Midwest Nice? or Better?

“Midwest Nice” Heard of it? It’s a real thing, derived from our neighbors to the West, the great state of Minnesota. “Minnesota Nice” refers to a kind of politeness, a non-confrontational, non-conflict type of folk. People that don’t like to stir things up, those who fit the Midwest Nice description define a culture that wants everyone to ‘get along’, to muddle down your differences, put on a face, dish out niceties, and compliment the company you keep – whether heartfelt or not. Betty White’s character on “Golden Girls” is an example of Midwest Nice.

Are Yoopers Midwest nice? We’re not mean-spirited by any stretch of the imagination, but we don’t fit that infamous Minnesotan bill. Midwest nice seems to be a kind of lazy, small town, small talk, disingenuous facade. Our version of Midwest nice is fueled by a need for our neighbor. Between shoveling snow, juggling children, maintaining our trucks, soccer vans, and snow machines to survive through the winter, we don’t have much time for niceties.  Between balancing work, looking for work, getting the crew to and from hockey practice, where to ship the kids when school is canceled, our own outdoor recreation, and  whatever local festivities are happening, the Yooper way of life is too busy to waste time being nice for the sake of being nice.  Just like small towns across the country, our communities live off gossip and he-said / she-said roundabouts, but, there’s no other place in the world as unique in their niceties as the U.P., especially during a time-of-need. When a fellow Yooper is in need of a good neighbor-like help-me-out, leave it to us to show off our version of “Nice”, a far more authentic and useful version of Midwest Nice.

Does your neighbor snow-blow your driveway while you’re gone for the weekend? Offer to jump your car if they see you out there fumbling around in the cold? Do you live by someone that makes special Halloween treats, specifically designated for the neighborhood kids? Do you make or receive cookies during the holidays, or hop on over next-door to offer a helping a hand after Facebook notifies you about a burst pipe flooding your neighbor’s basement?

Each neighborhood has their grump, and granted there are places in the U.P. that probably don’t know such gestures, but for many of us, it’s commonplace. Nothing to take for granted, these favorable acts of kindness aren’t often found in other places. Why? It’s a “We’re all in this together” attitude.  There’s nothing inherently terrible about living in the U.P… until the winter. This winter seems to be especially difficult. Snow, snow, snow, and blistery temperatures. It’s a feat no one person can handle on their own, and a lot of Yoopers understand that car-jump today can easily translate to the same favor returned to them next week.

When you’re alone on the highway with hazard lights on, in the U.P. it’s not too long before a concerned driver will stop for you. Without each other, this climate could kill us. Look up any city or town in the Upper Peninsula, start viewing “livability scores” and we rank relatively well in amenities, cost of living, arts and culture, etc., but our scores plummet in categories like “climate” and “weather”. There’s a few things to be thankful for, very few natural disasters strike the U.P. Instead, during the good portion of the year, five months of it, we’re buried in snow, sliding on ice, and freezing our butts off. No sudden tornadoes or hurricanes, just a constant slow motion invasion of an overwhelming climate. Our traded niceties come from co-survival.

Together, we turn our forecasts into recreation, while the rest of the States are introduced to words like “Polar Vortex”, Yoopers all but laugh at the rest of the country’s snowbound troubles. #itswinter became a popular hash-tag lately, which is suspected came from more snowy parts of the U.S. telling the North East to buck up, and deal. Our grin and bear it attitude is contagious, and when harsh conditions hit, we become a team – Yoopers vs. Elements. When a fellow friend or neighbor is getting beat up or picked on by the elements, we ban together and offer an Upper hand. It’s a very distinct thing found exclusively on the Northcoast. Much of it is selfless traded favors, motivated by just a culturally-embedded value of ‘Being Nice”, being neighborly.

Those who have ventured elsewhere in the country, assuming they’d fine similar welcoming attitudes settled in other parts of America, fail to find the U.P. version of nice. Some have even nestled in statistically-similar neighborhoods in the Midwest, but find themselves ‘the nicest person on the block’. There are a few things that a Yooper holds dear, two of the highest importance are heritage and community. Community is important to us because we’re always in the thick of our own. If we weren’t, we’d likely all suffer from seasonal affective disorder, mope around alone in our homes, and compete for the neighborhood grump. Because the Upper Peninsula of Michigan embraces a sense of pride that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, acts of neighborhood niceties are often reciprocated here, and Yoopers feed off kindness to energize their days.

Together, Upper Peninsula Michiganders face some serious issues – economic change, suburban sprawl, mining industry vs. nature preservation, invasive species, an influx of meth usage, mom-n’-pop shops struggling to compete, and most recently rising propane and fuel costs – are just a few. Amongst all of it, rarely do we have the time to divvy up trivial wars against our neighbors. Being apathetic to a neighbor’s needs, in an effort to be recluse and isolated isn’t often an option for many of us. The trivial matters we do concern ourselves with aren’t over an untrimmed hedge creeping on the wrong side of the fence. Not to say that we don’t embolden our passions with trivial conflict, it just rarely happens between common citizens vs. common citizen.

Neighbor Wars – ABC 20/20

Conflict is inevitable. When a pet dog is killed mistaken for a fox, it’s a family relative from Wisconsin that petitions the city prosecutor for harsher penalties against the alleged shooter. Locals cast judgment, sure, but others in the community also take time to raise more pertinent questions, like ‘What are the laws?’ and ‘Is this really News?’ When a local graffiti artist is caught tagging, he apologizes to local businesses with an editorial in the newspaper. When a local couple is arrested for attempting to extort money from Uncle Jessie, we flock the courthouse without shame, but to welcome a movie star to our home, determined to show-off our community. It’s takes a distinctly codependent community to cast off negativity as well as Yoopers do, and we do it in stride, spinning even the weirdest stories to reflect U.P. pride.

At the same time, there’s this story, and that story, and this one, and this one that are just a glimpse into the very real neighborly care we keep for each other.

We petition against new roads in our backyards, raise objections to an over abundant amount of change, but rarely does our fight against institutions and “the man” start up conflict between individual fellow citizens. Not like other places do at least. Our political campaigns are arguably too friendly, sometimes averting much local interest at all, depleting voter turnout. When we are passionate about a cause, we rally our neighbors. When we’re invested in our community, it becomes remarkably more instinctive to offer help to those who need it. The issues and changes that occur in one Yooper’s home often affect an entire neighborhood. When a neighbor screws up, we’re quick to forgive or suggest the benefit of the doubt. When our neighbors accomplish great things, we’re very supportive, uniquely supportive.

Evident during Justin Florek’s recent ascension into the NHL, our connection to each other also enables us to share pride in each other’s accomplishments. An iron-river native, Nick Baumgartner, made it to the Olympics, and even though personally unknown to thousands who followed, liked, and shared the story through social media, it perked a sense of community pride across the U.P., regardless if anyone outside Iron River knew a single street-name in Nick’s hometown. Any time a fellow Yooper makes it to the national stage, regardless if the story is about someone we know, if it’s in the U.P., that’s local interest. What other place on the planet can one claim that their hometown spans 350 miles – from Ironwood to St. Ignance? It’s pretty amazing.

Nick Baumgartner

If we do spark up conflict, it can often be an entire community rallying against another community – but, it never gets too heated on topics like – Who can stake claim to the oldest ice rink? Who has the best pasty? In the Marquette community, for example, there are conflicts involving businesses vs. historic preservationists, debating questions like, Should downtown businesses be allowed electronic signage in historic districts? Tax-payers vs local government conflict is seen during council meetings and municipal announcements – Will roundabouts cause more accidents? Why aren’t we doing more to prevent drowning in hazardous areas off city beaches? How can we keep hospital in the City for its tax revenue, and all-the-while compete with Township’s attractive inexpensive development costs? How will sulfide mining and the infrastructure built to sustain it affect city traffic and the wilderness it inevitably destroys? Is the Marquette Redman mascot insensitive to native Indian tribes? Many issues, many drama filled issues that really rev people up. Yet, compared to other communities plagued with gang violence, and contentious business competition, we remain relatively civil.

Even when the dust settles between rivaling Upper Peninsula regions, at the end of the day, disconnect is moot when we wear the same printed tee-shirts with a silhouette of our geographical borders.

Regional pride is predominantly displayed all across the U.P., and it’s actually incredibly unique. We can literally fight crime with it, even fend off brash harmful investments, or unexplained taxes. We protect our beloved home from unwarranted change by banning together. Our communities are built upon the good health and wellness of our neighborhoods, and we guard that well by protecting our own. It’s seen in our common struggle against the elements, U.P. pride is fueled directly by our relationships with each other. For better or worse, Yoopers are an enclave onto ourselves. Upper Peninsula citizens make up a dysfunctional yet functioning family full of internal idiosyncrasies. When in-need, especially in a winter like this, like a good neighbor Yoopers are there.  With jumper cables, a batch of cookies, an extra shovel, our inherit motive to help out our fellow neighbors rarely leaves a Yooper out in the cold, a much more useful courtesy than Midwest Nice, we’re Yooper Nice, and it’s way better.

What makes your neighbors great? Share it with us!