What It's Really Like To Live In North Dakota (And Why It's The Best)

Jewel Eliese


It was 2005, and we were in New York, and acting like fools.

As teenagers tend to do.

And we were having a blast. We, my choir classmates, and I were on top of a tour bus in the middle of a busy street in downtown NYC — which means we were in the middle of traffic and not moving fast, if at all. Below us were some merchants selling food and wares, and talking to us as we waited.

We decided to give them our best “Fargo” accent. Being from North Dakota, we were really good at the over-exaggerated accent that was supposed to be ours.

“Oh yah,” we told them, with our o’s long and stretched, “Yer tall buildings are really cool here, ya know?”

And the guy below, a handsome Italian-looking sort, ate it up. So did his father. We told them more foolish things, like how electricity was so neat. Oh, gee! They believed every word. They thought we didn’t know what lights were or that we still drove a horse and buggy in North Dakota.

We laughed, and they threw up grapes for us.

But it made me realize something.

People really don’t know much about North Dakota, which they should. It's a fantastic place to live. And here's what it's really like.

Sure It’s Cold. Really Cold

Growing up in North Dakota taught me a few things about the cold.

  • How walking like a penguin helps when you’re going across the ice.
  • There are different speeds, and ways you run across the parking lot according to how far below zero the temperature is.
  • There are not a lot of pedestrians in ND because, in the winter, being outside for five minutes can be dangerous. Truly.
  • There comes a point when by the time you get into the building from your car, your eyelashes freeze.
  • Your nose hairs freeze within the first breath.
  • Metal door handles hurt when temperatures are frigid.
  • The cold toughens your character but doesn’t freeze your heart.

My husband is Ukrainian so I spent a couple of years overseas. I used to try to explain to family-members that Ukraine, where we were, was just not as cold as in Bismarck. There cold feels different there; it is more humid so it can feel chillier at 30 than for North Dakotans, but our temperatures get much colder.

There was a week in Ukraine when it went below zero. People were shocked. Scared. And as they should be. Many people walk to work or to the bus there. It’s dangerous. However, in ND we have a joke: you know you’re a true North Dakotan when zero degrees is just a bit chilly.

My point was proven when they arrived to North Dakota to live with us a bit.

And couldn’t believe the cold.

This year was a bit warm but yet we still had days that were -30 without the windchill. Certainly not the coldest place in the world by any means.

But cold.

And we're okay with that. Stronger for it.

The Earth Is Flat

I remember flying in after living in Ukraine for several years. We flew over many beautiful landscapes and went through large airports. Which made flying into Bismark a bit strange, though it felt like home. We came under the clouds and I remember thinking how it looked so small.

And flat.

The land around, while green and beautiful was all flat. Almost bare of trees. There were miles of land but hardly anyone around in comparison with the places I just been to.

But, while it may seem like there is nothing to look at in the flat lands of North Dakota, this is something we all enjoy. We don’t have Skyscrapers, unless you count the 21 story capital building as one (we don’t). We don’t have massive mountains (though the badlands at the edge of North Dakota are a sight to behold). And we don’t have forests.

But we do have the sky.

As the land is so flat, there aren’t any obstructions from the view of it. You see for miles and miles. The sky is so vast and goes so far that you can almost see the curve of the earth. And in the summers, which do get very hot (hey, we're not always cold), the sky changes into an ever-evolving painting. We have the summer thunderstorms which bring in massive mushroom clouds which mix in with the dying sun as it sets. The colors are stunning; you feel as though you are looking at God's painting.

In New York, I used to miss the sky. The way it changed.

And at home, the sky is so wide and opens that you feel like you can finally breathe.

The must be why the quaint Bismarck airport is covered in airbrushed clouds by Ric Sprynczynatyk. They are beautiful.

A Smile & A Hello To the Neighbor You Don’t Know

I said above that the cold doesn’t freeze our hearts.

And meant it.

You’d think that the cold, flat land would make us sad and angry, to have a frozen heart like Anna almost did in my daughter's favorite cartoon, ‘Frozen’.

Instead, our warm hearts keep us going and bring joy to our faces that you can see. One of the first things you’ll notice after you fly in, besides the flat land, is what’s on everyone’s faces.


We have a small for our friends and family and for those you don’t know. You drive down the street, especially in a place like Medora, and the other driver automatically does the wave-while-still-holding-the-steering-wheel motion. With a smile.

We generally care for you and mean it when we ask the greeting, “How are you?”

North Dakotans are strong — and kind.

ND may be a bit forgotten, though I can bet anyone who stumbles across this will be ecstatic to see something about North Dakota. We get excited and proud when we're in the news from Carson Wentz who plays for the Indianapolis Colts to a simple mention of our state online.

Our state is a hidden gem, and we’re okay with that.

And, if you do decide to come visit us (and not just as it’s the last state on your list to visit), we will welcome you with open arms and gladly show you what we have to offer.

And all with a smile.

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Published on Scary Mommy, & Thought Catalog. Amazon bestselling author. Writer Mom. A bit sassy. Loves words + baby kisses. Reach me at jeweleliese@gmail.com

Medora, ND

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