Let’s face it…there are right ways to do things, and there are wrong ways. In perhaps no other state is knowing the difference more important than in Minnesota.
Winter brings with it (along with snow from Halloween to Memorial Day) a number of important social interactions in which the correct etiquette can be the difference between fitting in with the locals and being forever tagged as “One of Them.”
A common occurrence among non-natives is the Dead Battery. Because so few newcomers have experienced -20° temperatures, they may not be familiar with the important strategies that locals use to make sure their batteries can still crank on those cold winter mornings. In addition, many newcomers drive cars that can barely start on the Fourth of July at high noon in Phoenix.
In many states, the correct etiquette when finding yourself with a dead battery is to call AAA or a tow truck for a jump. However, this is considered gauche in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Here we rely on friends, neighbors, passers-by and other non-professionals. If you’re going to call a tow truck, you may as well wear a sign around your neck that says “Loser from Out-of-State.” Don’t worry if you don’t know anybody in Minnesota; just put your hood up and helpful strangers will come to your rescue.
Now, the first point of etiquette is to have your own jumper cables. If your rescuer has to provide the jumper cables, it is considered a faux pas equivalent to inviting someone over for dinner and expecting them to bring the Hot Dish, instead of just the Jell-O Salad or Lemon Bars.
Once the jumper cable situation has been straightened out (as well as the cables themselves) the next potential stumbling block for the newcomer is control of the jumping process. Battery Jumping etiquette requires the jumpee (the owner of the dead battery) to relinquish control of the process to the jumper. This is because of the implied superiority of the person whose car starts despite a double-digit sub-zero wind chill. Resist the urge to even make suggestions; if you’re so smart, how come you’re the one with the dead battery?
The jumper will ascertain where your battery is located, and how to pull his or her car up to yours to make the jump. Remember, no suggestions or questions — just follow orders. The jumper will typically pull his or her car up, connect the cables, and then tell you to get behind the wheel of your car and attempt to start it.
There are several variations here, all of which are considered proper. Depending on the jumper, he or she may ask you to “Pump it a little” or “Give her some gas, will ya?”. Other jumpers may say “Keep your foot off the gas” or “Just give her one or two cranks.” Again, just follow orders. After all, the assumption is that the jumper knows more than you do, or you would already be on the road.
Once your car starts, let the jumper remove the cables. The jumper will invariably give you some sage words of advice on how you might avoid this problem in the future. Accept these gratefully, and without protest.
The final point of etiquette is to thank the jumper. The key here is to be polite and gracious, but not too profuse. Overdoing it makes it harder for the jumper to use the preferred Minnesota response to thanks: “No big deal.” Under no circumstances should you offer money. A Hot Dish is acceptable, or perhaps some homemade candy. The true Minnesotan will decline your offer at least three times; the proper move on your part is to continue to offer until the Minnesotan says “Whatever.” At that point, the Battery Jumping Interaction is officially ended.
Let’s see what this might look like in action:
You are attempting to start your 2001 Dodge Neon on a January morning in Minnesota. You have cranked the starter until the battery is reduced to emitting a series of high-pitched “clicks”. Your neighbor (a native) watches from a respectful distance.
After at least 10 minutes have elapsed since first seeing your hood up, your neighbor will usually call out with one of the following greetings:
- “Cold enough for ya?”
- “Sounds like she’s dead all right.”
- “Need a jump?”
KEY POINT: Don’t rush the interaction. If the neighbor opens with #1, answer with a shrug or “I’ll say.” He will then move to #2, to which the proper response is “Yup.” When the neighbor reaches #3, your response should be either “If it’s not too much trouble…” or “I s’pose.”
If you have your own jumper cables, get them out and hold them in plain view. Do not attach them. At this point, you must relinquish control of the jumping interaction to the jumper.
The jumper ascertains the location of your battery, selects the proper spot for his or her car, and pulls up to cable distance. After attaching the cables, the jumper will direct you to get in your car and attempt to start it.
Listen carefully to his or her instructions and do not deviate.
“Give her a little gas.”
”Okay, now give it a crank.”
“She wants to start…try her again.”
“One more time.”
Once you car starts, you then get out as the jumper removes the cables.
JUMPER: “You know, a lotta guys would get a decent battery.”
YOU: “A guy could probably stop at Sears on the way to work.”
JUMPER: “S’pose so.”
YOU: “Well, thanks a lot for the jump.”
JUMPER: “No big deal.”
YOU: “Well, the least I can do is give you something. How about some Hot Dish?”
JUMPER: “That’s okay.”
YOU: “I was gonna make one for myself…I can just double the recipe.”
JUMPER: “I wouldn’t want you to go to any trouble.”
YOU: “No trouble. I’ve got all the ingredients. I’ll just make two.”
At this point, you make arrangements to drop the Hot Dish off at the neighbor’s house, and signal the end of the interaction by closing your hood.
By following these simple rules, you can avoid potential embarrassment and go a long way toward “fitting in”. One final caution: don’t make battery jumping a regular event. Even Minnesotans will eventually tire of this, and you’ll find yourself left out of neighborhood activities like Progressive Dinners and Backyard Cookouts.
And believe you me, when Minnesotans give you the “Freeze Out”, it’s cold…real cold.
Shakespeare spelled his own name four different ways…in his will.