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Port: Hey New York Times, don't be so surprised that Fargo is a nice place

If unsophisticated provincialism is an unflattering characteristic of some in our part of the world, so too is elitism from our urban friends.

Fargo Theatre
The Fargo Theater in downtown Fargo, North Dakota
File photo
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MINOT, N.D. — Freelance journalist Danielle Braff, in a recent travel dispatch published by The New York Times , had some very nice things to say about Fargo.

In a lengthy profile, studded with beautiful pictures, Braff extolled the bars and restaurants and general cultural milieu of our state's largest city. She even zoomed out a bit and gave a plug to the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown.

Given all the nice words Braff had for the Fargo region, it is with some degree of reluctance that I must lodge a criticism: Did she really need to act so surprised that Fargo is an appealing place?

The condescension began at the beginning with the headline: "Geez, Even Fargo Has Gone Upscale."

New York Times freelance reporter Danielle Braff paid Fargo a visit over the summer. While Braff has visited some of the world's biggest cities, her time in Fargo exceeded expectations in more ways than one.

That's right. Even the poor, benighted rubes in Fargo have discovered craft brewing and trendy fashion.

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"We had plenty of expectations," Braff wrote in her article after claiming that Fargo "doesn’t have a great reputation." She wrote that she thought it "would be a very sleepy community that says 'geez' in every sentence" and "has lots of diners and lots of farmers."

The implication is that Fargo is somehow a nice place despite having the poor taste of being located in North Dakota, where it is called home by many North Dakotans, some of whom farm for a living and don't mind the odd meal at a diner.

In fairness to Braff, who, I am certain, intended no slight (she does write that her assumptions turned out to be wrong), this sort of tone is typical of national reporters who parachute into communities out here in fly-over country to cover one story or another.

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Politics is my beat, and I'm always bemused when we have a hot race on the ballot and the national reporters come to our state and generally behave like they're on a trip up the Congo into the heart of darkness .

One gets the idea that they're surprised we aren't living in sod huts without modern conveniences like electricity and indoor plumbing. That they're shocked when we smile at them with mouths featuring complete sets of teeth.

Yes, we rural-state Americans harbor some unfortunate stereotypes about larger cities, too.

I once took a class trip to Washington, D.C., where I was badgered endlessly by teachers and chaperones — people I'm certain, looking back as an adult, had never been so far from North Dakota before — about keeping my wallet in a front pocket and having a weather eye open for any would-be muggers.

One particularly overwrought mother warned us to stay out of the path of the big-city types, who would just as soon walk over the top of us than say "excuse me."

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This was nonsense, of course. But so is the surprise that a city like Fargo might have nice restaurants, chic shops, and a thriving cultural scene.

If unsophisticated provincialism is an unflattering characteristic of some in our part of the world, so is urban elitism.

Fargo is never going to be Paris, or New York, or even Minneapolis, but it will always be Fargo. A lovely little town on the prairie with its virtues and challenges just like every other enclave of humanity in the history of the world.

Nothing is surprising about that.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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