Fitting in with Mainers as someone ‘from away’

By Kay Neufeld | Nov 05, 2020

If it wasn’t apparent in my other stories, I am from away. I pretty much spent my whole life in New York. Inside the city and outside the Bronx. I was born, raised, and attended college in New York. Nearly everyone I know was either from New York or lives in New York.

I ended up in Maine by chance. I took a socially-distant trip to Acadia back in August and realized that the place with mountains and ocean I had been longing for was Midcoast Maine. I begged the universe for somewhere special and safe, found a beautiful place to live on Craigslist in Hope, and the rest is history.

I didn’t think that moving here would be easy. But I didn’t realize there were so many lessons to learn. Lessons about etiquette, out-of-state prejudice, and Maine mannerisms, or “Mainerisms,” as my housemate Meghan likes to call them.

Driving has been one of the more daunting activities I’ve had to adapt to. My greatest advice for any new Mainer is to drive slow, drive patient, and drive with caution.

Don’t be afraid to use your high beams because street lamps are not the norm in Midcoast Maine.

The harshest and hardest lesson I’ve learned while driving has been that Mainers stubbornly adhere to the speed limit and that they are not fond of out-of-state license plates.

I’m sure, dear reader, you assume that I drive like a rude New Yorker. And you’re not exactly wrong. I like driving fast and getting where I want to go quickly. But I also drive with the caution of someone who has spent their driving years battling taxi drivers and haphazard cyclists.

Even when driving cautiously at the speed limit, however, I am frequently flashed (high-beams), brake checked, and tail-gated. Twice I have been flipped the bird while simply existing and driving appropriately.

When I inquired if and why this was the case, a mechanic at my garage told me Mainers assume out-of-state drivers, especially those with New York plates, are reckless drivers, and in pandemic-times are bringing Covid into the state.

I presume the bad treatment is due to a combination of my plates and my sub-par driving. But in an attempt to fit in (and avoid being pulled over, which has happened once) I’ve had to severely adapt to Maine speed limits and the drivers who love adhering to them. Of course, following speed limits will also do you some good when it comes to safety. After getting pulled over for speeding (only 10 mph extra), I got lectured on how Maine’s speed limit is not to be messed with, unless I would prefer to total my car due to a deer crash or icy roads. But being flipped off less has definitely been an added perk.

I’ve had many lessons thanks to living in the woods, in particular. I’ve had a rude awakening that central heating is not ubiquitous up here and discovered that fire is king. It’s been an enjoyable but risky lesson to learn. I’d like to think I’m slowly catching on after cold(ish) weather swept in. Though I’ve had a slight setback after my housemate recently told me that he tries to use no more than three pieces of kindling. My other housemate told me not to worry about that rule but it’s remained in the back of my mind. Thus, I toil on in my attempt to warm my cold heart and cold toes. But my housemate Bill told me, as long as I don’t burn the house down, I am technically succeeding. So far, so good.

I’ve also discovered that it is possible to feel safe surrounded by trees and that unseen noises aren’t normally serial killers or animals of prey. I am a jumpy human. I typically yelp or jump a foot in the air when I don’t hear someone entering a room. So living in the woods has been helpful in calming my constant dis-ease. I guess you could say that the trees are mellowing me out.

If you really want to fit in with Mainers, don’t call yourself one. That is, unless your grandparents were born in Maine. Everyone else, even those born in Maine, are technically ‘from away.’ Mainers are very specific about their “Mainerisms.” It’s important you learn what and where Downeast is, what a Reny’s is, and that cunnin’ is a compliment.

I’ve also learned that it’s customary in Maine to wave. While driving. While walking. While sitting. While out on the water. Hell, if you could wave while sleeping I’m sure it would be customary here.

But ultimately, that leads into one of the ultimate lessons here. That Mainers are kind, friendly and genuine. They tell you like it is. They welcome you into their homes (in a Covid-sense) and help you learn how to survive.

People have offered me their help time and time again. My housemates have been generously patient with me. The harbor-folk entertain my many questions.

Mainers don’t bite, even if you break one of the many rules. Just don’t mess with them on the road.

Kay Neufeld is a 2018 graduate from the New York University Arthur L. Carter School of Journalism. She lives in Hope and writes for The Camden Herald.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Nov 08, 2020 21:46

Oh great. Another flatlander. Welcome. You might want to check out North Haven. I heah that's where it is hapnin' these days.

Posted by: Joseph Steinberger | Nov 08, 2020 16:53

Thanks Kay. Welcome to Maine. I came to Maine from Manhattan almost 50 years ago, and have lived in Rockland for 40. I have always felt welcome. I hope those of us "from away" will be as kind to those who came before us, as they have been to us. We, a new urban "educated" bourgeoisie, have come to outnumber the "natives" in many towns now.

In response to the previous comment on NYC culture, I want to offer a different opinion. I spent ten years in Manhattan as a young man and found it to be a very friendly place. I  did not find lying, cheating and stealing to be common or accepted among the people that I interacted with. What is true is that in a big city it is easier for criminals to get away with crime than in a place like Hope, and there are also desperately poor ghettos that breed criminality. But New Yorkers in general are good people. I left, not because I did not like the people, but because I like the lower rents and more relaxed pace here, and the easier access to nature. And the people are just as nice, and just as smart, as New Yorkers!


Posted by: Jack Lane | Nov 08, 2020 07:23

Best wishes for your "Maine" adjustment.  Got to be very difficult, if not impossible, to fully escape from the NYC culture where lying, cheating and stealing are generally acceptable- including tolerating those that do.  Thankfully, my years living there were only temporary.

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