Signs and Passion

Another great quote about signs. This one is by Anton Chekov:

Passion must be concealed in a society where cold reserve and indifference are the signs of good breeding.

When I moved to New England, I was expecting cold and unfriendly people because that’s what I’d always heard about New Englanders. I was delighted that for the most part that wasn’t true. I have been, on occasion, teased by the Wickeds because strangers tend to ask me for directions or blab about their personal lives to me.

Wickeds, do you think this is true of New Englanders? Have you used that in your writing?

Julie: Sherry, you do have that Iowa nice open face that attracts strangers, LOL. As for New Englanders, I believe that we are kind, but not necessarily nice. There’s definitely a reserve, but if folks need help, New Englanders are there. I’ve definitely used that in my writing. Lilly Jayne, for example, is very New England. She seems standoffish, but will do anything for folks. Sully Sullivan, in my Theater Cop series, is the same way. All of this said, I am a New Englander, so perhaps I am delusional and we’re all cold fishes.

Sherry: You definitely aren’t a cold fish!

Jessie: I have thought about this topic often when I have traveled or when I’ve lived in different parts of the country. What I’ve concluded is that every place has its own definition of pleasant or polite. What passes as warm and typical in some parts of the world may feel superficial and even intrusive to others. New Englanders do tend to be reserved, but it is a respectful thing, in my opinion. There is a real premium placed on privacy as well as connections that are genuine. It may be harder to establish relationships here, but they do tend to go the distance once they are forged. I’ve used those sorts of sentiments in my writing again and again and never grow tired of exploring them.

Barb: I’ve thought about this a lot, too, Jessie. My novella, Scared Off, includes a family that is new to Busman’s Harbor. The husband has work colleagues and the daughter schoolmates, but the wife, who has left her job behind in Massachusetts, is having trouble making friends. Often, in New England, where people immigrated and then didn’t leave the first area where they ended up, there’s an existing web of relationships that is hard to break into. Of course, one of my most popular characters is a curmudgeon who doesn’t allow people he doesn’t know in his restaurant. He is based on a real person, so I guess that says it all.

Edith: That’s the stereotype, isn’t it? When I moved to Boston forty-two years ago, this Californian fresh from five years in the Midwest was brought to tears by a couple of people in public (all I want to know was the bus schedule…). I’ve certainly had a lot of locals be very nice to me since – especially Julie! But when I look closely at the good friends I’ve made here over those four decades, three are originally from the Midwest, one from California, and one from Washington State. Hmm. I’ve dealt with the nature of New Englanders in my various books set in Massachusetts showing the positive side – people who, in the end, will go the distance for you and have your back, even if they are not superficially friendly.

Readers: Have you visited New England? What did you think of the people?

23 Thoughts

  1. Native Mainer here and I’d agree with Jessie, I do feel it’s a sign of respect to allow others their privacy, which most likely comes off as being aloof. I’ve lived in the South and I often felt their over-friendliness was fake and forced, almost nosiness – which is just probably due to being raised the opposite lol! And Edith is correct, New Englanders do come together to help those in need and will go the distance with you!

    1. We had lovely neighbors when we lived in Bedford, MA. They would have done anything for us and maybe it took a bit longer to get to know them, but they were lovely.

  2. We took our first bucket list trip to the New England states. We traveled up the entire coastline of Maine, then went to the interior of the state before going along, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York before heading home through Amish areas. Although we spend 99% of the time just the two of us taking in all the sights and taking photographs, we didn’t find the people any different there than here. Of course most of that may be that hubby never meets a stranger and seems to be able to get anyone to talking like old friends within 5 minutes of meeting them. Just as we could tell where they New Englanders by their accent, I’m sure we stuck out like a neon light in the dark with our southern accent. All I know is we had a fabulous time and can’t say there was any one or any thing that even tried to put a dent in our enjoyment.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  3. I spent tons of time in New England before I moved to CA. Growing up, we vacationed there and my family had a cottage in NW Connecticut. I also used to go to a writers retreat in Dorset VT, where I heard this classic New England exchange at the inn pump room bar. One man said to another, “I’ve lived here 35 years. Doesn’t that make me a Vermonter?” To which the other man replied, “If your cat has kittens in the oven, does that make them muffins?”

  4. I LOVE that story, Ellen! When we moved to Bedford, MA, I’d ask our neighbors, “Are you from here?” Most would say something like, “No, I’m from Cambridge” like they’d moved to Bedford from another country. Cambridge was about 10 miles as the crow flies. People are very proud of their roots in New England.

  5. My New England experience is limited to a day job conference in Boston a few years back. In my free time, I found folks to be friendly. I hope to make a vacation trip to New England sooner rather than later!

  6. I love this! As a born and bred New Englander who transplanted at one point, I would say that New Englanders respect and expect privacy but are definitely not unfriendly. I do get a chuckle out of reporters who give political poll info out and think it is what is really going on. I bet half the answers to those polls are one- or two-word answers where the responder is polite enough not to tell the pollster to get lost. Or who really don’t call out the candidate that they can’t stand!

  7. I’ve visited New England a few times, but I don’t feel like the people made an impression on me one way or the other. So clearly no one was too rude to me. I felt the people I talked to were friendly and helpful, about what I’d expect in California for similar situations.

  8. Tho’ originally a midwesterner, I lived in Boston and surrounds for 18 years and traveled to the other New England states during that time. I generally found people to be very friendly and helpful. I love living in Lancaster, PA, but do miss New England.

  9. Like some of you said, it depends on the place or the people. When we lived in Fort Worth, Texas everyone was courteous, friendly, helpful, and engaging. Everyone waved at each other even if they did not know them or said hello to each other. But if you went just 30 miles east into Dallas. That was a whole different story. They were rude, unfriendly, not helpful, and would never talk to you or wave. They would just look the other way. Now we used to say that it was those Yankees that had moved there (sorry all of you northerners). Dallas was too full of “beautiful people” while Fort Worth was down home. When I went to visit a transplanted Texan in New Jersey, a friend in Texas told me not to talk to anyone in New York or look them in the eye. I went into NYC by myself one day when my friend was sick and could not go. I took the train, the Path, the subway, and walked all over. Everyone was friendly to me. When I stopped and was looking at a map, a man asked if he could help me and gave me correct directions. I think my Texas accent (that I did not think that I had) helped me. Many commented on that. Of course, that was in the early 1980s when the world was friendlier and safer for the most part. So different people see different people different ways. Everywhere we went while I visited–West Point, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., small towns, etc, everyone was friendly. We southerners do have a penchant for talking too much. All of my email comments seem way longer that all of yours do. Not seem–are.

  10. The only time I visited New England was a family vacation to Boston when I was a teenager, so I’m not sure that qualifies me to judge. LOL

  11. You could really do some good questions on that comment about seeing the world different as teens

  12. I love this – I was raised in Connecticut. I moved to Houston for 7 years, then Florida for 8 years. Now I’m back in Connecticut. I will say, I think the South in general is friendly. New Englanders can be very friendly too and I think it depends what state you are in. aprilbluetx at yahoo dot com

  13. I have never had the opportunity. I would love to go. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

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