Do you have a term for this midwestern dinner party behavior?
August 12, 2022 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Scene: a group of friends are over for dinner and you've ordered pizza. There is one slice left. It sits there uneaten for at least 15 minutes, probably more like thirty. Finally someone reaches out and...cuts that slice in half and eats the half-slice. Now there is half a slice of pizza left, and it sits there for a bit longer until someone cuts THAT piece in half. And it goes on from there, because it would be impossibly rude to take the last piece of anything, but it is also impossible to waste food, and so you must be maximally ridiculous in your attempts to solve both of those problems at once.

For as long as I can remember, my friends and I have called this "Minnesota roulette", and I assumed that this was a real term and probably what everyone in the Upper Midwest called this behavior. There is admittedly nothing roulette-ish about this behavior, though it's plenty Minnesotan (passive-aggression masquerading as politeness, no offense!)

However! Recently a (non-midwestern) friend was like "no, no one else calls it that" and some cursory Googling suggested that in fact, no one else calls it that! But we must have learned it somewhere. None of us remember exactly where we learned it, and we all believe that we heard other peers using this phrase.

So anyway I have two questions:

1. Have any of you ever heard the term "Minnesota roulette" used to refer to this behavior? Those of us who call it that grew up in Northeastern Wisconsin in the 90s and early 00s.

2. Do you have an alternate term for this behavior, and if so, where are you from?
posted by goodbyewaffles to Writing & Language (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
We always called it a Minnesota Showdown but much like Roulette, this doesn't seem to be common??
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:26 PM on August 12

Nope. Gen X, grew up in the upper Midwest. In fact, I can't even remember seeing this behavior, as opposed to that last piece just sitting there forlornly forever.
posted by praemunire at 1:26 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]

I’ve heard it called the “Canadian slice”, making reference to Canadians’ stereotypical/memetic politeness. (Washington DC area)
posted by capricorn at 1:28 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]

People called the last piece the Minnesota slice, but that's probably just another localism. This is in Minnesota.

I have never seen anything get cut down beyond a half or at worst a quarter slice depending on how large the object. To be honest, I don't mind the Minnesota slice as long as it is finished and the last little bite isn't left on the plate to be tossed out or put away - it's really just a way of making sure that everyone who wants a last little bite gets a last little bite. I have seldom been in a situation where someone was really, actually hungry and didn't just take the whole piece.
posted by Frowner at 1:33 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]

I am Canadian and I would just say "Does anyone else want that?" and eat the slice.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:34 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]

Zeno’s cake.
Heard and used in Michigan and in Copenhagen, but both in physics departments. Referring to the “paradox” about having to go halfway to your goal before getting all the way, and thus motion (getting to the goal) is impossible.
posted by nat at 1:34 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]

Heh. Guess it’s not just one physicist, then.
posted by nat at 1:35 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]

As someone in Minnesota/North Dakota who generally has to be the one to throw out the break-room bakery box with just a half cookie or half donut in the bottom...sorry, I don't have a name for it. However, I also have never heard of a Minnesota Roulette.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:36 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]

Grew up in NY and never really noticed people doing this to the extent that it would be called anything. I guess I'd have to call it Zeno's Pizzadox.
posted by bleep at 1:37 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]

I'm from Minnesota and intimately familiar with this dynamic but it doesn't have a name.
posted by anderjen at 1:39 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]

I’ve heard it called the stranger’s piece, and an extra place setting was for the stranger, but I don’t know where the household that did that got it.
posted by clew at 1:41 PM on August 12

And I don’t know that the stranger’s piece got repeatedly subdivided. It was just the last one that nobody took for fear of being rude.
posted by clew at 1:42 PM on August 12

Doesn't seem unusual to me (from far away in the UK). You see a similar thing when you're sharing naans or poppadoms as part of an Indian mean - when there's not much left, people will break off some fraction of whatever there is. I don't recall there being a word for it - it's just people being polite and not taking the last piece. There usually comes a point where the last piece has been sitting there a while and someone just says 'anyone mind?' and eats it.
posted by pipeski at 1:45 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]

I'm in Milwaukee and know the behavior, and would assume there's a "Minnesota $whatever" name for it, but never heard of the roulette phrasing.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 1:52 PM on August 12

You will probably enjoy this segment from “A Way With Words” about the last piece of food.
What do you call the last serving of food on a plate — the one everyone’s too embarrassed to reach for? That last piece has been variously known as the mannersbit or manners piece, a reference to the fact that it’s considered polite to not empty a plate, assuring the hosts that they provided sufficient fare. In Spanish, the last remaining morsel that everyone’s too bashful to take is called la vergüenza, or “the shame.”
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:53 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]

Zeno’s cake to me.
posted by janell at 1:57 PM on August 12

I'm Canadian and I first encountered this when I changed socio-economic classes. It seems to be a thing among more affluent WASPy people. I notice they even do it at the grocery store, where they won't take the last unit of an item. But I never saw this when I lived in more working class environments, where you knew you better take what was there or it might never been available, affordable or predictable again. To me, this is a bit like what the Marshmallow Test updates found. People who know they can depend on things to follow through can leave the last slice of pizza/marshmallow. People who can't depend on dinner or their job being there later will take that slice/marshmallow and may give it to someone else if they don't need it, although they will half it if someone else is standing there. I have also noticed the more affluent people seem okay with that slice of pizza going bad, whereas people of less means will eat it, because someone put money/effort into it and it would be insulting to waste it. That's just my interpretation, though, as someone who moved from working class / lower income to this other socio-economic class that I still haven't figured out.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 2:03 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]

My husband did this, even with foods for which he was the only consumer (like grape jelly. ick). Our fridge was full of bottle of condiments with less than a teaspoon, our breadbox always had one or two single end slices of bread loafs, I'd pull a box of crackers out and find a single cracker, etc. He said his (abusive narcissist) mother would get very upset if he "took the last" of anything, and so as an adult he still did that without even realizing.
posted by buildmyworld at 2:10 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]

He said his (abusive narcissist) mother would get very upset if he "took the last" of anything, and so as an adult he still did that without even realizing.

Counterpoint: leaving 1 square on the toilet paper roll is the technically legal way to get out of dealing with changing the roll or taking anything to the trash. It is totally "Minnesota nice" or whatever to reframe it as 'upper class' or 'generous'.

In this case, that seems especially true. If you don't technically eat the last slice of food, then you don't have to deal with the dishes.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:36 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]

FYI: every lazy man knows and abides by this ruling, no matter where they are located (at least in the US). I'm not sure about international law on the subject.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:37 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]

To elaborate on my previous answer: after our Spanish friend introduced us to the term “la vergüenza,” (the shame), we started calling the last piece of food on the communal plate “the shame [X]” or “the [X] of shame.” So, you’ll frequently hear our friend group ask, “Who wants the shame cookie?” while holding up the plate with the one forlorn cookie on it. Or shame pizza. Or whatever. It’s a super useful term and I guess because we are actually naming the weirdness and making it light, now there is always someone who either agrees or volunteers to eat it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:44 PM on August 12 [15 favorites]

My Belgian sister in law calls the last piece “the shame piece”
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 2:56 PM on August 12

Grew up on the East Coast and that piece was called "the pig slice," because you're the pig if you take it. Never heard of Zeno-ing the pig slice, though! Guess I wasn't close enough to Minnesota.
posted by escabeche at 3:36 PM on August 12

Never heard it called MN roulette.
Don't know of a term for it, though I 100% do this. I associate it more with Korean guest/host culture than the Midwest, though I did grow up in Chicagoland.
Usually I preface this behavior with the question "split the last piece?" and someone will agree to do so.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:14 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]

I'm baffled. Does anybody else just observe and note who enjoyed the food most, and offer it directly to them ("Here, have the last piece!") so that no food is wasted and the dish can be washed?
posted by dum spiro spero at 4:15 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]

Zeno's Pizzadox.
posted by catesbie at 4:18 PM on August 12

Never heard it called that, but it is something I associate with our extended family in Minnesota. They are very Lutheran, and it has been described to me as "Lutheran roulette" before.
posted by Otis the Lion at 4:34 PM on August 12

Never heard of the term, nor do I have a name for it myself, but I have heard a variety of cultural anecdotes about that last piece of food. My favorite vague recollection: In Russia (or possibly somewhere in Scandinavia), you look around the table and ask, Shall we turn off the lights?
posted by yeahlikethat at 5:07 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]

My wife and I call this “Zeno’s pizza” (it can also apply to other foods, like cake). Neither of us is Midwestern or has ever lived in the Midwest. However we are nerds. I suspect a lot of people including those up thread have coined this independently,
posted by madcaptenor at 5:33 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]

TIL - there is a custom in some places to not take the last piece of food.

who, eventually, does take it? is it thrown out? consumed like an ortolan?

I have always just asked if anyone else wanted X piece, and if noone claimed it then just took it, because why not?
posted by alchemist at 9:45 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]

> who, eventually, does take it? is it thrown out? consumed like an ortolan?

No witness, no foul. The Germans have a word for this sort of thing: Herrgottsbescheißerle
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:04 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]

I've lived in far northern Minnesota and southern NW Ontario (yes, southern NW Ontario is a thing) for nearing a decade now and have a very complicated relationship with a guy who was born in Minneapolis and has lived in MN most of his life. He is what my husband and I call "Minnesota nice," which we definitely did not invent, obviously. We mean it to describe this man's tendencies to never be willing to take the last slice/piece/portion/serving in most situations (the remaining situations are another topic for another time), and in fact trying to insist that we take food off of his plate fairly regularly, even if we've all gotten enough food for ourselves and have expressed zero interest in wanting more. (Don't ever turn your back on him if he has food left and you have room on your plate.) I think his behavior goes well past Minnesota nice, but it's what we call it.
posted by tubedogg at 12:56 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]

I have called this practice “Gino’s Paradox.”
posted by adamrice at 6:24 AM on August 13 [5 favorites]

I'm an Ohioan. I see this a version of this frequently when someone brings snacks to the breakroom at work, and there's been like.... one final donut or piece of wrapped candy or *something* sitting there waiting for the final taker for several hours. I call it the "Midwestern morsel" but I came up with that term on my own.
posted by mostly vowels at 10:04 AM on August 13

I grew up in California (the bay area) and do this and it was very common with my family / social circle, but I’ve never heard a term for it before.
posted by maleficent at 11:59 AM on August 13

who, eventually, does take it?

Whoever clears the table, would be fair.
posted by clew at 12:07 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]

This is common practice in Sweden (probably where the Minnesota folks got it). I have never heard it called anything. It drives me batty. I am from an "eat while there is food" culture myself, as alluded to by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats.
posted by Iteki at 12:45 PM on August 13

Minus ten years out of state, I'm a lifelong Minnesotan and this behavior is so common that I belong to a Facebook group called "Cursed Last Bites of Minnesota." It consists entirely of people posting pictures of small, abandoned pieces of food that no one is bold enough to take.

That said, I've never heard the phrase "Minnesota Roulette." (But I like it!)
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 4:41 PM on August 13 [5 favorites]

In a lot of Asian cultures, the last remaining piece of food is often referred to as the "polite piece" and gets cut into smaller pieces and shared near the end as described in the post. :)
posted by mdrosen at 6:40 AM on August 14

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