What Is ‘Midwest Nice,’ And Where Did It Come From? | WBEZ
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Curious City

What’s The Deal With ‘Midwest Nice?’

This story was inspired by the Newberry Library's recent exhibit, "What Is The Midwest?

Shining Li is a Chinese immigrant who grew up on the East Coast and moved to the Midwest when she was 9. And even at that young age, she noticed that Midwesterners acted differently.

“In Delaware, you go to a grocery store and no one would talk to you,” she says. “And then I moved to Ohio and people waved to you on the street and it felt more welcoming.”

But while people seemed friendly, Shining could never tell if it was authentic. So she reached out to Curious City with a question:

What are the origins of “Midwest nice,” and is the Midwest more “fake nice” than the rest of the country?

To find out, we talked to journalists, psychologists, and historians who have investigated the peculiarities of Midwestern culture.

More about our questioner

Shining Li Questioner Bio Photo
(Courtesy Shining Li)

Although Shining Li has spent half of her life in the Midwest, she doesn’t consider herself to be “Midwest nice.”

“I don’t think I am,” she says. “I think I get in trouble for being too direct.”

While Shining can understand the impulse to avoid conflict, she also thinks that avoiding conflict for the sake of keeping the peace isn’t always healthy.

“In the short-term, being nice is easy and feels comfortable. In the long term, maybe you’re creating a different problem,” she says.

Currently, Shining is enrolled in a joint program between the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the School of Social Service Administration. She hopes to graduate with her MBA and MSW in June of 2020.

Andrew Meriwether is an audio producer at the Art Institute of Chicago and a freelance journalist in Chicago. You can get in touch with him at andrewwpmeriwether@gmail.com.

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