Saturday, January 22, 2011
Not From Around Here
The other day, AVI and I were talking and sharing experiences with some folks we had just met and one gentleman, a retired Ivy League-trained physician, related a common New England experience. He had lived in the same New Hampshire town for the past 25 years, but still wasn’t considered a “native.” So AVI puts on a heavy Maine accent and the persona of the crusty sage in the proverbial small town who spouts, “Just ‘cause a cat has her kittens in the oven, don’t make them biscuits, don’t cha know.”
Such not-made-here attitudes are not relegated only to New England – although we do often tend to live up to our Yankee stereotypes I must admit. But in the mid 1970s my wife and I spent a year and a half in an even more provincial culture, Newfoundland, Canada. You can understand why an island that sticks out into the blustery North Atlantic like a sore thumb tends to be insular, especially when largely populated by hardworking traditionalists of English and Irish decent. Heck, they were a long-ignored British protectorate until 1949 when they became Canada’s latest province (some will say reluctantly so). Affectionately called “The Rock,” Newfoundland can take a bit of getting used to before you can appreciate its culture, and understand its slang spoken through a heavy Irish-style brogue.
We lived in the city limits of St. Johns, the capital and largest city on the island. But an American friend, Dave Watt taught at the university and moved up from Maine just before we did. He located his family in a small community north of St. Johns in a typical Newfoundland home (a two story boxy structure with an almost flat roof). Dave related a story to me of meeting a neighborhood gentleman in front of his house one day and striking up a conversation. After a few minutes of talk the local gentleman, certainly discerning Dave’s American accent, remarked, “You don’t belong here, do you?” Now Dave was a big burly guy with a full beard – fairly imposing (think Grizzly Adams for those who recall that TV character of years ago). Dave was about to offer an angry retort when it dawned on him that this Newfoundlander was simply saying the obvious, “You’re not from around these parts.” So Dave calmed down and continued the discussion. He asked the local, “So, are you from around here?” “Oh, no bye” (slang for “guy” or “fellow”), the man expressed emphatically, almost as if insulted by my friend’s clear ignorance. “I’m from over there,” pointing proudly to a cluster of dwellings down the hillside, maybe a quarter of a mile in the distance, but still very much in the same town. No sir, this Newfoundlander knew exactly who he was and where he hailed from – he wasn’t from “HERE,” he was from over “THERE.” Darn foolish Americans!