Date: Sat, 14 Dec 1996 00:07:13 -0500
From: "clyde w. voigtlander" <cwv@ACADIA.NET>
Subject: Observations on Maine (long and tiresome)
To: Multiple recipients of list WORDS-L <WORDS-L@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>

We have now lived here for a little more than five months. During that time, I have gathered some impressions of this area. In the following, there are two caveats: (1) I talk about the Bar Harbor/Mount Desert Island area, and speak not of all Maine and (2) the implied comparisons I make with where we formerly lived are specific to that local area.

1. The natives are friendly. Everyone that we have met has been friendly and helpful, but not pushy about it. We seem to be accepted by natives and locals alike (more about that below). Many in this neighborhood seem to be concerned with our ability to last through the winter (perhaps, rightly so); all seem genuinely interested in whether we are still enjoying living here. I had heard all of the old legends about the dour New Englanders--I haven't seen it (see also Humor, below).

2. The cultural hierarachy. There are several distinctions, none of which seem to be based on race, sex, religion, color, job, profession, or level of academic achievement. In descending order, there are: natives, locals, summer people, and tourists. A native is one whose parents (and probably grandparents too, at least) were born and raised . A local is one who has moved here "from away" and lives here full-time. (Thus, we will be locals, but never natives---presumably, if we had children here, they, or their children, would qualify as natives.) Summer people are those who live here in the "good" months and then leave for warmer climes come about October. Tourists are the "visitors." The distinction between summer people and tourists is fuzzy---sometimes, these terms seem to be interchangeable, i.e., a transient is a transient, irrespective of the annual duration of the visit.

3. Humor. It definitely exists, and it is delightful. Humor here is not the thigh-slapping, guffawing type, but rather a quiet, understated, dry, and gentle form. It is similar to that which I grew up with in northern Wisconsin. Even the "needling" seems to be done with gentleness and some indirection (you don't feel the incision until a few sentences later). Also, people seem to genuinely have the ability to direct their humor at themselves and to see the humor of situations they find themselves in. This brand of humor seems also be to used as a test of one's basic intelligence. One of our neighbors (very definitely a native--he lived in this neighborhood before it was destroyed in the 1947 fire), seems pleased that we "catch" his remarks. Sometimes when he makes an observation, I can tell that he is watching me closely to see if I caught on. I presume that those who don't , he stops talking to.

4. Language. The stereotypical New England "ayuh" or "ayeh" isn't very prevalent here. Rather, the term is "yep." This is pronounced in a short, almost "breathy" fashion, with not much emphasis on the first consonant. It seems to have three meanings, depending of course on context: (1) Yes, I understand; (2) Yes, you are correct; or (3) Yes, I can do that. "Ayeh," if it used at all, seems to be an indication of casual agreement, rather than understanding (as in "ayeh, it snow").

5. People are dependable. When one calls a plumber or electrician, for example, they give a time that they will be there (AND THEY SHOW UP!!!). If they are not sure, they tell you an approximate time, and call later to fine-tune things. One explains the perceived problem and gets a "Yep, yep" as an answer (see 4--(1)&(3), above). After 24-some years of hearing "Wellll, I once had to do a job like this for old Uncle Harley, and it was powerful hard, and ....), the "yep, yep" is refreshing. More important, they follow through. Sometimes it is difficult to get them to return your initial call, but as most everybody here seems to work two or more (not necessarily related) jobs, I suspect that they don't spend much time sitting by the telephone.

6. Blue is the color of impending winter. Anything that must be protected from the winter is swathed or mummified in blue plastic tarpaulins---motel, inn, and restaurant signs; woodpiles; unfinished construction; and, for all I know, Old Dog Trey. One can almost track the decline of autumn into winter by driving around over several days and counting the increasing points of fluorescent blue in the countryside. Our woodpile is swathed in blue--it occurred to me that it would be unseemly to use any other color.

7. Snowplows are the other sign. I estimate that one of every 2.5 pickup trucks now has a snowplow mounted on it. Snowplowing driveways and parking lots is big (part-time) business here. And these are not wimpy little urban-professional pickups that can haul two sheets of plywood and a potted Ficus---these are big 4x4 monsters. My impression, given the number of snowplows and the apparent eagerness to mount them (long before the first forecast of snow), is that snowplowing here has been raised to the level of at least a minor sport---and a paying one, to boot. I happened to mention my observation to a woman in Sherman's (where we get our newspapers); her reply was: "Yep---and if it doesn't snow pretty soon, there are going to be lot of bored and disappointed pickup owners."

I'm from away, but I think I'll stay here. Yep. (Gee, wonder if I could mount a snowplow on the Accord---Naah.)