Book Review: How to Talk Minnesotan, Revised for the 21st Century

9780143122692_p0_v3_s550x406The first version of this book, published in 1987 and later made into a video, helped me understand my own culture. Before reading it, I never understood that the “long good-bye” was something unique to my state of Minnesota. (The long good-bye is where it takes at least three tries to leave a friend’s home before they will actually let you go.)

Also helpful was the “angle rule,” which describes how many Minnesotans talk to each other without actually looking at each other. Instead, they stand at 90-degree angles, looking off at some mysterious distant point while conversing. I had seen that many times and just thought that’s how everyone did it. I was not conscious that these were Minnesota “things.”

I watched the “How to Talk Minnesotan” video so many times, I had the lines memorized. So when I heard the book had been updated (in 2013), I put it on my list to read.

In reading the recent edition, it didn’t seem like a whole lot had changed. Although it now contains sections on Tweets, Facebook, and smart phones, the same lines from the video are there on the page.

However, in reading this new version, I realized something that nagged me with the first version, which is that this is not a book that encompasses the whole of my dear state. The traits described in it are more common in farm country. I’d say that’s about from Hinkley, Minnesota, and south. With token mentions of smelt and lutefisk, this book has a bit of relevance to northern Minnesota, BUT, there’s not one mention of a sauna etiquette, iron ore mining, Lake Superior, Ole and Lena jokes, or wilderness camping. It lacks northern nuances.

A more accurate title for this book would be “How to talk Mid- to Southern-Minnesotan.” If you live north of Hinkley, reading it will be helpful, but it won’t get you the whole way. If a third version is ever done, the author should come on up here and talk to us northerners for some new material, don’t cha know.

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