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Where Does 'Minnesota Nice' Come From?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- All Super Bowl week, out-of-towners raved about the friendliness of Minnesotans.

By being helpful, we certainly lived up to our tradition of "Minnesota Nice." But that term doesn't always mean we welcome everyone into our homes with open arms.

So, where did Minnesota Nice come from? Good Question.

"I think it comes originally from the Scandinavian immigrants," Lena Norrman said.

Norrman is from Sweden. She teaches the language at the University of Minnesota.

"We have this long tradition of not opposing the king," she said. "You wouldn't question authority. You accept where you are and you don't stand out."

She says the Scandinavians brought their sense of community over individual.

It's spelled out in a 1931 novel about the the 10 laws of Jante. It says in part, "You're not to think you're smarter or better or more special than anyone else."

Norrman was given this book when she was valedictorian at her high school.

"You have to be nice and polite," Norrman said. "You are welcoming in one way but you also keep a distance."

Which is why moving from Sweden to Boston years ago was a big culture shock.

"When people started to ask me, 'How are you doing?" I said, 'Do you really want to know how i'm doing?'" Norrman said. "I can tell you, but then we need to know each other first."

She's changed, and thinks Minnesota has too with a more welcoming version of past traditions.

Heather talked with a number of scholars who've looked at the origins of Minnesota Nice, but no one could come up with a good timeline of when the term became popular.

That's folklore for you: There's a story behind it, but it's not always clear where it first started.

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