Tuesday, May 25, 2004

A Little Local Flavor

The tourist season starts this weekend. Folks from all over will stream into New Hampshire, backing up traffic, pushing people around and generally mucking up the place.

At least, that's what some locals say.

No place in the country has retained its unique regional culture the way New England, especially Northern New England, has. There are fewer strip malls, Burger Kings and Big Box stores per square mile here than anywhere in the nation.

The stereotype of the stubborn Yankee curmudgeon isn’t mere folklore. I know some of these cranky characters.

I talked to one today. She’s unenthusiastic about tourists rolling in. “I hate them,” she said. “They breathe and that bothers me.”

She wouldn’t relish lines of SUV’s with Florida or any other state’s tags blocking her driveway, but the most obnoxious offenders come from closer to home.

“They’re mostly from Massachusetts,” she said, one more complaint in the decades long tensions between the states. This chronic, if low grade, resentment has lead many Granite Staters to pin their neighbors to the south with the unflattering epithet “Massholes.”

I suspect much of this tension originates from a recognition the tourists bring with them the expectations and attitudes of consumerist culture. All over Northern New England, the mass consumer culture and traditional small town life are at war. In some parts of New England, traditional Northeast culture has entirely succumbed. The changes are marching north.

Connecticut is technically part of New England, but who can discern any real cultural difference between New Haven and New York?

The threat has driven some to adopt novel strategies. The state of Vermont this week was listed as an endangered historical site because of Wal-Mart’s plan to open seven supercenters there.

The woman I spoke with had developed her own method for repelling the invasion when it shows up at her doorstep in the guise of summer visitors.

“They stop in front of my house looking for the beach,” she said. “I tell them to turn around, go back to the traffic light and turn left.”

The visitors unlucky enough to seek instruction from this source are only going to be more lost. “That puts them back on Route 1 headed south, back to Massachusetts,” she said with a smile.

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