Since Maine is off the beaten path, tucked away in the northeast corner of the US, it’s easy for locals to know if you’re “from away.” Generations of Mainers have been largely shaped by physical labor in harsh conditions, rural poverty, and living off the land. Even today’s formally-educated Mainers with modern conveniences have deep, ragged roots connecting us to the values and traditions of our culture. Mainers are shaped by their environment as much as they shape it. Here are 10 ways someone from Maine will know you’re not a local.
1. You ask silly questions.
At my first summer job, on a wharf in the village of Five Islands, we kept a running list of silly questions customers asked. Gazing out at the rocky coastline, they’d pull an employee aside after counting the islands offshore, asking, “Where’s the fifth island?” To which a local would respond, “You’re standing on it.” Or the infamous query, “How do they get all the boats to line up in the same direction?” Just take a minute to think before posing your questions.
2. You enunciate.
How you talk is as important as what you say. Take it easy, and draw out those syllables — otherwise, you might be mistaken for an uptight urbanite. A clipped, “yes,” could come across as harsh. Go ahead and draw it out to a breathy “ayuh, ayuh.” Mainers typically drop the “r” at the end of words and insert them where they don’t belong, which creates a sing-song dialect that fits us just right. For example, “Take the cah (car) to Auguster (Augusta).” We ain’t in any rush.
3. You drive below the speed limit.
People from Maine may not be in a rush to get through a conversation, but if you insist on driving below the speed limit, don’t be surprised if you get a one-fingered wave when a Chevy blows by. Driving below the speed limit means you’re “leaf-peepin’” (gawking at the vibrantly colored autumn leaves), “rubber-neckin’” (craning your neck while you drive to see what’s going on), or “asleep at the wheel” (just being oblivious). Locals have places to be, like work, and they don’t hold up traffic.
4. You can’t pronounce well-known destinations.
If you’re visiting Maine, you’ll need to be able to “get there from here.” There are plenty of spots where cell phone reception is poor or nonexistent, so you’ll probably end up asking someone for directions. If you refer to the city of Bangor as “Bang-er” instead of “Ban-gah” or “Ban-gore” or butcher names like Sagadahoc County, Piscataquis River, or the town of Damariscotta, you’ll be flagged as an outsider.
5. You prefer to be indoors.
Mainers are bound to the land and sea by occupation and recreation. If you hide inside from the black fly-mosquito-tick season that most people call summer, or you can’t have fun in the snow, you’ll never be a local. Locals tend to have an outdoor hobby for each season; for instance, tapping maple trees, kayaking, hiking, and snowshoeing.
6. You don’t acknowledge the weather.
Conversation usually incorporates a nod to Mother Nature. If you can’t find something to say about the recent sunshine, rain, snowfall, or nor’easter — go back to New Jersey. Besides our people, our natural resources are our most precious commodities. Maine has a substantive rural economy in agriculture, aquaculture, fishing, and forestry. The weather directly impacts all of these industries, plus tourism and hospitality. Talking about the weather shows that you’re in tune with your surroundings and the pulse of the economy, not aloof, or burying your face in a laptop.
7. You have an aversion to general small talk.
Besides talking about the weather, people in Maine enjoy chatting about the little things happening in their day-to-day lives. Some people dismiss small talk as shallow, and, well, too small to bother with. However, Mainers find a deep sense of connection in sharing these mundane experiences. Many a lively tale begins with a thought as simple as, “Bert and I come down to the dock about six o’clock in the early morning.” Just listen to legendary “Maine” storytellers like Marshall Dodge or Tim Sample, and you’ll hear how small talk can turn into the most entertaining tales.
8. You ask the baker if the blueberries in your muffin are local.
Yes. They’re most likely Maine blueberries. Even if they were picked in New Hampshire, it’ll probably still taste like blueberry.
9. You eat lobster wearing a bib.
Most locals know to crack open a lobster at a picnic table, wearing jeans and an old T-shirt. First of all, Mainers know they’ll get the best price buying it off the boat or from the fish market, and, secondly, this meal can’t help but be messy. You and your surroundings should be covered in briny fish guts by the time you’re done. If you order this crustaceous delicacy at a restaurant, that’s a tip-off that you’re not from Maine. And if you don the plastic bib, don’t expect anyone to ask you for directions.
10. You talk about “Maine” as if it were a third party.
Locals are Maine, and they know they live in the best corner of the US. There’s nothing more to say.