Welcome to Minnesota Nice
“Hey Baptiste! Wassup? How is it going?”
“Not much, I’m good! You?”
This kind of interaction right here is a typical example of a little chat I have with a lot of people here. I guess now I am used to it but I still wonder, deep down, what is the point of all this? Someone told me that this was typical of Minnesota and that it was called “Minnesota nice.” But then again, what is the point of all this? If those people are not really my friends, why would they care about what is happening in my life and how I feel? From my French perspective, this is really weird to me. I do not even remember most of their names, so whenever I cross someone I just go with “mate” or “buddy” or “Hey you!” If I did tell that to you, I’m sorry, but I need to really be friends with a person to actually be able to remember his/her name. I need to be involved in some kind of activity with this person before or at least talk to this person for more than 15 seconds a day.
I know that French people have a reputation of being rude. There are two explanations for this reputation. First, it is because most of the foreigners just go to Paris, and they do not have time for anything. So of course if your only experience with French people is the Parisians, then you would think that we are rude. And second, we do not do this kind of superficial talk. You say, “Hi,” when you pass by someone you know, and that is all. If you stop and talk to this person, then you are in for at least a five-minute conversation, and that is bonding.
See, here I feel like it is really hard to make friends, and I am talking about more than a 15 seconds friend: a true and solid bonding relationship. I have been here for three months already, and so far I just have one American friend. I do have a lot of friends among the international students because we are sharing the same experience of living in a different country and speaking another language every day. Plus, we are always together because we do not have a family to go back to on the weekends, so we just stick together and we create solid connections. But when it comes to having this kind of relationship with Americans, it is
a whole different story.
I feel like I am walking in the middle of Wonderland when everybody is nice like this to me.
I don’t care about nice. Too much sweetness kills the sweet. Here, I feel like I am having an overdose. Especially if after all those kind words, there is no follow up. Don’t you find it ironic too? I want to establish real relationships. I don’t want to hear about your day or to know how you feel right now; I want to know your story. I want to know what you think about this or that, about important issues. But I guess this takes more than the 15 second interaction.
Please invite me for coffee, or invite me over to your place to cook something together, or for lunch or dinner at DS. That is what I am looking for. Then you will have my full attention,
my gratefulness and deepest appreciation.
As I am the French Native Assistant here for the year, I had the chance to fill in for one of
the teachers I work for. I led this class, and it happened to be on the differences between the U.S. and France when it comes to relationships. And I had these figures to show them that explain the main differences.
I thought it was really representative. In both figures, the external circle represents the people you know and you just say hello to, whereas the internal one represents the circle of your best and closest friends. The one for the U.S. shows that it is really easy to enter within the first circle because people are kind, but it is also easy to go out when people just stop talking to you. But the little circle, the one inside shows that it is actually really hard to become good friends with someone in the U.S. So most of the time people just come and go in this larger circle and don’t make it to the smaller one. You just stay as a simple acquaintance. That is what I experiment with every day here. I am just this guy that you know and you say, “Hi!” to.
If we come back to our figures, you will see that the larger circle for the French representation of relationship is not in dashes; which means that it is kind of hard to enter within the circle of people that could be characterized as acquaintances. But on the other hand, once you are in, you are in for good! It is easy to quickly become best friends with the person you are bonding with. That is what the dashes on the little circle represent.
I try to enter this smaller circle because living in a foreign country can feel really lonely sometimes, and even though you are surrounded by many people, you just need a friend to erase this sadness. The gap left by your family and your best friends is a hole that needs to be filled! And of course I am really glad that I met all those fantastic people who are international students, but I want to connect with natives too. I feel like this is one of the main reasons I came here: to discover how people think and live here. But for that I need American friends, and I don’t really know how to make it to the inner circle. What does it take?
Think about it: wouldn’t it be cool to have a foreign friend with whom you can serve as a guide, and with whom will challenge your own way of thinking or doing things? It is always good to have a different point of view on things. And isn’t it what Concordia College is all about? The mission of Concordia College says: “To influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women.” And to do that maybe people need to open up to foreigners and give them a chance to enter this little circle even if it is not made of dashes. So next time, I challenge you to have a casual conversation with me, or maybe invite me for coffee, because everybody knows that French people are really into “café!”