1. Wait indefinitely
There’s one register open in the grocery store, and four people are lined up. The cashier is either new or excellent friends with the first customer, because she has four items and the line hasn’t moved in one minute and 48 seconds. I know, because I’m kind of in a hurry — I need to be back at the paper in 30 minutes and I haven’t had supper yet. (My fault; I didn’t think to plan a menu.)
But the line remains quiet. We check our phones, shift our weight from one foot to the other and browse through the tabloids as more customers silently join us, the checkout line curving slightly into the aisles. Come to think of it, there’s another cashier in my sight line, straightening the candy aisle. He hasn’t noticed the long line, and no one makes a move to cue him in.
Eventually the line lurches forward, the next customer already piling things on the counter as the cashier hands her friend the receipt. I get home with exactly 20 minutes left to cook and eat dinner — and given the bustle of my week, it feels like time to spare.
I’m told it’s a Minnesotan thing — this rather extreme generosity toward others’, particularly strangers’, time. You can spot it when people calmly wait their turn to speak in a casual conversation and when there’s always one roll left in the basket at the dinner table. (“Children and selfish people usually get the last slice of pie,” my dad explained to me years ago at a Fultz clan Thanksgiving. “Everyone else knows better.”)
It’s almost aggressive: from past grocery store lines, I know that if one of us in line had demanded attention — “Excuse me, can we get some help here?” — the rest of the line would have turned on that one like hyenas. (Well … polite, self-restrained hyenas. We would have pointedly ignored the offender and assured the flustered cashier that it was “no problem, none at all.”)
There’s a breaking point, of course; even the most patient Minnesotan will snap if the line stretches all the way to the frozen food section. But where is that point, exactly? And where do the extremist passive-aggressive Minnesotans take it too far?
2. Moving in
I’m on the phone with an out-of-stater, talking through the pros and cons of moving to a new apartment in town with a friend. Living with someone I already like — pro. Less privacy and personal space — con. Change — pro/con.
“Anything else for the pro-move column?” my out-of-stater asks.
“Well, she has one of my books,” I say. “I don’t need it back or anything, but I still want to read it occasionally.”
I was joking. I was joking, right?
I’m just worried it will spiral out of control.
“He looked so hopeful. I mean, I didn’t have anything else planned for the next sixty years.”
“It’s not much of a cut, really; don’t go to any trouble. I’m keeping the bleeding on the linoleum, so it’ll be easy to clean up. It’ll be just fine in a minute.”
I’m curious about others’ experience of this passively aggressive Minnesotan habit. I’m willing to believe that I have a greater share of this tendency than others, but I don’t think it’s all me. (Grocery lines, waiting rooms, restaurants…) Is it a common trend or a fairly isolated phenomenon?
And really, how far is too far?