Axios Twin Cities

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May 12, 2024

Hey again, newbie Minnesotans.

We've devoted our past few Sundays to guides for Twin Cities newcomers: where to eat, live and have fun in your new home.

  • Today, we share some wisdom on making new friends in a place where the phrase "Minnesota Nice" doesn't always mean what it sounds like.

Today's newsletter is 906 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Breaking the "Minnesota ice"

A Break the Bubble mixer at BlackStack Brewing in St. Paul. The twice-monthly events regularly draw 100+ people looking to make new friends. Photo: Kyle Stokes/Axios

As a newcomer, you may have already heard an old joke: If you want to make friends in Minnesota, go to kindergarten.

The big picture: You have arrived in a community with a reputation as a difficult place to make new social connections — especially as a transplant.

Why it matters: We love Minnesota. We want you to love it, too — and for that to happen, it's important that you connect with the people here.

  • On top of that, employers want you to stay! There aren't enough native Minnesotans to fill the region's jobs and "meet the demand of the economic opportunity that's here," Matt Lewis of the Greater MSP Partnership told Axios.

Context: Lewis and Greater MSP, an economic development organization with both public and private backing, have interviewed and surveyed hundreds of newcomers.

Reality check: It's hard to make friends as an adult in almost any city, but are Minnesotans "uniquely bad at that? I don't think so," said Lewis.

  • Lewis asserted it's probably just as hard in the Twin Cities as most other Midwestern cities, which — unlike D.C., New York or Los Angeles — don't have as many super-dense transplant populations looking for new connections.

"It's super awkward," Lewis said of making friends as an adult. "Like, 'how do I do the playground thing at, like, 27?'"

By the numbers: Overall, three out of five transplants feel welcome in the Twin Cities, according to a 2019 Greater MSP survey — but specific answers varied.

  • Black respondents were less likely to feel embraced: 28% reported feeling unwelcome.
  • Midwesterner transplants were more likely to feel welcome than others, especially those from the Northeast.

Between the lines: Lewis said most newcomers decide whether they're staying in Minnesota — or leaving for good — after 18-24 months.

2. How one group Break(s) the Bubble

Jon Slock (left) organizes Break the Bubble events around the Twin Cities. Photo: Kyle Stokes/Axios

About a decade ago, after lamenting the Twin Cities' social chilliness, two friends decided to organize a mixer: not for dating or networking, but simply for people seeking new friends.

Flashback: One simple flyer was all it took to attract 40 people, and Break the Bubble was born, current coordinator Jon Slock tells Axios.

Why it matters: Their experience shows that you, too, can break the ice in Minnesota!

State of play: The group now regularly draws at least 100 people to their casual, twice-monthly hangouts for people of all ages, Slock tells Axios.

How it works: Break the Bubble attendees come and go as they please — the opposite of "speed friending" events, or even a book club or language class, which require a set time commitment and prep work, Slock said.

In his research, Lewis with the Greater MSP Partnership has found newcomers had more success in these unstructured, random-venue events.

  • At big festivals, concerts or events, locals tend to go "with their pocket of friends" and aren't looking to mingle.

What they're saying: The struggle to make friends here is "all real," said Slock, who was born in Indiana but has lived here more than 20 years.

  • But "it's true anywhere as an adult. It's tough to meet people after a while."

3. Friend-ly advice

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

We asked Slock, Lewis and Axios readers for their best advice for Twin Cities newcomers looking to make new friends.

Here are their tips — along with a few of our own:

🧭 Seek out another newcomer's guidance, Lewis said — preferably "somebody who went though the experience you're going through within the last few years." Their advice is more likely to be relevant to you.

  • Even better, find someone similar to you. Newcomers' experiences tend to vary by age, marital status and identity.

🏘 Find a newcomer-rich area. If you can't live there, become a regular in the neighborhoods that serve as the Twin Cities' melting pots.

  • You're more likely to run into others looking for new social connections.
A bar chart visualizes U.S. Census estimates from 2018-2022, showing the share of newcomer residents in various neighborhoods in various Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhoods. The highest percentage is in neighborhoods near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis at 46.87%, followed by Downtown St. Paul at 33.29%.
Data: MN Compass analysis; Note: Chart only includes Minneapolis and St. Paul, not metro suburbs; Chart: Axios Visuals

📲 Social networking platforms like Meetup — where Break the Bubble lists events — are good places to peruse.

  • Axios reader JoAnn H. also recommends joining Facebook groups to "meet like-minded folks."

⛹️ Join a rec sports league. Reader Robert F. picked kickball: "Lots of sitting-around time and then mandatory bar trips afterwards. All abilities were welcome (and we were all terrible)."

💪 Get active. If sports aren't your thing, reader Madelyn S. recommends City Girls Who Walk. There are also running groups and bicycle clubs all over the metro.

  • The Tapestry Folk Dance Center offers "a welcoming community" and "an organic place for all people to meet and develop friendships," says reader Rebecca H.
  • Going curling can burnish your Minnesotan credentials. It's actually good curling etiquette to socialize after the game.

👷 Volunteer! Slock has met "tons of friends" while donating his time to Habitat for Humanity.

  • Reader Nick H. recommends the Jaycees.

💭 Kyle's thought bubble: Set your long-term plan aside. At 27, I moved to (yet another) new city. For one year after my arrival, I made a policy to say "yes" to as many new experiences as I could.

  • For 365 whole days, I forbade myself from pondering whether I was living in the right city. Instead, I lived in the moment. I put myself out there. I embraced awkward situations.
  • After those 365 days is when you can decide whether the place is right for you.

The bottom line: You've got this.

Share this advice

📺 Kyle is watching a classic Portlandia sketch: "Friend Convention."

This newsletter was edited by Emma Hurt and copy edited by James Gilzow.