Minnesota Passive-Aggressive

Minnesota Cookie Plate

A Far Too Common Sight in Minnesota


There is a strangeness to these folks up here in Minnesota. They say Minnesotans are a special breed, marked by their behavior of being ‘Minnesota Nice’. Well, after doing my firsthand ethnographic research, Minnesota Nice is actually a very subtle way of being passive-aggressive. Minnesotans aren’t very keen on being physically aggressive, as it is. Instead, theirs is a subversively passive method of controlling your behavior with their outward niceness.

Imagine the common scenario of a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies laying out on a tabletop for all to freely grab. At first, when the cookies are plentiful, folks wolf them down like oxygen. Then, as the cookies becomes scarcer, folks start taking the remaining cookies less frequently, until, of course, there is that lonely singular cookie left. That last remaining cookie will sit undisturbed for a while, until someone decides to do the world a favor by taking the last cookie and cleaning the whole mess up. That’s human nature. Except in Minnesota.

If that plate with the one remaining cookie were in Minnesota, Minnesota Niceness dictates that one must never take the last cookie (or the last of anything, for that matter). That final cookie will sit untouched, though lusted after, for perpetuity. That is, until some Minnesotan is brave enough (though always unseen) to initiate the Pandora’s Box of food division. The initiator will cut the final cookie in half, consume one half, and then leave the other half on the plate for an unknown future cookie consumer. The floodgates have then been opened. All the Minnesotans who have long been craving the taste of cookie in their mouth will stop by, cut the remaining fragment in half, eat one half and leave the other ever-decreasing portion. Minnesotans would continue this food division game ad infinitum, I’d theorize, until they start splitting cookie atoms. Thank goodness, for the Minnesotans sake, that there are some out-of-staters living surreptitiously in their midst. As a native Michigander, I grew up with zero qualms about taking the last cookie off the plate. In fact, finishing off a food item was often seen as performing a favor. Now living in Minnesota, my out-of-stateness is my justification to take the last of anything and finally put an end to all this food division tomfoolery. Though getting the last cookie is a huge benefit, it does mean that I’m always stuck with cleaning up the plate. This whole scenario causes me to wonder if Minnesotans are actually nice and are seeking to share with others, or if this is just their way of forcing other people to do the dishes.

Sharing a family meal with Minnesotans is also a foray into how Minnesota Nice can actually be a way to control the behavior of others. Imagine, again, the common dinner scenario where there is only one biscuit left in the bread bowl. By now you should understand that Minnesotans will never, ever, take the last of anything if no one is watching. But in a social setting, a Minnesotan is allowed to take the last of something if, and only if, the Minnesota Nice ritual is performed. Here’s how it goes:

Dinner guest who is eyeing the last biscuit for himself: “Does anyone else want the last biscuit?”

Everyone else at the table: “No, go ahead. It’s all yours,” (while silently whining to themselves ‘but I wanted the last biscuit!’).

The code of Minnesota Niceness prohibits anyone from grabbing the last biscuit outright. Instead, our dinner guest’s general inquiry about anyone else wanting the last biscuit is the very aggressive statement that, in fact, he intends to eat the last biscuit all by himself. In front of everyone else. Everyone else at the table must now politely insist that he indeed take the last biscuit. Not only has he eased his inherent Minnesota guilt about taking the last of something, he has also procured the blessing of all his table mates (though inside, all of his table mates are irritated at his aggressive move).

For someone to respond positively to the dinner guest’s inquiry by saying ‘yes, I would like the last biscuit’ would be a grievous violation of Minnesota Nice norms. Even if another diner had had an eye on the last biscuit too, they must now hold their tongue, for it is too late for them to stake their claim. They will inwardly seethe with rage at the diner who took the last biscuit while their face shows a smile and they pass the bread bowl over with a friendly “okie dokie, you betcha!”

This dinnertime ritual is done to appease the guilty consciousness of the Minnesotans who dare to take the last of anything. For, deep down inside of themselves, the Minnesotan knows that anything that they desire is also desired by someone else to a greater extent (but they don’t necessarily know who else, they just know that someone else is out there somewhere). To take the last of anything would be to deny that unknown someone of the thing which they highly desire. The Minnesotan feels inward guilt that by enjoying something themself, they are taking away such enjoyment from others. Thus, by going through the ritual of asking if anybody else wants that last item, the Minnesotan gains a positive affirmation (at least on the outside) that no one else is hurt by them taking the last thing.

If a Minnesotan becomes quite adept at this game, then the ritual can get quite domineering. They can dictate their wishes upon other people by simply being very outwardly nice. Now, I’m not blaming you for anything, and it’s not your fault, and I know you didn’t mean anything bad by doing it, you know, and I think you’re a good person, and maybe it was the circumstances, but it’s just that, you know, someone else may have wanted that last cookie, possibly.


Minnesota Passive Aggressive

Posted on May 3, 2018, in culture, food and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. The culture never seems to change. Here you are, a millennial from Michigan, and you still notice it, despite our generational differences. Yes, it is not a Midwest thing, as many want to believe. It is not an Upper Midwest thing, as many, still, want to believe. It is a Minnesota thing. Try working with some of these people, from places near St. Cloud, who have moved to the Twin Cities area. They bring along their walls, their insularity, and their inability to interact with groups of people After 25 or so years here, I’ve decided I must get out by taking an different full time job sometime in 2019. I have another 12 years or so to work, and I want to work, and I’m no longer wasting anymore time in this culture.


  2. Passive aggression is a sport here in Minnesota. My family and I are leaving the state because it’s just not psychologically healthy here.


    • I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had a negative experience in Minnesota, Ark. My post was intended to be a humorous jab at Minnesotan culture, and still living in Minnesota myself, I can assure that there are incredible people in the state


    • Very well pointed out. I wasn’t able to leave in 2019 but it is happening now in late spring 2021, despite having a decent job. However, the passive aggression is very obvious in the present workplace, the insularity, and underhanded exclusion. Plus, it’s rather irritating working with Minnesotans who resent having to work, the poor decisions made in their short lives to date, and their inability to be team players. They are just too insular and limited for in depth socialization. The ones from the small towns are the worst.


      • Well Susan, sorry to hear that you’re having trouble working with Minnesotans still after all these years. Best of luck on your relocation, and I’m sure that you will find that no matter where you go, you will find people who are both difficult and exceptional to work with.


  3. After living here my whole life, this is the best description I’ve every heard. I’ve noticed it’s something many people living here don’t even recognize the ridiculousness of it all. One thing I thought was kind of funny was the last comment written by the author. Saying “Best of luck on your relocation” while adding the subtle comment of there being difficult people no matter where you go, is a prime example of the subtlety of Minnesota passive-aggressiveness.


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