This weekend I was showing a friend of mine some Fargo hotspots. He was visiting from the West Coast, so naturally I was playing up the Midwest’s many charms.
He mentioned that one thing that differed from the West Coast was the midwestern passive aggression. Since then it has come up in conversation multiple times, but where does it come from? I halfway joked that road rage wasn’t nearly as common up here because if you give someone the finger, odds are they more than likely went to high school with your mom’s friend’s brother and it was bound to catch up with you sooner rather than later but you could still stew over it.
I can’t speak for the rest of the Midwest but I have a North Dakota theory and it can’t be too much different than a Minnesota theory or a South Dakota theory and maybe even a Montana or Wyoming theory. I can’t speak for Wisconsin because they have a reputation for not returning the farmer wave -- which is a back road courtesy where I’m from, though it is slowly disappearing it has something to do with my theory.
We may live in the big city of Fargo, but we’re a large grouping of country mice. Many of us grew up small towns within the surrounding area or were the bi-product of small town transplants. Fargo-Moorhead may be considered a metropolitan area but we have the fortune of having one boot in the city and another in the country, and that adds to our charm and good nature (for the most part).
I explore a lot of small towns off the beaten path and relish time spent in towns with a population of 100 or less. You can learn a lot from people in small groups. It’s not hard to meet people and odds are they’ll know you’re there before you see any of them.
Some may find this invasive I find it endearing.
If you’re a lifelong resident of Smallsville and ‘ol Joe doesn’t make it to the cafe by 9am and he’s usually there by 8am on the dot someone may start to worry because you watch out for your own. On the inside you might think he’s a no good son-of-a-gun but deep down you hope he’s ok. Once he finally comes in, you’ll never admit you were doing some wondering because really, it’s none of your business. You just sip your coffee and act indifferent.
You may have a neighbor or relative that no one likes and you may have gotten into it with them once or twice in the past 40 years. Inside you can’t stand the sight of them but you still remain cordial at social events because conflict is embarrassing and no one wants to have to draw a line in the sod. That’s just bad manners. When all is said and done you can kvetch your little heart out. That’s what friends are for.
I may be rhapsodizing but friends and neighbors can be like family. Though there are extreme examples; look at the Hatfields and McCoys. Then again there are rivalries that have been going on since the dawn of statehood. Midwesterners can be cat-like in that regard. Just ignore what bugs you until they really get under your skin.
Here’s another example, because I enjoy romanticizing smalltown scenarios.
So-and-so may have acted the fool in the bar the other night and the bar proprietor may have told him he wasn’t welcome there anymore but he’ll still sell him an 18 pack when he comes in from the field, even though they still think he’s a no-good. Plus if he’s kicked out of the bar he’s damn close to being ostracized from society and no one needs that. Along with the population dropping beer sales are dropping. If you’re not welcome in your hometown bar you’ll have to frequent the watering hole the next town over and the whole town will hear their side of the story. Odds are the proprietor in that town probably thinks he’s a jerk too.
Barb may criticize your quilt color choices or imply that your hotdish is bland but what do you do...you can’t win ‘em all. Someone else will like it and whoever made her the hotdish queen in the first place? You’ll still have to work together at whatever event next Sunday so there’s no use making a fuss. Carol doesn’t care for her either so you’re not the only one. Just smile through clenched teeth and save the eye rolling for when her back is turned. But you can bet your boots you helped her out with the spaghetti dinner fundraiser when her husband got sick.
Maybe North Dakota Nice and passive aggression go hand in hand. Is passive aggression an act of tolerance that keeps people in check or is it a weird unhealthy phenomena that leads to uncomfortable outbursts at the most inconvenient of times? Is it the social evolution of circling your wagons and watching out for your own or is it just a matter of tolerating your neighbor rather than loving them? It’s cold in the great north and the closer you huddle the easier it is to maintain that warmth.
The farmer wave is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the acceptance and acknowledgement of sharing the open road. In inclement weather it helps you remember seeing your neighbor’s vehicle.
Being cordial never hurt anyone. Heck, it might even help you out of the ditch this winter.
by John Showalter
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