The flyover zone

I admit it. I am from the midwest. I have been perfectly clear about that in my previous musings on my life in the UK. I am now accustomed to getting blank stares from Brits who have never heard of Minnesota. But I take particular offense at gross generalizations like this:

The middle of America is really very dull but I stay awake for the sake of appearances and eventually I find my way up north in Illinois where, to my great surprise, I found myself doing live improv on stage in Chicago.

This quote is from UK national darling Stephen Fry, and is in an article on the Guardian website about Fry’s six months spent travelling with an aim to visit the fifty states. Poor Stephen, he must have missed Minneapolis somehow in his quest. It happens all the time, it makes a far better stereotype to visit some podunk town filled with extras from Fargo than to see the cultural capital that quietly exists in the middle of farming country. Or, if one has heard of Minnesota, to associate it solely with the fictional Lake Wobegone and dismiss any possibility of a literate, cultured populace in the quiet but active business centre that brings you Target, Best Buy and Medtronic.

Yes Minneapolis is often the second (or, even worse, completely neglected) major and metropolitan city that may or may not be mentioned in a flyover view of the US. And yes, we have a bit of a complex about it. The classic “Minnesota connection” to any news story is our feeble attempt to gain prominence on a national scale. Neglecting for the moment the fact that Sarah Palin debuted at the Republican National Convention at our local hockey arena/concert venue. Why should anyone be bothered to notice that Minneapolis exists?

The city is abundantly rich in water with twenty lakes and wetlands, the Mississippi riverfront, creeks and waterfalls, many connected by parkways in the Chain of Lakes and the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. Minneapolis was once the world’s flour milling capital and a hub for timber, and today is the primary business center between Chicago, Illinois, and Seattle, Washington. Among America’s most literate cities, Minneapolis has cultural organizations that draw creative people and audiences to the city for theater, visual art, writing, and music. The community’s diverse population has a long tradition of charitable support through progressive public social programs and through private and corporate philanthropy.

I clearly will have to start a PR campaign with the photos I’ve taken in the city. I’ll get to work on this. Yes, the weather is famously difficult, being both hot and sticky in the summer and cold, dry and diabolical in the winter. But it is beautiful, cultural, and interesting like no place I have ever been. I have, as I realized yesterday, now been to most states in the US, with the only exceptions the following seven: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Texas, Utah, Wyoming.

I admit it, I am tired of the fact that I have to explain to blank-faced Brits that the US is highly variable, not just from state to state but within a state. I come from a state where there is a major cultural city, Minneapolis (or the Twin Cities if you’re picky) and a lot of surrounding, sparsely-populated farmland save a minor city or three (Duluth, St. Cloud, Worthington). Minneapolis is akin to any of the cultural centres in Europe in terms of arts, theatre, music (especially jazz) and our only problem is the relative lack-of-age in terms of comparisons to other large and culturally important cities. Oh, and perhaps location. And weather. But I welcome you to examine the flyover zone more closely when next you happen to have the opportunity.

4 responses to “The flyover zone

  1. Most Brits have a hopeless lack of knowledge of American geography – and are then offended when Americans don’t know European geography.

    I underwent a crash course when we arrived here. My fourth grader had to learn all the states: location, capital and postal abbreviation, over the course of several weeks, and I learnt them along with him. I really was embarrassed about how ignorant I was before that exercise.

  2. I’ve always found Europeans to have a far better grasp of geography than Americans.

    Actually, pretty much everyone in the world has a better grasp of it than we Americans do, in part because geography fell out of school curricula in the middle part of the 20th century. It was replaced by the odd grab bag of “social studies,” which left most Americans unable to calculate a 15% tip, balance a checkbook, or understand the workings of compound interest…AND (extra bonus!) unable to locate Afghanistan on a world map.

    Here’s a beautiful Minnesota photo blog you can use to propagandize: Dusty Lens.

    As for Stephen Fry, he’s a charming man, but perhaps he’s a bit put out that Americans seem to have opted for a little bit less Fry and a little bit more Laurie…

  3. Jen, for the rest of the world I’d agree, but thus far it’s rare to find an English person who realizes that country consists of more than NY, Florida and California! The number of blank looks I’ve gotten, I’ve started describing Minnesota as “at the top, in the middle” and trying to explain the whole “borders Canada” thing… although it does make me feel better to note that frequently they have never heard of Chicago, either.

    Of course, I was in a proofreading meeting one day and got foiled when I tried to explain that “Boston, USA” was incorrect, one needed to specify “MA”. The folks here said, “they’ll know what we mean” as though it didn’t matter what the truth was! Wikipedia also gives
    # Boston, Georgia
    # Boston, Indiana
    # Boston Township, Wayne County, Indiana
    # Boston, Kentucky
    # Boston, Louisville, Kentucky
    # Boston, Missouri
    # Boston, New York
    # Boston Township, Summit County, Ohio
    # Boston, Pennsylvania, part of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania
    # Boston, Texas

  4. Pingback: And not all Americans are the same either! « Not From Around Here

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