Today, we bring you urgent and breaking news out of Minnesota, where a battle over umlauts has been — well, not raging. What is the more polite version of raging? Occurring? Happening? Gently taking place? Something like that.
Anyway! Minnesota. Umlauts. See, there is a city in Minnesota that had been known as Lindström — or, if you saw the signs greeting you on the way in or out of town in recent years, Lindstrom.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation replaced the signs welcoming people a few years back. These signs are generally replaced every decade or so after the U.S. Census takes place, and after the last such survey, new signs were brought to Lindström.
The state transportation authority relies on federal guidelines that outline what it can put on signs, and these rules say signs must use only “standard English characters,” said Kevin Gutknecht, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
“So when we replaced the sign, we didn’t put the umlaut in,” Gutknecht said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
And that was that for a few years, with little notice since the signs were first put into place in 2012, he says. However, a few days ago, the Star Tribune noted that some people in Lindström were — politely — wondering where the umlauts went.
“It’s a big deal to us,” John Olinger, the city administrator, told the newspaper. (Olinger did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.)
On Wednesday, the state’s governor put his foot down: The dots were coming back.
Gov. Mark Dayton (D) announced that he would be signing an executive order demanding that state transportation officials put the umlauts back on the roadway signs.
“Nonsensical rules like this are exactly why people get frustrated with government,” Dayton, who grew up in Long Lake, about an hour southwest of Lindström, said in a statement. “Even if I have to drive to Lindström, and paint the umlauts on the city limit signs myself, I’ll do it.”
That probably won’t be necessary, according to the Department of Transportation.
“We will certainly add umlauts to the signs in Lindström,” Gutknecht said Wednesday. “We’ll probably get that done within the next few days. It’ll be a fairly simple process.”
To restore the umlauts, workers will make dots out of the reflective material used for the letters on the sign, Gutknecht said. The cost will be minimal, he added.
“We’re happy to do that,” he said. “We respect the historical significance of that marking on the letters. And we’re happy to honor the heritage of that city.”
Lindström calls itself “America’s Little Sweden” on the city’s official site and states that the city was founded in the mid-19th century by a Swedish immigrant. Its sister city is Tingsryd, an area in southern Sweden.
Also, if you are going to judge a place based on how polite the answering machine messages are — and if there is a better criteria for judging an entire city I have not heard it — Lindström seems like a lovely place. The messages are really polite! One city council member’s answering message sounded downright remorseful at not being able to get to the phone right now.
“The Swedish heritage in the Lindström area and the rest of our state should be celebrated,” state Rep. Laurie Halverson, who grew up in the city, said in a statement. She added that Lindström is a tourist hub for international visitors.