In Search Of Nice

May 2, 2013

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Last week Fronteras Desk sent me to Wisconsin after we learned that more and more of rural America’s new neighbors are Latino, according to this report.

So I’m working on a series of stories based in rural Wisconsin. The first one is about dairy farmers anticipating immigration reform.

I’ve been covering rural Arizona for 10 years. Before that I covered southeastern Minnesota for Minnesota Public Radio. Cochrane, Wis. is not far from my old beat. I forgot what an affinity I have for the Wisconsin accent (It’s in the Os and the As.) and of course the cheese. Most of Wisconsin’s milk goes to nearby creameries to make cheese. So I made sure not to leave without a delicious hot cheddar and ham sandwich from Nelson’s Creamery.

But what I had missed the most was what they call Minnesota and Wisconsin "nice." If you listen to "A Prairie Home Companion" you’ll hear Garrison Keillor joke about it. Vikings and Packers rivalry aside, when you go to someone’s home (or in this case their farm) they will go out of their way to accommodate you. And sometimes they won’t let you leave, especially on an empty stomach.

I forgot about this quirk when I scheduled my interviews. An interview that I guessed might last an hour took twice as long. I had to refuse being fed several times. “Conflict of interest? Really? Nooo.”

Maybe because it’s so cold for so many consecutive months and they live in tiny towns with names like Ernie and Pepin, where there might be a church and a bar. (One of the farmers I visited insisted that even Google Maps didn’t know where he lived.) You just don’t know when you’re going to see another living being, so you better go out of your way when you do.

I’ve heard of this kind of "nice" come out in other places during times of crisis. The day after the Boston Marathon bombing a friend was flying to Boston. She

I’m not sure why Minnesota and Wisconsin people have this inherent character trait. All I know is their generous spirit is something we all could use a bit more of all the time.

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