How to pass for a Minnesotan

As I type this, people from all over the country are gathering in Minneapolis for this weekend’s Superb Owl* game. For over a week I’ve been meaning to go downtown and bring you a full report of the ice sculptures and the zipline over the Mississippi river, plus an assortment of other Superb Owl* festivities.

But since it’s either been snowing nonstop or too flippin’ cold, I thought it might be more useful instead to share some tips on how to survive a trip to Minnesota in the winter.


When visiting Minnesota the most important consideration is your wardrobe, because you need to dress in layers. Here’s what the experts at Midwest Mountaineering suggest:

  • Start with a base layer of polyester or merino wool.
  • Then put on a mid-layer, such as a fleece pullover or hoodie.
  • The next layer should be a shell that doubles as a windbreaker.
  • Finally, add a big puffy jacket — preferably with a hood.

And that’s just for your upper torso! Repeat these steps for the rest of your body, including your hands, feet, and face. If you dress properly you will roughly resemble a ninja. Or maybe a seared marshmallow, if (like me) you’re carrying a few extra pounds. This is not only normal, but highly desirable.

How to dress Minnesotan BLOG
Here’s my properly attired friend Norine, casually dropping by to say hello.

Please note that putting on all this clothing will take at least an hour, so plan accordingly if you’re expected anywhere that day. Also, you will need to pee immediately after you’ve zipped up your final layer (it’s the law). Add an extra half hour to your prep time if you plan to pee.

Once you’re properly dressed, the second step is learning a few key Minnesotan terms, phrases, and cultural nuances. You probably won’t be mocked if you order a soda instead of a pop (because we’re polite here). But why risk the chance of embarrassment? With that, here’s your guide to …


Bar • Any quadrangle-shaped baked good. It’s terrible manners to take the last bar, even if it’s mummified after sitting untouched for two weeks.

Black ice • A thin layer of insurance claims that forms when car exhaust freezes on the highways at temperatures below 0º Fahrenheit.

’Bye, then • When repeated at least 12 times, this is one component in the hours-long ritual of leaving any social gathering.

Can’t complain • A superlative exclamation of joy.

Could be worse • If you report that “a meteor just squashed everything you love,” a true Minnesotan will reply that “it could be worse.”

Dang, danged • Signs of an enraged Minnesotan. Avoid eye contact and back away slowly.

Dontcha know • Tag it onto the end of your sentences for the Minnesota version of audience participation. (Nodding will ensue.)

Holy buckets • An exclamation of admiration or surprise. See also, uff-da.

Hotdish • This church-basement staple resembles a casserole, but contains up to 50% more tater tots and canned green beans (bonus points if you also add Spam).

How ‘bout dem Vikings? • Sore topic; don’t go there.

Inches • The preferred unit of measurement for exaggerating everything from trophy fish to snow accumulation.

Land O’Lakes • Abbreviation for “Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes.” Also, a brand of dairy products whose logo features a young American Indian woman inexplicably holding a stick of butter.

Lutefisk • If you are offered this “food,” try to outrun it. If running isn’t possible, adopt the fetal position and feign death while protecting your head with your arms.

Meat raffle • You go to a bar. You buy a ticket. You maybe win a chunk of meat. Doesn’t everyone do this?!

Minnesota nice (1) • How Minnesotans appear to the world when they successfully hide their passive-aggressiveness behind a smile.

Minnesota nice (2) • How Minnesotans actually are when they gather to push a stranger’s car out of a snowbank.

Pop • It’s not cola or soda. It’s pop, dammit.

Spam • An inventive way to use the whole pig.

Tater tots • Small, cylindrical briquettes of compressed potato bits. Often deep-fried and used as a base for hotdishes.

That’s different • Minnesotan for “I don’t like it.”

Uff-da • The Norwegian “oy.” Avoid using at weddings, births and baptisms.

Up North • Anywhere outside the Twin Cities metro area, regardless of geographical direction. May also be referred to as “the cabin” or “the lake.”

Windchill • The combined effect of adding wind to an ungodly air temperature of, say, 20 below. In 2017 it was the #1 leading cause of Florida vacations.

You bet, you betcha • Minnesotan for “yes.”


Finally, there’s the question of where to go when you’re smothered in wool and sound like an extra from Fargo. For that advice I will turn you over to the fine folks at Esquire, who have way better taste — and probably way more fun — than this introverted Minnesota girl.

Where to go and what to do in Minnesota during the 2018 Super Bowl

As the first paragraph reads, “… traditionally there are only two kinds of people up [here]: those who never left, and natives who explored the world but returned.”

I’m lucky (and happy) to be among the latter.


 * I would love a festival dedicated to superb owls. But for now we’ll have to content ourselves with the gladiatorial spectacle of testosterone and Spandex that is American football. SKOL!


  1. Having only taken a speed course in Minnesotan from the Coen Brothers, I’m thrilled to have my vocabulary extended to cover what I imagine are most situations a visitor to the great state of Minnesota might encounter. Oh yeah!

    • Ha ha! This list would indeed get you through the common social situations, Xpat. But if you go ice-fishing or attend a hockey game, then you’re on your own. 🙂

  2. Glad to hear someone else uses pop too. Soda is water with bubbles for me (as in gin and soda)
    As for meat raffle…we have lots of ways of giving away meat. Curing for meat, turkey roll……
    Very nice guide. I will be watching the game and I hope they will do some features on the area.

    • We’re so close to Canada up here that I’m not surprised we use share of the same words and traditions, Anthony. But please explain to me this “turkey roll” business. Is it a game of chance? Skill? Marksmanship? Inquiring minds want to know.

      • This happened at a small boat club my sister belonged to. Basically it was a kind of yahtzee game with dice to give away turkeys. It must have been close to Christmas or Thanksgiving.

        • A Yahtzee game with dice to give away turkeys! My goodness. The things we humans do to pass the time! Thank you for he big smile I’m wearing right now, Anthony.

  3. What a hilarious post! Brings back lots of memories to this former transplant — I spent 5 formative years in my early teens in Edina. Thankfully we Canucks also say ‘pop’…although I did discover tater tots! (not to mention a lot of other things rather less wholesome. 😉 Not sure how I survived the cold — I have memories of running for the school bus in deep snow with my bare feet in clogs.

    • Oh my gosh — you lived in EDINA? That’s so cool! I’m glad you can vouch for the existence of tater tots, because none of my relatives back in Mexico could imagine such things when I would describe my school lunches shortly after we moved here. As for surviving the cold: I think your brain goes numb, or maybe into a state of semi-hibernation, so you forget from one year to the next how horrible and painful it was (rather like childbirth, I expect). That’s the only explanation, because otherwise no one would live here. Anyway. I’m glad it brought a chuckle. Thank you for stopping by!

    • From my casual observations it seems that the farther north humans venture the more likely they are to say, “Could be worse.” Is it a coping mechanism for the long, dark nights and the cold? Or are we deluding ourselves into thinking we’re actually happy in these God-forsaken tundras? We may never know. 🙂 But about dem Vikings: They’re Minnesota’s American football team, and once again they’ve made it aaalmooost to the Super Bowl, only to choke spectacularly before the final playoff game. I’m not a big sports fan myself, so I just shrug and say, “Maybe next year.” But for a number of my friends this is fairly devastating. So in true Scandinavian fashion it’s better to suppress any feelings and never speak of it again.

      • I think your right Heidi. There is definitely more stoicism up north… or no matter how bad things are for u there’s always someone somewhere worse off… probably further up north 🙂 🙂

        • Ha ha, Mark! You’re right, though — when the winter seems impossibly long and cold, I actually do think of my neighbors up north in Ontario, and mutter “it could be worse.” There is something to be said for the perspective we gain from others’ misfortune. 🙂

  4. A fabulous tutorial! Having had some distant relatives in your State (dairy farmers, of course), much of this hits home.

    You missed one very basic item, though: pronunciation. Minna Soda. Or is it Minna Souda (I don’t think there is a good way to print that second syllable to get the right sound. I think YouTube could help here.)

    Is it still a binary choice between Lutran and Catlic as the location of the church basement where you have to go to get that hot dish?

    • Ah, JP — you are indeed wise in the ways of Minna Soda! I thought about including it on the list but couldn’t come up with a good enough phonetic rendition for that tricky second syllable, gosh darnit. In the end I decided I was doing my fellow Minnasodans (and maybe law enforcement) a favor by not helping the out-of-state fans blend *too* much. I’ve encountered the same thing in Oregon: If you say “Ore-eh-gon” (instead of “Ore-ee-guhn”) they know you’re an interloper.

      As for that binary choice between Lutran and Catlic (SNORT!!) … well, yes, those are still two big players in the Eternal Salvation market. But there’s been a lot of diversification in the 35 or so years I’ve lived here, and now even the Buddhists are doing some pretty exciting things with hotdish. 🙂

      Thank you so much for stopping by, and for bringing a big smile with your comment!

  5. I’m from South Bend, Indiana. One of the snowiest cities in the nation. Your instructions for how to dress in MN work for my hometown, too!

    And so does the right way to pronounce soda: pop. I kept calling it pop when I moved to central Indiana 30 years ago to the confusion of many, and eventually I capitulated. But I die a little every time I call it soda. Because a soda has ice cream in it.

    • It made my day to hear that this post made you smile all the way to the U.K., Tracy! 🙂 Thank you for stopping by, and especially for taking the time to comment.

  6. Ha. Love that neat raffle. Can I win Spam? Spam fritters were my favourite school dinner. And I loved my fizzy pop. Dandelion and burdock or American cream soda (yes fizzy pop cream soda – it was just sweet fizzy water really). So healthy…
    Yeah, could be worse, can’t complain, even though I’m in Lancashire not Yorkshire (still northern England). I think your theory about northern-ness is interesting.

    • I suppose one could win Spam at a meat raffle … though it might rekindle the debate about whether Spam actually *is* meat. 🙂 The dandelion and burdock pop also sound very interesting. I’ve had neither, so I’ll need to investigate whether such delicacies are available in my neck of the woods. Thanks for stopping by, and for your lovely comment!

    • Although I’m the first to admit we have our quirks, I’ve grown quite fond of my adopted home, Tom. Hope you’re keeping warm!

  7. Aaah, this killed me! What a GREAT post. Hero Husband had once a boss coming from Minnesota and he had plenty of jokes of the cold and whatnot. He was a man on the smaller side but with a personality of a skyscraper and a booming voice which left you wonder Where on earth that rich sound came from. Love your take – and admire your courage to braze those winters out. I couldn’t do it and I’m from Switzerland!
    Aren’t we lucky, after 2 days of dry weather it’s pouring down again – our land is swimming off, probably across the Golf to dryer regions…. But no snow yet at all, plenty of daffs out and waiting to bloom, hellebores, and in my veranda, the geraniums are continuing to bloom as if there was no winter season. Glorious moon too, glasses with red wine, tonight we visited a wonderful concert…. la vie est belle!
    Sleep well sweet Heide, keep warm and cosy (although I admit that your friend’s outfit probably will give me nightmares!)

    • I hope my friend’s outfit didn’t give you nightmares, Kiki — in spite of her sinister appearance in this photo she is a really lovely person! 🙂 I was joking with another friend from the Midwest about how, in the winter, we can tell each other apart from a distance by our parkas.

      I’m glad to hear that the rain has abated (somewhat) in your corner of the world and hope you’ll be able to get some help repairing that stone wall you lost. Énorme dommage ! But it sounds like you are making the most of it with the wonderful concert you attended, a bit of wine, and gazing at the moon. Le vie est vraiment belle !

  8. Oh, I’ve got another one to maybe raise a smile:
    That’s different • Minnesotan for “I don’t like it.”
    Reminds me of my (2nd) wedding to Hero Husband. Before the wedding I asked him: What colour of dress would you like me to wear? He said: RED and I replied (can still hear myself saying it): You better watch out, if you get to know me you’ll know that with a challenge like that I WILL wear a red wedding dress…. I did! It was a 2nd hand dance dress (Switzerland) and with the extra material (frock wahaaay too long) I made a huge tie for around my waist (while I still had one!), combined that outfit with a small black & quite fancy hat with a veil (fleamarket Torquay, UK), I bought a cheap velvet jacket (new) for the church and we truly had a ‘ball’ without dancing but so wonderful and all – HH was delighted!
    When we, later on, showed proudly our beautiful wedding photo album to our English friends, all that everybody said, was: Well, that’s different, or: Well, different and quite interesting!
    I was shellshocked… what strange reactions…. Those were our friends and it was such a lovely wedding! No further questions needed asking when one kind English person told me, behind hand held protectively over the mouth: You know Kiki, in England you would NEVER wear a red frock for a wedding, this colour is for the streetworkers only…. 🙂 Still howling with laughter 20 years later!

    • LOVED your story about your wedding dress, Kiki! I’m sure you looked absolutely radiant, even if your choice of color raised an eyebrow or two among your British friends, ha ha!

      • Luckily (for my reputation…) the wedding was held in Switzerland where everybody (apart maybe my parents in law now that I think of it…. ooooouffff) was fine and thought it was ‘just Kiki’ (when in fact it wasn’t, as it was HH’s challenging me!) Still, I will never forget all those startled faces – and the laughter when we knew WHY!

        • I always say it isn’t really a wedding unless you give the guests something to talk about at the reception. Sounds like you were a big success on that score! 🙂

  9. Sorry, didn’t want to ‘strike through’ it; that should have been cursive… Must be too tired – It’s way past my bedtime. I do apologize!

  10. Fun article but having grown up in Minnesota I can say I ate hotdish all the time and it never had a tater tot nor a green bean in sight. Also, not everyone speaks like they were in the movie Fargo. One of my pet peeves on the characterization of people from Minnesota.

    • I’m sorry I touched a raw nerve or two with this post, Marie. My intent was not to provide a definitive guide to Minnesota, but rather to continue our long-standing tradition of gently poking fun at ourselves.

      I had my introduction to hotdish at age 13 — shortly after moving to Minnesota from Peru — when my friend Betsy Larson invited me to a Larson family gathering. After dissecting the unfamiliar blob on my plate, I asked what the brownish chunks were. That was my introduction to tater tots. The cafeteria at my office also includes tater tots in their hotdish, but they mix in corn instead of green beans. You were lucky to grow up with a more refined cuisine. 🙂

      As for everyone speaking like the cast of Fargo: You are absolutely right! Certainly in the Twin Cities that accent is disappearing. But if you go to some of the smaller towns (such as Lindstrom and Cokato) you can still hear echoes of it — and folks do still use a lot of these expressions. That’s not to say *everyone* asks “about dem Vikings” while gnawing on lutefisk. But these things are a part of the woof and weft of our cultural fabric here … so I thought it would be at least helpful to explain the meaning of “uff-da” for the uninitiated.

      Above all else, though, my hope is that the million or so people who are coming here because of the Super Bowl will leave with the same impression I have of Minnesotans: They are some of the kindest and most down-to-earth people you could ever hope to meet. Even if they have some questionable dietary habits, ha ha.

      Thank you for stopping by, and my best to you!

  11. I just spat out my coffee and might have almost fallen out of my chair. This is amazing! That picture of your friend is hysterical! If it is any consolation New England (really the mountains in NH) feels your pain with the constant layering to resemble that kid form a Christmas Story. And even then I am not sure layers do any good. They need to make a heated suit!
    I also loved learning the lingo..And I might just have to use uff-da especially since no one will know what it means! :p I hope you have a great Super Bowl and stay warm! ❤

    • Oooo, Kate … a HEATED SUIT! You’ve got to get your patent for that — it will make you a millionaire! (I’ll take ten, please.) 🙂 You’re right, though, that many other parts of the country have it just as rough. At least here it’s usually a “dry cold,” as opposed that that damp cold you get in New England that works its way into your bones. Brrrrr! Well, I’m glad to have brought a smile and I hope you have a super Super Bowl Sunday too. xx

  12. Love the word list! I feel I just did some mini armchair travel “)) Given the temps and clothing layers required, I truly appreciate you sharing this education, so travel is not required this season. Thank you, Heide! Good humor always does well = p

    • I thought you might appreciate the vocabulary lesson so you can understand us northerners if you ever come visit, Lara. And I’m so glad all this silliness brought a smile! My work here is done. 🙂

  13. Thank you for a hilarious read. I know, and follow the blogs of many Minnesotans, but I guess, I never truly understood them until reading your post. Do you mean that when they tell me it’s a negative twenty windchill, it’s been snowing for two years straight, and they saw a stray cow in the road, and their first thought was, “Wow, barbecue,” they weren’t exaggerating?

    • I’m so glad this brought a few chuckles, Patrick — and I’m honored that it finally helped you understand the mysterious species we call “Minnesotans.” As for confirming or denying what you may or may not have read in other posts: YES, IT’S ALL TRUE (except maybe the “snowing for two years straight” part, because you have to leave room for the woodtick, tornado and deer seasons). That said, I’ve seen enough outlandish things in my 30-plus years here that anything seems possible. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by!

  14. Holy buckets! I was momentarily concerned that you witnessed a bank robbery. It’s a relief to know this is common Minnesota attire, and that your adorable friend resides behind all those layers.

    In Ontario we also referred to soft drinks as pop. We were teased about it when we first arrived in California. I’ve been indoctrinated to the word soda I’m afraid. Peer pressure knocked the Canadian expressions right out of me. Well, mostly, eh? 😉

    As for the black ice, that’s different. This post, however, you bet, you betcha.

    • Just yesterday I was approached by a man wearing an outfit like my friend Norine’s — and I honestly thought I was about to be held up. So rest assured that although such attire may be common here, it can still be disarming. Or arresting. Or some other crime-related adjective. 🙂

      As for the pop question: I’m sorry you experienced lexicographical peer pressure, but don’t hold it against you for giving in and just calling it “soda.” After all, it’s more important to be understood than to be right, yes? (Eh?) Ha ha!

  15. Yes, here you just add ‘grim.’ Grim up north. Apparently the vikings thoughts it was so dismal they built a town and called it Grimsby- Grim (depressing) and by (pronounced, bee, Norwegian for town)

  16. Heide that is the funniest photo ever! Having grown up in South Dakota (with tons of relatives in Minnesota) I can totally relate to the importance of dressing to go out doors. Since I attended a one room country school house and walked home in a blizzard (honestly) one time I’m just glad to be alive to tell the tale! Reading the phrases took me back to my ‘younger’ years before marrying a Texan and being transplanted to another whole dimension…Nuf said!

    • Gosh. I’m so glad you survived walking home through a blizzard! People from warmer climates think we’re exaggerating when we describe how quickly that can turn fatal (especially in the rural parts of the Dakotas, where there are no landmarks to begin with, and where white-out conditions obscure even the highways). But of course that is all behind you now, as a resident of Texas — who I presume has the good sense to never visit her northern relatives in the winter? 😉

  17. OMG, you are hilarious! We’ve been talking about the TV ‘Fargo’ here with our Kiwi friends. Trying to talk like a Fargo character, has been half the fun. I can relate to the whole wardrobe thing. Bundle up, then take it all off again. Heat up the car, brush it off again after a brief stop. It just wears you down after 3 or 4 or 5 months. You made it fun though 😀

    • I’m glad you got a kick out of this post! Must confess, though, that I’m fresh out of levity a month later, after having repeated these steps over and over and over again. Maybe I’ll comfort myself after work with a bit steaming bowl of hot dish. 🙂

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