I've never claimed to be a real New Englander. Much of why I hated living here as a child, and why I enjoy living here now, is precisely because try as I might, I will always have "outsider" practically stamped on my forehead. I've (almost) accepted that I will never know the right way to do things here, and my periodic longings to return to New York, where at least I know what's going on and what everything means, have become far less frequent. And yet. I've always thought that simply by spending 15 of my formative years here, as well as not a few of my formed years, would have made me a little bit of a New Englander. An honorary New Englander, perhaps. Or at least a New Yorker with a sizable complement of New England mores and habits.
So when I read this Yankee Magazine article called "How New England Are You" and couldn't relate to anything in it, I was somewhat disconcerted. Were they wrong, or was I? Granted, the subtitle: "75 Things Every New Englander Should Do" is a much better description of the piece. And, granted, the selections are overwhelmingly MA- and ME-heavy, followed by a decent showing for NH and VT. But even in the few mentions of RI and CT, thrown in out of what seems like grudging politeness, I could barely find one thing I'd done, planned to do, or heard others discuss doing. But there are - there must be - certain New Englandy things that an article called "How New England Are You" should include, no? Not just activities but those insidious little things that don't seem important at first but eventually come to define a region. Like an irrational love of Dunkin' Donuts coffee, and a certain restrained demeanor, and the ability to properly tie a scarf. But going all the way to Maine to eat some sauerkraut? Driving through the Braintree Merge when you don't have to?? Frost Heaves???
I gave the article to my mom, who glanced at the lobster and the clam chowder and the Kennepunkport Christmas and remarked ironically, "They're aren't any Jews in New England, are there..." I gave it to my friend whose ancestors have been here since, like, 1600. "A lot of these are tourist things." she said. "Robert Frost's houses? No one does that." This was also true. And for tourist things, they weren't that exciting. Freeport's LL Bean outlet at 3:00 a.m.? Why? It's open during the day, you know. And many of them aren't that New England. Talking to costumed interpreters at Historic Sites? The last place I can recall attempting to avoid them was...West Virginia. And don't even get me started about the myth that everyone in New England is a die-hard fan of the friggin' Red Sox.
So in conclusion...hmm, I suppose I have no conclusion. But if I had to have one it would be...1. There is a Southern New England, and it is more than Coffee Milk (ew) and Pizza, and it doesn't have much of a Black Fly problem or a Mud Season. 2. I'm weird, and I don't fit in, and I have no desire to swim in cold water or to eat pie with cheese. And I'm OK with all of that. Oh, and: Go Yankees.