing expectations around "closeness." Being invited to a person's home seems to be an important step in the minds of many newcomers — a signal of intimacy in the relationship. I can't speak to the myriad reasons why one may not be comfortable or able to entertain in one's home, as these reasons are personal and unique to each individual. I can only ask: Could a newcomer find contentment in meeting with the desired Minnesota friends at a restaurant, a condo building clubroom, a church meeting room, a park, a health club? Could they go with prospective friends to concerts, art exhibits, festivals, sporting events?
Bottom line, might newcomers be OK with nurturing a budding relationship in other ways and places, at least for a period of time?
I would further suggest to newcomers that they seek out Minnesotans who share their interests and passions. Find a volunteer opportunity that is a good match for your skills and abilities, join a hobby- or interest-based group, engage with a community project or task force, seek out a faith community that is a good fit for your beliefs and traditions, indulge your interests by taking a class (or teaching one) through community education programs.
We Minnesotans are "rooted" people; come put down your roots next to ours. Relationships flourish on common interests and shared experiences.
We may not have finger painted together in kindergarten, but we can take a painting class together at the local arts center. We don't have memories of sledding together as children, but we can relish a crisp winter morning while snowshoeing together at a nearby nature center. We can begin to get acquainted now, in baby steps perhaps, by newcomers' standards. Relationship-building takes time and commitment.
I certainly support newcomers in their desire to forge deep, enduring friendships here in Minnesota. I just don't know of an "express lane" for doing so, or I'd be on it myself.
Lisa Wersal lives in Vadnais Heights.