Things North Dakotans Like

I never realized how marketable an upbringing from North Dakota can be. Until very recently, I thought that my whole life, no matter where I go, I’d be plagued with having to say, “I’m from North Dakota,” and getting the looks of disbelief and the 20 questions:

“So it does exist!”

“Oh, so you’re from Canada?”

“Oh my gosh! Say “roof” again! Haha! Now say “flag” or “bag.” Haha!” (I still don’t hear that I say “flag” and words that rhyme with it weirdly.)

“What’s it like to live without electricity?”

Or just plain:
“Oh wow, you’re far from home.”

We exist!

I got my first taste of the world outside the Midwest when I was 16 — I took a 36 hour bus trip to Atlanta, GA, for the National Catholic Youth Conference. (Mhm. Go ahead.) I got all of the questions I mentioned earlier and more. I was honestly really embarrassed by it. I even began working on reducing my “Nort’ Dakohhtan” accent. (By the way, I’m fascinated that link exists.) I distinctly remember starting to dream about living in New York City (but I wasn’t opposed to the idea of any big city outside of the Midwest) at age 8. At age 16, I still thought I’d have to get rid of all traces of my roots (pronounced rhyming with “foot,” the way it should be) to make it anywhere else.

But now, I totally embrace my background. Sure, I still can’t wait to move somewhere “big” and see what the world has to offer me. But come on, what’s a better conversation starter anywhere else in the country than telling someone you’re from North Dakota? My boyfriend is originally from the East coast (first Pennsylvania, then Maryland, now his family is living in Virginia) and on my first visit to his family’s house, his mom used my background to our advantage. During the long wait for a table at a restaurant, she mentioned I had come all the way from North Dakota to visit. Here’s something I’ve learned: People who are not from North Dakota are generally fascinated to meet someone who is. It’s like we’re mythical creatures or something. We talked with the hostess briefly about what the state is like, and I answered her questions about it. It may have just been that the conversation made time pass more quickly, but it seemed we were seated shortly after.

Ha. Ha.

This wasn’t the only time something like this has happened. I recently learned that a North Dakota background is not a bad thing to bring up when applying to universities or jobs out of state. So, in an effort to bridge the gap between the “North Dakota doesn’t exist” jokes (Very funny. Can we be any more unoriginal?) and the roughly 640,000 North Dakotans who feel like the rest of the country wouldn’t care if we didn’t exist, here are a few things you can bring up on either side of the issue to get the conversation started.

Things North Dakotans Like:

  1. We like talking about North Dakota.Especially in places where North Dakota is nonexistent in the minds of the residents. The first time I ever saw the ocean, I was 19. I was wading and splashing and getting knocked over by waves alongside little kids at the beach. I was silently competing with a five year-old to dig sand fiddlers from the shoreline. Nearby sunbathers must have thought I was just a weirdo, but if I had yelled out, “It’s ok, I’m from North Dakota!” all would have been understood. Striking up conversations with vendors on the boardwalk, it seemed they thought I was from another planet, but in a good way. They had a lot to ask about and say when they found out where I was from.
    Oh, yes. There’s documentation of my first experience with the ocean. Notice the little boy effortlessly bobbing in the waves in the background. Ugh.
  2. Our cuisine. You may not have realized North Dakota has a cuisine. I didn’t fully realize this either until I was having a conversation with a few professors of mine.
    Hotdish: We like hotdish. (You may know this as a “casserole” in other parts of the country.) Hotdish is funny and delicious simultaneously. Even the word alone can provoke giggles. There is, however, a strong divide between those who support corn in their hotdish and those who despise it. Peas, however, are almost always taboo.

    Gooey tater-totty goodness

    Pie: North Dakotans have an appreciation for a good slice of pie. We often make pies out of ingredients that sound like they’re made up: juneberries, chokecherries, rhubarb, buffalo berries, and crab apples, to name a few. (Fun fact: The chokecherry is North Dakota’s state fruit, thanks to some kids from Williston, ND.)
    “Ethnic” Food: Ethnic for us is German and Norwegian. Some desserts we like are krumkake (kroom-cacka – kind of like the cone part of an ice cream cone), lefse (potato flatbread smothered with butter and sugar), and my personal favorite, kuchen (koo-kin – the German word for cake — There are a lot of varieties, but the link shows one closest to my Grandma’s neighbor’s secret recipe, which is to die for).

    We’ve also been known to love knoefla soup, (nef-la, not ka-na-ful-la, as I’ve sometimes heard it pronounced) a creamy potato soup with dumplings.

    A controversial part of North Dakotan cuisine is lutefisk — Cod soaked in lye for several days until it becomes gelatinous in texture. Williston, ND’s, First Lutheran Church holds one of the largest lutefisk dinners in the country every February. (I’ve never been one to partake.)

    Melts in your mouth?

  3. Nice weather. And talking about the weather every day, good or bad, for that matter. Don’t assume that just because we live here we all love arctic temperatures. The summer is just so hot and full of storms that it distracts us from how terrible the winters are. Then it starts snowing again in October, and we wonder why we live here. But we also take pride in our hardiness.

    This is what we do for entertainment at UND -- It's on several graduation bucket lists.

  4. County fairs: We don’t have amusement parks around here. (Can you imagine why, with our winters?) I think the closest one is either Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America or Valleyfair in Shakopee, MN, which are both anywhere from 4-12 hours away, depending on where in North Dakota you live. So, as kids, we lived for the county fair in the summer. I can’t believe I ever trusted the rides they put up, sprayed puke off of, and took down in the course of 3 or 4 days, but it was something my friends and I looked forward to all year. I think parents like them, too, because it gives their kids something to do in the summer besides sit in front of the TV and drive them crazy.

    Attractions at the fair I attended yearly growing up

  5. Hunting and fishing: Kind of a given. The weekend of deer season opener especially is a statewide holiday. The school system used to plan “fall breaks” around it, so kids would have an extra day to go hunting. Kids in North Dakota have been around guns since they’re small. (My younger brother would tag along on hunts when he was 4 or 5.) Yet, there’s never been a school shooting in the state. Kids here are raised to respect the danger of firearms.

    My boyfriend, Chris, my dad, and my brother, Tanner, with my dad's buck this past season. (The sun was in their eyes -- Not the most flattering picture.)

Bringing up any of these things will ensure an enriching conversation between North Dakotans and non-North Dakotans. I’m sure there are countless more things we North Dakotans like, and maybe I’ll talk about those later on, but this will do for now. Anything particular you’d add?


50 thoughts on “Things North Dakotans Like

  1. Pingback: BEST OF NORTH DAKOTA | "Class B" Heart

  2. I used to dislike Lutefisk until I realized that it is just like lobster: it has no real taste, but gives you a reason to eat clarified butter.

    Another thing to be proud of: North Dakota has more strategic nuclear weapons than any other state in the country. Don’t mess with them.

    Stay in North Dakota: Custer was healthy when he left.

  3. I’ve lived in North Dakota all my life, and love it here. I absolutely love thanksgiving and Christmas time because that’s when we get out the lefse grill and make our delicious lefse. When I ask out-of-state people if they’ve ever had lefse, they look at me weird and ask what the heck that is. I’m not as much of a lutefisk fan as my grandpa and dad but I’ve tried it and it’s not too bad. I’ve also been told I sound like a dog when I pronounce roof. I get “corrected” all the time when I say bag and flag. Also with pop, a girl from Texas was visiting here and she asked me where a soda machine was and I kind of smiled and said, the pop machine is over there. She gave me the funniest look I’d ever gotten. Aside from all that, I’m proud to say I’m a North Dakotan.

  4. I’m also a North Dakota native. I grew up in Souris, North Dakota. (located near the Canadian Border in the center of the state.) In 1981 I moved to Havre, Montana & in 1993 to Seattle, Washington.

  5. Enjoyed your comments how true they are.I don’t like the cold in the winter, but I love the summer we also have beautiful sunsets here.

  6. Thanks for this…I grew up in the great state (but the east side 🙂 ) and have lived away for years…currently in DC. I am going to print out your list so I can carry it anytime I get those questions…

  7. Wonderful Blog! I’m a North Dakotan who’s been moving around the country with my Minnesota born Air Force Officer husband since we left the state in 1985. My only request was that no matter where the Air Force sent us, I’d be home for a couple weeks each summer and every other Christmas. We’ve mostly succeeded in that, and our kids benefited from knowing the people and culture of our beautiful, generous, wonderful states.
    My accent and “fame” as a ND native have caused a lot of looks, listens and comments. Just this week a restaurant host asked how I liked this cold Virginia weather we’re having. I replied, “Its just like a beautiful spring day in my home state of North Dakota!” His eyes got wide, he laughed and said, “That’s a first! I’ve never met anyone from there! He kept laughing and said, “Best answer of the day!”
    It’s fun to be the oddity from North Dakota now and then, but it’s even better to be among the people I grew up with. Being in Frisco, TX last month with 17,000+ North Dakota State University fans was an absolute dream! I felt like I was truly with “family” and in many ways I was. When I travel, I always wear North Dakota identifying clothes and I usually get stopped by someone I know, knew, or knows someone I know. I get excited in the Minneapolis airport as I walk towards the gates where flights to Fargo and Grand Forks leave from. It’s a beautiful thing.
    Keep Blogging!
    Love my home state!!

    PS: I proudly ended two sentences with prepositions, which is a unique ND skill!

  8. I grew up in the Minot area & moved to Ohio in 1993 when I was 16. I remember responding to many people when I first moved here when they said I had an accent. My response was always, “I don’t have an accent. YOU have an accent”! And one of my boyfriends back then actually said he wrote a paper on how Minot, North Dakota doesn’t exist!! UFF-DA Imagine my shock & horror! Every now & then someone will point out my accent & say they can’t figure out where I’m from. But that’s because in the 20+ yrs since I moved I have lived in CT, MA, PA, & OH. I still believe ND does have some of the friendliest people I have ever known, dont’cha know? I still get excited when I’m driving down the road & see a ND license plate in a different state. I smile whenever there’s a news story on from ND, except for the flood which broke my heart! But unfortunately I found a tourism book about things you must see in all 50 states, before you die & North Dakota had nothing!! So much for that authors’ research!! I don’t get back very often, but every time I do it seems to be in the winter, & you can’t pack a snowball together because it’s so dry. I will definately have to come back in the summer and when I step outside, it takes my breath away because it’s as hot as a dry oven!

  9. I lived in ND 25 years and actually in Williston from 1992 until 2001. I worked at ASB &T. Once I went for a bank auditing seminar down in San Diego, and this woman from UTAH just could not get over the fact that I was from ND. You would have thought that I was from Mars, literally. ALL DAY long, she kept commenting “I can’t believe you are from ND. I’ve never met anyone from ND before. What do you do up there??” And she would just ask me all these stupid questions. I think she was surprised that we had banks there that needed to be audited!!! Hehehehe! It was nice to see a blog from a Williston girl! A few years ago, I was at a wedding in Boulder CO and I was talking to someone, and a man looked over at me as said “You are from Williston ND!!!” He recognized the accent!!! Hehehe! I have the pleasure of sitting next to him and his wife the rest of the night. Best of luck to you on your blogging!

  10. I am a North Dakotan living in exile in Ghana West Africa for the last 19 years. When I met Howard Buffet in Ghana and mentioned to him that I was a North Dakota farm girl, his first comment was, “Where’s your accent?” I notice that it does come back when I am talking to a native Nor’ Dakotan. You can take a girl out of ND but but it takes a lot to take the ND out of a girl.

  11. Nice post Kaitlyn. I’m originally from Williston too and have lived in Texas for 20 years now and have encountered many blank stares over the years when I tell people I’m from ND. My favorite story was this: I was in a cab in NYC with 2 coworkers and the cabbie asked where we were from. One said China, one said India, and I said North Dakota. To which he replied, “Wow, I’ve never met anyone from North Dakota before.” I suppose that makes sense in some ways. Keep up the good work!

  12. I’m a proud gun totin, Nort Dakotan. So don’t get me wrong, but you can’t exactly say ND has never had a school shooting. In 2012 a Fairmount boy shot himself in his class room. But if that doesn’t count in your opinion in 1972 the son of Jamestown ND’s mayor shot and killed another boy who had been bullying him on the steps of the high school right after the final bell. Please do a little more digging before posting things like ND has never had a school shooting before posting them online so they don’t end up in some poor saps research paper. Remember kids you can’t trust everything on the internet

    • I do kind of take offense to your implication that I would just make up facts and post them on the Internet. But I guess a lot of people do and you don’t personally know me and how meticulous I am, so that’s a fair assumption. I did actually do a lot of digging after you pointed this out, and I am coming up totally empty-handed on the Jamestown thing. If you could point me to a source on it, I’d appreciate it – I’m interested in reading about it. Also, I wrote this article in 2011, so the Fairmount incident hadn’t happened yet.

  13. I am from South Dakota but just a mile from the north land. I live in TN now and I have people here laugh at the way I say eggs and legs. After 28 years here you would think the accent would change totally but it don’t. You hang on to your roots all of your life.
    This is a great blog. I am going to bookmark it and share it. I found it quite entertaining and funny. I looked for the kuchen recipe but couldn’t find it. A friend of mine make them for me when I go back to SD and I buy some from her to bring back to tide me over.
    Keep up the good work I look forward to reading the rest of the blogs.

    • This was written in 2011, so it hadn’t happened yet! But I would definitely add that to an updated list. (Despite the fact that I’m a Sioux fan all the way, I can’t deny that the Bison make ND proud.)

  14. This was a fun read for me Kaitlin. I really think you are right about what it’s like to grow up in ND and move far away. I lived the first 27 years of my life in ND then MN for Graduate school, followed by a nomadic period. I now have lived in FL for 7.5 years. I always thought I should have the phrase “the first person you ever met from ND”. That is almost always the case and it is often the only thing they say because they have never been there and DON’T know anyone from there. Many questions usually follow but they are usually steered nicely by a couple of things. In response to the automatic “Fargo” question, I just say that the accent ACTUALLY is representative of the northern Minnesota population and that until I watched parts of Fargo (haven’t actually watched the movie in whole) I wasn’t aware of people talking like that. The next question is usually about the cold. I just ‘brag’ about the -50 degree days I remember growing up. Finally, they ask how many people live there to which I answer around 650 k… which is the population of Baltimore, one of my stops during my nomadic period and Sarasota/Bradenton where I currently reside. Long story cut short, people on the east coast and in the south are dying to tell people how it is whether it be growing up in the hood or wherever or just talking about their opinions. NOT A SINGLE PERSON CAN TELL ME HOW IT IS IN ND… I’M the one who tells THEM ‘how it is’… Don’t worry, I tell the riff-raff that the place is miserable and I charm the worthy ones by telling it how it is. Most people come off as jealous once I tell them stories of growing up with actual FREEDOM to be a kid.

  15. My husband (from Jamestown, ND) has been trying to get me to make kuchen since we married 37 years ago! But there was no recipe at your link, just a mouth-watering photo!

  16. We also measure distance in time and not miles. “How far is Fargo from Bismarck?” “A little under 3 hours or so.” “Huh?” Yeah about 2.5 to 3 hours.” “No, how many miles?!?” “Something like 200 I think.” Just can’t beat that goofy look you get at that point in the conversation. Proud to be Nort’ Dahkotan!

  17. I moved to North Dakota from the west coast about 17 years ago for 2 reasons. Education. The education in North Dakota is at least 2 years ahead of other states, at least from what I have seen with family still out there. Small town atmosphere even in bigger towns. I live in a small town of about 100 people and love every minute of it. I can leave my purse and keys in my car and never worry about them being taken. Even in Fargo I don’t lock my car doors very often. And it seems we all know each other…or someone who knows us.

  18. Feeling like an endangered species cuz when u tell them ur from North Dakota they looked shocked and ask u born and raised? really ur like the only person I’ve met from here

  19. and how about pigs in a blanket. In the west that’s link sausage rolled up in a pancake. In Nor Dakota it’s a cabbage roll! 🙂 Happily married to a North Dakotan (from Ray) for 29 years.

    • Been a Nodak all my life … by choice … and your comments reflect why … thanks for a fun read …

      Fleischkuekle (spellings vary … whutever …) may be concentrated here in Mercer County, but it’s also quite well-known in most of the German OR Germans-from-Russia (there IS a difference, and y’all’d better know it!) communities …
      Originally from “back east” of The River (Towner County, which is NOT the same as “Towner, ND”), we’ve lived in West River Country for nearly 20 years … milder climate, down here near the Banana Belt Line …

      One phrase I’ve been puttting into the vernacular for … years … decades? … is, “Minnesnowta Nice”? … Try, ‘Nodak Nicer!’ …”

      (But, to be fair, a granddaughter was born with multiple defects @ UofM Amplatz Children’s Hospital, and I know there are many good people who live east of the Red River … I don’t do “Yellow Rodent” jokes about certain hockey rivalries any more … well, not very much … )

  20. Love the blog. Speaking of the difference. My sister moved to Texas after the flood here in Minot in 2011. She came home for Christmas n said people down there make fun of her supposed accent n think she should sound like the “Fargo” movie. I heard her slip into a Texan accent more than straight up Canadian-Minnesotan like that movie. If there is a strong accent for us in ND its more German than Norwegian I noticed. Plus we all showed our smarts as being one of the only states in the black financially. And that’s even after the flood.

  21. Thanks for blogging from Williston. I grew up in Williston and now live in Minnesota. For the most part both states are nice, so maybe ND needs a new slogan instead of nice. 🙂 Take care and keep blogging.

    • I love this article! I grew up in North Dakota and now live in Texas. My son and his friends often make fun of some of my words…. “bag” and “Sorry” are their two favorites! I am a teacher as well and the kids often laugh and ask me to say certain words because they think I say them so funny! Thanks for capturing the heart of ND and it’s people! May it and they never change!!!

  22. If I call it hot dish here in Arizona my friend says it’s stupid, slush burgers are sloppy joes, where they get Joe, I’m still trying to figure that one out, supper is dinner down here too which also my friend says is stupid . Don’t we call things right in. North Dakota or are the Arizonans the weird ones?

    • I’ve heard of “Supper Clubs”, never a “Dinner Club”. And Hunts tomato sauce for Manwich sandwiches is called Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce, not slush burger sauce, although considering the weather up here…maybe slush burger isn’t a bad idea for a cold sloppy joe.

  23. I love your jokes and comics about ND. Those of us who know geography know where you are. And some of use have been through ND. I visited on a trip over 20 years ago. I don’t remember much except that everyone waved at me as I passed! Well, normal for ND, not the rest of the country. It’s too bad that our independence on oil and greed for money will change your region forever.

  24. i grew up in mpls, but my step dad grew up in ND (Hazen) so as a kid i went there several times….. re: the food- how did you not mention Fleischkuekle!?

    • Fleischkuekle must be a Mercer County thing. I am from Rolla, North Dakota and we had never heard of it until I met my wife’s relatives from Beulah. It’s really good stuff.

      • no way, Fleishkuekle is TOTALLY a ND thing, and definitely always had it at the county fairs and State B bball games in the lunch room. Good Times!!

  25. Pingback: The State of North Dakota: It kinda exists. Maybe. « A Nice Ring to It

  26. Glad I came across your blog! I am a North Dakotan by choice, not by raising so I can laugh about the stereotype and I have become a part of the stereotype at the same time. When I go to CA to visit relatives they look at me as if I have somehow been snatched by aliens. Otherwise, why would I leave Southern CA and move to god forsaken ND. god forsaken. Pretty funny when you consider how many churches we I don’t think God has forgotten

    I live in the badlands and it is a different country compared to the east…don’tcha know. Even though we lived in Grand Forks for several years it is like visiting a different country when we go back once a year.
    , and why do they speak so funny in the east??? 😉 😉

    My favorite thing I have noticed is what happens when someone out of state mentions the movie Fargo and asks about the wood chipper and talking funny, etc. A North Dakotan is polite so won’t come out and say anything, but they give a pitying look at that person because they don’t have enough knives in the block to realize that the movie is about MINNESOTA.

    • I’m glad to hear that! It means a lot when North Dakotans get a kick out of reading some of my thoughts about the state. I poke fun at ND a lot, but I do owe a lot to this state and my upbringing here. I try to acknowledge that along with the silliness once in a while 🙂

      You’re right though, the Badlands is a totally different world — Williston is near enough to visit once in a while (relative to ND distances). Just like the misinformed Fargo movie comments out-of-staters make, they don’t realize that a good portion of the state actually isn’t flat! But, like you say, we’re too North Dakota Nice to set them straight. (That’s another thing I’d like to protest: the phrase “Minnesota Nice.” I think “North Dakota Nice” is an even more appropriate term!)

      • We first came to ND on orders to Minot AFB. We were also stationed at Grand Forks AFB and retired here on the MT border. Having lived in all three sections of the state, I think they made a mistake when they broke the territory apart. Instead of North and South Dakota, they should have broken it up to east and west Dakota 😉

        East and west are like North and South Korea(you guys are the communist side of course…lol 😉 😉 ) with Minot as the demilitarized

        What makes me smile is how there can be a heated “nasty” battle in the state be it between neighbors/cities or during a legislative session and somebody from my home state wouldn’t be able to tell and would still walk away talking about how nice and polite we all Gotta love a place where even arguments are still couched in the “North Dakota Nice”….at least to those who are not familiar enough about us to realize they are standing in the presence of the mythical creature, even more mythical than the unicorn…the ticked off North Dakotan 😉

    • Exactly, the movie “Fargo” should have been called “Brainard”….. that’s where most of it happened, right? Then Brainard would be a funny and perfect name for what happened. There is a ‘wood chipper’ in the Fargo Visitor Center (looks like an rural Elevator) on I-94. Many people stop just to get their picture with that thing.
      A fun fact about North Dakota, is that many years ago NBC’s TODAY SHOW had a trivia question of “Which state has the most sunshine?” and it was ND. Really!! A college Science professor had told us that when it is soooo cold here (-30 etc.), the sun will dissolve the clouds and they become “diamond crystals”. Other states like FL & HA have rain clouds more often then we do. So maybe WE should change our state name to the “Legitimate Sun Shine State.”
      AND besides a state that is home to Josh Dummel (sorry if it’s misspelled) is definitely great!

  27. Pingback: Because It’s Nice to Share | Floridakotan Chronicles

  28. I love this Kaitlin, very nice job!

    One thing I’ve noticed waitressing is that people really seem to hate the fact that are ice tea is “unsweetened” haha! Seriously, when they ask for sweet tea and I say we only have unsweetened tea I get very strange looks…

    • Really?! I would have never thought of that! Thanks for reading, by the way! Sorry it took me a while to reply – I’m just catching up on my comments! It’s still taking me a while to get the hang of this blogging stuff 🙂

  29. Anytime I leave the state and tell people I’m from Fargo, it’s always, “Oh like the movie!” Do you have a woodchipper? Talk for me, I love your funny accent!”

    • Ah yes! I completely forgot about people’s association with the movie “Fargo.” I actually never even saw it until last year! Haha but I’m glad I’m not the only one with an “accent” apparently!

      • I grew up in North Dakota but have been mostly gone for 30 years. I love telling people I am from ND. They always ask, “Isn’t it cold there?” I have to tell them it’s only cold in the winter…that the summers are hot. They’re always very surprised. I then tell them the cold isn’t so bad….one can always put on more clothes, but when it’s hot and humid as in the south, there are only so many clothes you can take off!

        The book, How Fargo Of You” is excellent….about how nice people are in North Dakota.

    • whats funny about that movie is that Fargo was not originally recorded in the town of fargo at all. the only scene were it was was ontop of the Mobile company building. and thats about the only scene that was recorded in it.

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