... Yup, heed these hints when in the hinterland
It is the end of another summer season in Vermont. As I watch flocks of tourists migrate to parts unknown, my thoughts go with them. I hope they enjoyed their vacation in these Green Mountains. I also wonder what impressions they have formed of Vermonters. I hope their memories are not tainted with the hostility towards ‘outsiders’ that I hear emanating from conversations between our local residents.
Workers in our service industry seem to breathe a collective sigh of relief as the tempo of their trade returns to a normal pace. Meanwhile those townspeople who can afford to be more outspoken, swap stories of their dealings with tourists. Let’s listen in on a typical conversation between two ‘good old local boys’ for a moment:
"Well, I were just in here the other day. It’s been a while what with the rain and all. Don’t expect I missed much. I seen this flatlander fidgeting in a long line up to the register. When it’s his turn, guess what he does? He asks the girl behind the counter to give him directions to Niagara Falls, of all things! And he gets downright rude when she offers to give him a free map.”
“Yup, they can’t seem to cool down before they’re complaining about the heat again, right? Did ya hear about the accident over to South Road last night? Guy hit a doe and totaled his Lexus.”
“Ya don’t say? You’d think they’d at least slow down on the back roads. Well, I’ll be happy to see their tail ends making it back to wherever they come from. Can’t be too far off now, right?”
The label of flatlander was originally applied to new settlers coming into Vermont over a hundred years ago. It was given to people who sought to bring change to the local way of life. Flatlanders suggested costly ideas such as paved roads, fire hydrants, elaborate sewer systems, etc., without having first conducted proper research into the lay of the land or the local economy. When their ideas were publicly thwarted in town meetings, many flatlanders resorted to applying pressure behind closed doors.
I recently asked two of my native-born friends to define the term 'Flatlander'. They simultaneously responded as if by rote, “Flatlanders are people who come up here with big money and try to throw their weight around. They want to change the way we live.”
When I asked if I could ever be considered a Vermonter instead of a flatlander, they both answered, “No. You have to be born here.”
This long upheld opinion of flatlanders has now spread to encompass our tourists as well. I can’t change the attitudes of my neighbors, but I can offer a few words of advice to our out of town guests in hopes of easing tension on either side.
#1. It’s a good idea to take a few minutes to slow down both mentally and physically before entering Vermont. On a scale of one to ten, comparing the stress level of paradise to that of an urban community, Vermont would place at a moderate four.
#2. Pick up a detailed map of Vermont and the surrounding region, which is offered for free at any of our local stores or Welcome Centers. These maps will help you navigate many of the back roads that do not appear on those produced by national firms. Please keep in mind that no matter where you are in Vermont it is probably ten miles to the nearest store. The land area of our small town of Bradford covers 38 square miles.
#3. The speed with which we motor around is determined more by the road conditions than by the vehicles we drive. We use caution while traveling on waffle-rutted, dirt roads. We keep an eye out for our domestic animals as well as our abundant wildlife, especially when driving between the hours of dusk and dawn. On the main roads, we show respect to pedestrians who ‘jaywalk’ across the street, to the farmer on his tractor and for those motorists who are seeking to enter or exit a parking space. We may be in a rush to get the kids to an activity or get to work, but we forbear these minor inconveniences. Road rage is a rare occurrence here.
#4. Vermont is made up of small town people who seek camaraderie in all their social interactions. We enjoy a friendly exchange with cashiers and wait staff, but remain aware of those around us who may also be in need of service.
#5. Visitors should be prepared to experience poor cell phone connections, fuzzy television reception and unexpected power outages. Vermonters take these inconveniences in stride. They will not offer you any sympathy except to nod and say, “Yup.” This means they heard you, but there isn’t a blessed thing they can do about it either.
I hope this simple guide to Vermont will serve to ease the tensions between our tourists and our local people. I am sure we are all looking forward to another great ‘leaf peeping’ and a smooth skiing season in the months to come. Please keep in mind you will not find these ‘impolitically correct’ observations or advice in any of the brochures produced by the State. I take full responsibility for its content.
September 5, 2008