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Twin Cities: homespun and cosmopolitan

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Long ago, the fair’s centerpiece was Machinery Hill, where farmers browsed for tractors. Now, the hill is dominated by riding lawnmowers, hot tub displays, and a Harley-Davidson showroom.

The old tractors are shown as museum pieces. Take Jim Birk’s 1932 John Deere.

“Some of the city guys will stand here, and they will watch it and call their friends up and send pictures through the cell phone,” said Mr. Birk who stopped farming in 1990.

He’s not surprised. “Everybody has an emotional tie to the farm,” he said. “I get people here all of the time explaining what their grandpa’s tractor looked like.”

Of course, there are dark textures in the culture’s homespun fabric.

Like the often peevish characters in Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Wobegon, Twin Citians have their share of rivalries. An outsider would miss the nuances because civility is a mandate. Everyone calls it Minnesota Nice.

‘Minnesota nice,’ but don’t be fooled by that veneer

At the GOP convention in New York four years ago, a delegate might have thrown a fit in a shop and the clerk could give back as feisty as he got. It doesn’t work that way here. Instead of an argument, the rude delegate might get the smallest apple in the State Fair barrel and wait a long time for the change, too.

The official convention setting is St. Paul. But most delegates will sleep and party in Minneapolis, the larger city with more hotels and restaurants.

Delegates won’t notice any difference while crisscrossing city lines. But it would be a gaffe for a visitor to say the cities are the same. True, there are similarities. Both cities are river towns and classically Midwestern with wide, tree-shaded boulevards and expansive lawns.

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