Mankato, Minnesota: The good, the bad, and the “different.”

Mankato Minnesota

People back home always ask me, “How’s Minnesota?” It’s great, I tell them. The weather is nice (for now) and warm (also, for now) and the sky is clear (you get the picture). My classes are great, and I sometimes wonder how I got so lucky. Some days while my wife works, I sit and read or work on a story. Later, we walk around Mankato and meet up with new friends.

Here are some things I’ve found in the just over a month we’ve lived here.

The good

Mankato is small, but not too small in my opinion. Some love it here; others say it’s the worst of both worlds. Still, you can walk mostly anywhere in downtown without breaking a sweat. There are tons of bike trails—few of which are useful for commuting. But I’d rather crack open a book on the bus to MSU anyway.

Minnesota State University Mankato

Centennial Student Union (left) and the fountain between CSU and the library where I like to read.

I love my school. (Which is good, considering it and not a general love of prairies is why we moved here.) I can get from one building to any other building through a maze of bridges and tunnels—the Hogwarts model. But because it requires a quarter of the energy to walk outside from building to building, this won’t be helpful until the -40 windchill days arrive.

Even in the dead of winter, I’d visit Mom & Pop’s ice cream shoppe, where the “double” is seven scoops. (I counted.) Mankato Brewery is also a great place with great beer. And Friesen’s Family Bakery has a chocolate cake so rich it’d embarrass Donald Trump.

The bad

Want to be a vegetarian in Mankato? Hope you like black bean burgers! Don’t get me wrong, the Indian restaurant and one of the Mexican restaurants offer some great alternatives. But I sometimes shed a tear pining over Indy’s Thai restaurants and Broad Ripple Brew Pub, which really embraces vegetarian pub fare.

Also, the concept of a donut shop is extinct in Mankato. Even the previously mentioned bakery doesn’t make them, making me shed a circular tear.

And while I’m talking about spheres and tears, permit me to say a few words about pizza. It’s a shame to live in a town where Little Caesar’s ranks in the Top 5. The best local place we’ve tried charges $20 for a 12-inch pie. At the place everyone recommends (not naming names), the crust reminded me of damp cardboard, slathered with straight tomato paste. Friends who agree with us (though many do not) decided they’ll just make pizza at home. But a professor told us he cried the first time he tried it, it was so good. Later, Stephanie said, “I cried, too.” We’ll be visiting Jockamo’s on our first trip home.

The “different”

Being different is a good thing, right? Not quite in Minnesota. The phrase “That’s different” is a vehicle to comment on something without actually stating one’s opinion. Naturally, I had no problem picking it up.

“‘That’s different’ is still used out here where I live,” said Howard Mohr, author of How to Talk Minnesotan, in a 2013 interview. “That phrase is still valuable as a non-committal remark when you have an opinion but do not want to be so impolite as to express it.”

Minneopa State Park

Minneopa State Park!

But I’m happy with the differences. Having a new place, a new state, to explore is exciting. And the differences in food, driving, length of goodbyes, accents, and sayings—Oofta!—just come with the territory.


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