We’re not so different.
New Englanders think Southerns are all the same. And Southerns think Yankees are all the same.
So I guess we’re even. Or maybe we’re more alike than we think.
I’m a Maine Yankee, even though I don’t sound like one. People are skeptical when I say I’m from coastal Maine. No one would blink an eye if I said I’m from Indiana.
Accent tests come in two forms: pronunciation and vocabulary. Pronunciation tests claim I’m from the Midwest (though I’ve never lived there). Vocabulary tests say I’m from northern New England (which is true).
I was 12 when we moved to Volusia County, Florida — to which I’ve returned after a three decades absence.
Most kids understood the accent. “Are you a Kennedy?” Though one kid asked me what country I came from. “Is Maine in Canada?” Close but no cee-gar.
Speaking of cigars, it’s true what they say about Cubans. On a Caribbean cruise I bought one, and you don’t get the shitty aftertaste of inferior cigars.
At age 16 when we returned to Maine, people asked what state I came from. When I told them I’m a native Mainer they gave me a quizzical look. Whether “R” is a vowel or a consonant makes a world of difference.
Northern central Florida in the 1980s was half Southern, with genuine Southern accents. And half Yankee/Midwestern transplants. Today, Volusia County is more Yankee/Midwestern than Southern — but Southerns are still represented.
An Outsider’s Guide to New England
Here’s my idiosyncratic history of New England:
Puritans showed up in what became Massachusetts. They were going to create a Christian utopia governed by town selectmen, all members of the local white clapboard church. But any white man could attend the town meetings. Even the faceless guy from Newhart who always yells, “I disagree!”
Some Puritans thought Massachusetts was too secular, though, and they left to create Connecticut (“Snobs R Us”). Others were like, “Just let me be.” So they created New Hampshire (“Live Free or Die”). Rhode Island? Religious freedom, you jackass.
Then there were the ruffians, drunkards, heretics, and dullards. What do you do with them?
Send ’em north.
The Frenchies are up there, so who cares? The ruffians will be a good buffer. And they can survive on fish and sea-bugs called lobsters (obviously, a poor man’s diet). And so, northern Massachusetts became know as the District of Maine.
Later, hippies decided to form Vermont because socialism is cool.
After the American Revolution the nascent United States had another war with Great Britain. The governor of Massachusetts wrote to a British official and said, “Y’know, we really don’t give a fuck about Maine. If you Frenchie-English hybrids want to take Maine for your own then go for it. They’re just a bunch of lobster munching assholes anyway.”
And so, after the War of 1812, Maine told Massachusetts to fuck off, and became its own state. Even today Mainers refer to people from Massachusetts as MassHoles, and the state’s name is mispronounced as Mass-a-two-shits.
But go Red Sox! Pats rule! Bruins will fuck you up!
Rural vs Urban
Northern and southern New England aren’t the same:
Boston: “I once knew someone who owned a gun. It was so traumatic!”
Maine: “Christ almighty, I own so many fuckin’ guns, hope the goddaman guvment don’t not come knockin’. Bought most of ’em from my cousin. Sketchy fucka.”
Last month I went to a gun show in Deland, Florida. The Southern accent quotient increases big time at a gun show.
One guy was selling turquoise jewelry. I asked him if he made the stones. In an accent that I suspect is coastal Southern, he said, “The good Lord made the stones!” He seemed mildly offended.
I said, “I know, but did you cut and polish the stones?”
He said, “No, Indians done that. I just resell ‘em.’
The South’s history is different because of slavery. Basically, Bostonians with slaves settled the Tidewater, and Mainers without slaves settled the Appalachians. Slave owners settled down into the Carolinas and Georgia. Florida was Spanish (for the moment).
The Civil War was a cluster-fuck. New Englalnders where like, “We don’t have slaves anyway, so who gives a fuck? We’re fighting to preserve the Union.” This makes Yankees superior.
The first census in 1790 recorded no slaves in the District of Maine. But when the job ad reads, “Wanted: white dudes to freeze their asses off for fish ‘n sea-bugs, and have to deal with Frenchies,” the lack of slaves is not surprising.
Dear intersectionalists: I’m not a bigot. The name DuBay is French (well, Dubé). I’m allowed to make fun of French people even if my French is so bad that, “Bonjour,” impels the museum lady in Quebec to respond (with no pause), “The English tour starts at two.”
Also, I can claim to be a hypocritical Yankee because I have an ancestor who died in the Civil War. I’m his descendant because he fathered children before the war (he is from my mother’s Anglo-Irish line, which goes way back before the US of A).
Meanwhile, the Dubé line (so far as I can tell) illegally stuck across the Canadian border in the 1850s, and avoided the Civil War with, “Je ne parle pas anglais.”
Anyway, by that time Florida had become a state (1845), seceded, then rejoined (“Sorry ‘bout that.”).
Before the Civil War, Georgia Crackers settled northern Florida. The rest of Florida was too mosquito ridden for anyone but Seminoles to inhabit. Today, we have pest control. Hey, JD!
My mom’s first cousins are from North Carolina. Her uncle (my grandfather’s brother) was one of the first Air Force sergeants. In World War II the Army taught him to fix airplanes, and after the war they created the Air Force and said, “We need a boy like you who can fix them flyin’ machines.” So he made a career of it and ended up in North Carolina. When I was in college he had retired to Maine and lived near campus. I used to stop by and drink his sweet tea (Southern food is undeniable) and listen to his stories. I love Larry.
Before Larry passed on his daughters would come to Maine to see him.
In the summer.
Maine is not so great in the winter. Unless you’re a Georgia Cracker with a sense of adventure.
Once I was in Aroostook County, Maine — the Canadian border — in January. The kind of place where they ask, “Do you want to plug your car in?”
At the hotel there were some guys speaking in distinctive Southern accents.
One guys said,“Damn, I’m listen’ to the radio, and it’s all in French. What country am I in?”
The other guys says, “Well, we’re on the Canadian border.”
“They speak French in Canada?” he asked.
“Same as Looz-iana,” the first guy replied.
I asked them what brought them to Maine. These Georgia boys wanted to snowmobile.
“Georgia’s damn poor for snowmobiles.” He added, “The hotel gives you a free tank of gas.”
If you’re an Aroostook potato farmer, what do you do in the winter when your fields are covered under several feet of snow? Rent snowmobiles to Crackers, apparently.
Where was I? Right. My mom’s cousins visiting Uncle Larry. One of my cousin’s husbands said, “You know, the first time I came here I thought it would be like New York City. But north of Portland it’s just regular folk who know all the good fishin’ spots.”
And so it was that 29 years after leaving Volusia County, Florida in 1989 that I returned. Because of another long story. Cliff Note: love and freedom from winter.
North-Central Florida is more Yankeefied now. But the South isn’t dead.
My unscientific theory about the Midwestern accent is that Americans from the northeast, mid-Atlantic states, and the South all merged in the Midwest.
That’s how a boy from Maine can spend a few years in Florida — this American melting pot — in early adolescence and end up sounding like someone from middle America.